What Are Cruciferous Vegetables and What Are They Good For?

Cruciferous Vegetable salad

The brassicas, or cruciferous vegetables, include familiar names, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, along with a few many of us probably aren’t so familiar with, like kohlrabi and bok choy. But whether well known or a bit more exotic, all these nutritious vegetables are members of a powerful plant family that research suggests may have a lot to teach us about cancer prevention.

So come with us as we explore this supergroup of root vegetables, leafy greens, and so much more and uncover why upping your intake of cruciferous vegetables may be one of the best things you can do for your health.

What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?

The word cruciferous comes from the Latin word cruciferae, which means “cross-bearing”—a reference to the fact that the flower petals of this family of vegetables resemble a cross.

Like many green vegetables, the cruciferous veggies contain high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C. They also tend to be rich in fiber and low in calories, which makes them a valuable part of a healthy diet.

Cruciferous vegetables are also loaded with phytonutrients—plant-based compounds that can help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

But what makes cruciferous vegetables truly unique are sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates—potent phytochemicals that are currently being studied for their ability to prevent many types of cancer.

List of Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous Vegetables

With so many benefits, cruciferous veggies are a healthy eating requirement. So let’s get to the crux of the mighty cruciferous vegetables, shall we?

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts grow on one long stem in small cabbage-like bud clusters.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • The fiber content in Brussels sprouts helps contribute to digestive support and provides cholesterol-lowering benefits.
  • Brussels sprouts are helpful in detoxification and contain cancer-fighting properties.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Cut Brussels sprouts in half and roast them with something sweet or salty—maple syrup if you wish, or maybe some Parmesan cheese.
  • Slice Brussels sprouts and bake into lightly salted veggie chips or sear them in a pan with some olive oil.
  • Steam Brussels sprouts whole and drizzle with lemon juice or chop them up raw and use them in salads.

Horseradish

A vegetable with long leaves that’s grown for its pungent edible root, horseradish is often known better as a spicy sauce or (in a pinch) a substitute for smelling salts.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Horseradish is a good source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
  • Horseradish is an excellent source of dietary fiber, folate, and vitamin C, which helps repair cell wall damage in the body.
  • This pungent root is high in sodium and sugar, so it’s probably best to use in moderation.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Though often prepared as a spicy sauce or sushi side, there are way more creative uses for horseradish, including zesting up egg dishes, ketchup sauce, sandwiches, and guacamole recipes.

Kohlrabi

Also called the German turnip, kohlrabi is a non-starchy vegetable with green fronds that’s shaped like a bulb and similar in appearance—though not in taste—to fennel.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Kohlrabi contains an abundant amount of vitamin C and other vitamins as well as dietary fiber.
  • With only 27 calories per 100 grams, a minuscule amount of fat, and no cholesterol, kohlrabi is another healthy addition to any diet.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Kohlrabi is slightly crunchy when raw and mildly spicy. Chopped, it can be mixed into a salad; grated, it can be turned into slaw.
  • Kohlrabi can also be cooked with simple ingredients like olive oil and sea salt.

Cruciferous Veggies: Half and Half

In this section, you’ll find a few more brassica vegetables that come with their own health benefits and uses. The veggies in this category also have edible green leaves. So if you don’t discard the leaves, you can have two vegetables for the price of one!

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a brassica vegetable that grows a large, compact head of undeveloped white flower buds. Each head can be cut into “steaks” or chopped into florets and their leaves cooked and eaten like other leafy greens.

 The Nutritional Benefits

  • Cauliflower is high in fiber, which is good for digestive support.
  • This white veggie has detoxifying phytonutrients and antioxidant benefits from vitamin C, and may help lower your risk of cancer.
  • Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin K and its bone-building and anti-inflammatory benefits.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Chop and stir-fry cauliflower as a rice replacement.
  • Roast the florets with olive oil and your preferred spices to serve as a side dish.
  • Purée cauliflower and substitute for cream sauce or mashed potatoes.
  • Same goes for a no-carb pizza crust. Simply mash cauliflower and an egg, form into a disk, add toppings, and bake.

Broccoli

An excellent source of phytochemicals known for their ability to fight different types of cancer, broccoli has a flowering green head (similar to cauliflower) and edible dark green leaves.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Broccoli is high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and potassium.
  • Broccoli contains more protein than most vegetables and is also rich in B-complex vitamins, which are linked to cardiovascular health.
  • Broccoli is also anti-inflammatory, pro-detoxification, and loaded with antioxidant benefits.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Broccoli can be eaten both raw (say with a dip or hummus) and cooked (sautéed with other ingredients), but a recent study demonstrated that gentle steaming provides the most health benefits.
  • Broccoli florets can be steamed and lightly dressed with your favorite toppings, while broccoli greens can be treated much like spinach and added to many different dishes.
  • Broccoli sprouts, which resemble alfalfa sprouts and contain even more beneficial phytochemicals than the mature plant, can be eaten raw and added to sandwiches, salads, and even smoothies.

