What Are Cruciferous Vegetables and What Are They Good For?

Cruciferous vegetables: health benefits and recipe uses.

Cruciferous vegetables include kale, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and so much more. Nutritious, anti-inflammatory, and possible aids in cancer prevention, cruciferous vegetables are a supergroup containing root vegetables, leafy greens, and even a few veggies that can provide both from one plant!

The word “cruciferous” comes from the Latin word cruciferae, meaning “cross bearing.” This is because it’s an informal name for the mustard family of plants, the leaves of which have four petals that resemble a cross. Like many green vegetables, a lot of cruciferous veggies contain high amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate. Rich in fiber and low in calories, cruciferous vegetables are a valuable part of an adult’s diet, which ideally should include 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day.

Cruciferous vegetables: health benefits and recipe uses.

Cruciferous vegetables also contain phytonutrients, plant-based compounds that can possibly help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer (including prostate cancer and breast cancer).

With so many benefits, cruciferous veggies are a healthy eating requirement. So, let’s get into the crux of cruciferous vegetables.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Here you’ll find the roots, tubers, and buds of the cruciferous family.

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

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a cabbage that grows a large head of small white flower buds. Each head can be cut into “steaks” or chopped down into florets.

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 for vitamin K and its 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 it can be a substitute for cream sauce or mashed potatoes.
  • Same goes for a no-carb pizza crust. Simply mash cauliflower and an egg into a big enough disk, add toppings, and bake.

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 also a good source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
  • It is also a treasure trove of dietary fiber, folate, and vitamin C, which helps repair cell wall damage in the body.
  • However, horseradish is also high in sodium, so might be best to use in moderation.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Though often prepared into 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 “German turnip,” Kohlrabi is a non-starchy vegetable shaped like a bulb with green fronds and similar in look to fennel (though not in taste).

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 could be mixed into a salad; grated it can be made into a slaw.
  • Kohlrabi can also be cooked with such simple ingredients as olive oil and sea salt for flavoring.

Half and Half: Cruciferous Veggies/Leafy Greens

You’ll find a couple more radishes and root vegetables in this section, which come with their own particular health properties and uses. The veggies in this category also each have edible green leaves—don’t discard these leaves and you can get two vegetables for the price of one!

Broccoli

An excellent source of phytochemicals good for fighting certain types of cancer, broccoli has a flowering green head (similar to cauliflower) and leaves that can also be eaten as greens.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Broccoli is high in fiber for digestive support, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and potassium.
  • Broccoli contains more protein than most vegetables, as well as B-complex vitamins that are linked to cardiovascular health.
  • Broccoli is also anti-inflammatory, pro-detoxification, and includes antioxidant benefits.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Broccoli can be eaten both raw (say with a dip or hummus) and cooked (sautéed in with other ingredients), but a recent study shows gentle steaming provides the most health benefits.
  • Broccoli florets can be steamed and lightly dressed with preferred flavorings, while broccoli greens can be treated much like spinach and added to many different dishes.
  • Even the nascent broccoli sprouts can be eaten in the interest of fighting cancer and in the hopes of concentrating the strength of the vegetable’s benefits. It’s a powerful triple hitter when it comes to vegetables.

Radishes

These pungent-tasting edible roots are small, round, and red, and often eaten raw with salads.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Radishes have folate, fiber, riboflavin, potassium, high levels of vitamin C, and anthocyanins which may inhibit cancer-cell growth.
  • Radishes are a detoxifying diuretic that can increase urine production.
  • Their high water content also helps benefit/beautify the skin’s health and appearance.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Radishes can be pickled or served raw, particularly sliced thin for salads.
  • They can also be roasted in place of potatoes, or served in tea sandwiches rather than cucumber.
  • Radish greens are also edible, though usually too coarse for most salad inclusion, they can be cooked like any other green, and are especially good when the leaves are young and tender.

