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In my last post, I passed on a dinner recipe involving plenty of delicious cruciferous vegetables. This time, I’d like to discuss their many health benefits.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, arugula, collards and bok-choy get their name from the cross-like shape made from four branches coming off their stems. They’ve also recently gotten some impressive press for having cancer preventive properties that come from glucosinolates, the sulfur compounds that give broccoli and other cruciferous veggies their pungent taste. The most well-known of these is the compound sulfurophane.

Sulfurophane is purported to detoxify cancer-causing compounds before they enter cells. Antioxidants in cruciferous veggies also detoxify free radicals, which are the culprits behind the DNA damage that causes cancer. They’re also proven to have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Sulfurophane induces cell death in cancer cells. It also inhibits tumor blood vessel formation (which cancer cells need to live and grow), and tumor cell migration (which is how cancer cells spread).bok choy

Sadly, studies that show a definitive link between eating cruciferous veggies and a decrease in specific cancers are few and far between. But all cruciferous veggies fall into the “dark-green vegetable” category, and the extensive benefits of eating your greens is well and thoroughly documented.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there have been studies showing that cruciferous vegetables or glucosinolates have an effect on mechanisms related to cancer. An interesting 20 subject study published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association showed that measured levels of oxidative stress levels dropped by 22% when they spent 3 weeks eating 1-2 cups of cruciferous vegetables. This was a significant decrease in comparison to when the same participants took a multivitamin-with-fiber supplement (0.2% drop). Another study found that a glucosinolate called indole-3 carbinol was more effective than a placebo in reducing the growth of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. (In plain English, that means cauliflower chemicals stopped tumor progression.)

How to Eat Cruciferous Vegetables 
When these veggies are eaten lightly steamed or raw, more of the nutrients remain preserved. When you blend cruciferous vegetables, the enzyme myrosinase is released, which converts glucosinolates to their active version. Consider blending cruciferous veggies and then using them in cooking as a base for stews, soups, curries and gravies.
Written by Deepa Sannidhi, MD and Bill Lagakos, Ph.D.
Bill has a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry and Physiology and is currently researching the role of diet and lifestyle in obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance. His website, The poor, misunderstood calorie, is dedicated to exploring the many aspects of how foods and nutrients impact energy balance, healthspan, and a variety of other outcomes. An avid fitness enthusiast, Bill promotes balance but insists there’s no such thing as “moderation” when it comes to empty calories. His academic publications have appeared in such peer-reviewed journals as American Journal of Physiology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Journal of Lipid Research, and Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. He is passionate about nutrition and it shows in his work.