Radishes

Radishes are pungent edible roots that are small, round, and red and often eaten raw in salads.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Radishes contain folate, fiber, riboflavin, potassium, high levels of vitamin C, and anthocyanins—phytochemicals that have been found in studies to inhibit cancer cell growth.
  • Radishes act as a powerful diuretic and blood detoxifier.
  • The vitamin C, zinc, and high water content of radishes helps keep the skin healthy and hydrated.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Radishes can be pickled or served raw as part of a vegetable plate or sliced thin for salads.
  • Radishes can be roasted in place of potatoes or served in tea sandwiches instead of cucumber.
  • Radish greens are also edible. Though usually too coarse for use in most salads, they can be cooked like any other green and are especially good when the leaves are young and tender.

Turnips

Turnips are round root vegetables with white flesh and edible leaves.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Turnips are an excellent, low-calorie source of dietary fiber, immune-boosting vitamin C, heart healthy potassium, metabolism-supporting manganese, and B vitamins for healthy liver, eyes, and skin.
  • Turnips also contain phytochemicals called indoles that are known to inhibit cancer cell growth.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Roasted, baked, or mashed, turnips can be used as a low-carb substitute for potatoes.
  • A traditional staple in the American South, turnip greens are the perfect addition to soups, sautés, and side dishes.

Mustard Greens and Seeds

The mustard plant produces both mustard greens and mustard seeds, which are often used as a spice and as an integral part of the beloved hot dog and hamburger condiment we know simply as mustard.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Just 1 cup of mustard greens yields over 500% of the daily value of vitamin K. It also has 85% of your daily vitamin A and 60% of your recommended vitamin C.
  • Mustard greens contain high levels of folate, manganese, dietary fiber, and calcium as well as a small amount of protein.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Mustard seeds contain important vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fatty acids, so when going for the spreadable mustard, choose one that has the stone-ground seeds still in it!
  • Create a tasty side dish by sautéing mustard greens with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper, garlic and lemon, or other seasonings of your choice.
  • Add mustard greens to your next pesto for a fresh take on an Italian favorite.

Leafy Green Cruciferous Vegetables

If you want to help prevent heart disease, the number one killer in the United States, recent research indicates that getting plenty of vitamin K in your diet may be just the thing. And one of the best sources of vitamin K is the cruciferous family of vegetables.

So, to help you increase your cruciferous vegetable intake, we offer up this exclusively leafy green category, which includes some of our favorite salad greens.

Arugula

Arugula is a popular leafy green that’s known for its pungent, peppery flavor.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • A nutrient-packed vegetable, arugula provides substantial amounts of vitamins A, C, K, and folate.
  • Arugula is also a great source of several cancer-fighting phytochemicals.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • This spicy leaf makes a great pesto, pizza topping, or salad green.
  • Arugula can be lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon pepper, balsamic vinegar, or any dressing of choice.

Bok Choy

Bok choy, also known as pak choi, is a type of Chinese cabbage.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Bok choy is an excellent source of fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and folate.
  • Bok choy contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and help preserve eye, heart, and brain health.
  • Bok choy is packed with calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Bok choy is often added to stir-fries, sautés, and meat dishes.
  • Cut in half lengthwise and sautéed with your favorite seasonings, bok choy also makes a great stand-alone dish.

Collard Greens

Like turnip greens, collard greens are leafy green vegetables traditionally associated with Southern cooking.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Possibly the best of the bunch in terms of cholesterol-lowering benefits, collard greens also aid digestion through their ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract.
  • Collards are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
  • Collard greens are rich in glucosinolates, which not only help fight cancer but also act as anti-inflammatories and support detoxification.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Southern-style collard greens are traditionally slow-cooked with plenty of bacon or ham.
  • Collard greens can also be steamed or sautéed with olive oil and lemon or garlic and eaten as a healthy side dish.

Kale

Kale is a hardy cabbage with curled leaves that don’t form a dense head like broccoli or cauliflower.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • A powerhouse of nutrition, kale is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K and the mineral manganese.
  • Kale is chock-full of phytochemicals like kaempferol and quercetin, which have been found in studies to have potentially potent cancer-fighting properties.
  • Kale is also a rich source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect the eyes from macular degeneration.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Kale can be sautéed with olive oil and sea salt and topped with feta cheese for a simple, healthy side dish.
  • Kale can be incorporated into soups and salads and even roasted like other vegetables.
  • Baked into chips with coconut oil and sea salt, kale makes a fantastic and filling snack.
  • Blended into your favorite smoothie, kale can add an extra cruciferous boost to any healthy diet.

By increasing your consumption of cruciferous vegetables, you can reap all the benefits this powerful plant family has to offer. So if you’re interested in lowering your cancer risk and boosting your overall health—and adding a few new tasty dishes to your diet—look no further than the mighty brassica family. Enjoy!

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