Turnips

This round root vegetable dazzles with white flesh and edible leaves.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Turnips are an excellent source of minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
  • The turnip is also a low-calorie vegetable that is loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C, calcium for bone and muscle health, and B vitamins good for healthy liver, eyes, and skin.
  • Turnips also contain indoles that may inhibit cancer cell growth.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Roasted, baked, sliced, sautéed, or mashed, turnips can be treated similarly to potatoes.
  • Turnip greens can be easily included in American Southern-style dishes.

Mustard Plant

The mustard plant produces both mustard greens and the mustard seed, which is often used as a spice, and for the 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 have high levels of folate, manganese, dietary fiber, calcium, and a small amount of protein.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Mustard seeds have important proteins, essential oils, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, as well as plant sterols. So, when choosing a spreadable mustard, maybe go for the one with stone-crushed seeds still in it!
  • Sauté mustard greens with olive oil, season with salt and pepper (or garlic and lemon, or whatever you want) and include as a Southern-style side dish.
  • Mustard greens can also be blended into a pesto.

Cruciferous Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables may prevent heart disease based on research showing that the consumption of vitamin K during adolescence may reduce the risk of developing the condition. Cruciferous vegetable intake options in this exclusively leafy green category include some of our favorite salad mixes.

Arugula

Arugula is a plant used in cooking for its leaves, which have a pungent and peppery flavor.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • A nutrient-packed vegetable, arugula provides substantial amounts of vitamins A, C, K, and folate, as well as several cancer-fighting phytochemicals.
  • Arugula also includes, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, which help with neurological health, bone formation, and detoxification.
  • Copper and iron in arugula help with metabolism control.

The Best Ways to Eat

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

Bok Choy

Bok choy (sometimes spelled pak choi) is a type of Chinese cabbage.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Bok choy is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin K, vitamin A, and beta-carotene.
  • Bok choy also contains omega-3s, good for anti-inflammatory uses and brain functioning.
  • Bok choy is packed full of folate, calcium, and zinc, which helps to regulate hormones.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Cut in half lengthwise and sautéed with seasoning, bok choy can be enjoyed as its own dish.
  • However, it is often found cooked in stir-fries and other sautéed dishes either by use of a pan or wok.

Collard Greens

Collard greens are a type of leafy green vegetable common in Southern U.S. cooking and chock-full of vitamins.

The Nutritional Benefits

  • Possibly the best of the bunch for the cholesterol-lowering benefits, collard greens aid in binding bile in the digestive track, making digestion an easier process.
  • Collard greens are an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), vitamin C, dietary fiber, calcium, and iron.
  • Cancer-fighting glucosinolates support detoxification and anti-inflammatory systems in the body.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • Collard greens are easily steamed or sautéed like spinach, and are another favorite inclusion in Southern-style dishes, with or without meat (though often with, think ham hock).
  • With the right flavoring and prep (lemon, garlic, both), collard greens can make a great side dish on just about any table.

Kale

Kale is a hardy cabbage with curled leaves that do not form a dense head (unlike say broccoli or cauliflower).

The Nutritional Benefits

  • A powerhouse of nutrition, kale has massive amounts of vitamins A, C, and K, with B-vitamin folate for brain development and beta-carotene for healthy skin, immune system functioning, and eye/vision health.
  • The fiber and protein in kale help to manage hunger and cravings.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin are further nutrients in kale that help protect against macular degeneration.

The Best Ways to Eat

  • While kale can be sautéed and steamed and steeped in other dishes just like the rest of our leafy greens, kale can do more than that.
  • Baked with coconut oil and sea salt for chips, kale can make a fantastic and filling snack.
  • Sneaked into smoothies of many flavors, kale can also add that extra vegetable boost to a daily juice or meal replacement shake to keep your diet easily well-rounded.

Caught Up on Cruciferous Vegetables

Now you know better than ever how increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables is an excellent way of lowering cancer risk, improving digestion, and often reaping all the benefits that dark green leafy vegetables have to offer. Enjoy!

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