What is your favorite vegetable? Most of you will probably say “broccoli” “cauliflower” or “kale.” All these veggies belong under the cabbage family. Yes, cruciferous vegetables are probably the most popular veggies in terms of nutrient contents and health benefits. In fact, tons of researches were done about the healthful compounds in these leafy greens and how they can combat various ailments. Like other food products, there are also some health risks involved when these products are consumed in large amounts. With that said, this article will give information about the health benefits of consuming cruciferous vegetables. Along with that, you’ll also read about some of the possible health problems you may experience if you consume large amounts of these foods.
A Brief Description of Vegetables Under the Cabbage Family
Considered as the superstars of vegetables, products under the cabbage family have garnered a lot of praises throughout the years. What makes these veggies noteworthy?
Cruciferous vegetables are a powerhouse of essential nutrients, a remarkable feature for these crops. According to studies, these vegetables have the highest amounts of fiber, folic acid, vitamin A, and C. Vitamin K is another valuable nutrient found in some cruciferous vegetables, like collard greens and kale. But, that's not all. These leafy greens are also rich in phytonutrients. Remeber, these plant compounds can help prevent certain diseases. You’ll learn more about these healthful substances as you read further.
The Health Benefits of Consuming Cruciferous Vegetables
A. Cruciferous Vegetables as Sulfur-rich Foods
In terms of minerals, sulfur is probably the least advertised. Most of us have heard the importance or iron, iodine, magnesium and other minerals. What about sulfur?Credit: Image courtesy of Bruce Emmerling - pixabay.com
Known for its “rotten egg” odor, some of us may have disregarded sulfur's importance in our existence. But, like other minerals, this mineral is imperative for the various processes occurring inside our body. For example, sulfur bonds are present in every protein, allowing proteins to maintain their shape. Another example is collagen - the main protein in our connective tissues. Flexible sulfur bonds are necessary to give this protein is elasticity. Lastly, sulfur also plays a vital role in glutathione synthesis and the detoxification process.
Thus, one of the health benefits of consuming cruciferous vegetables is to get more sulfur. especially for those who prefer plant-based products. Remember, these veggies are among the few plant sources of sulfur. Most sulfur-rich foods are animal products such as eggs and meat.
B. Antioxidants and Cancer PreventionCredit: Image courtesy of sharonang - pixabay.com
Another health benefit of consuming cruciferous vegetables is its ability to help prevent cancer. So, how does cruciferous vegetables aid in cancer prevention?
Cruciferous vegetables help prevent cancer in various ways. First is by reducing oxidative stress.
We asked ourselves, why do we need antioxidants? Today, pollution is a prevalent problem. A lot of today’s pollutants are free radicals that may harm us by causing oxidative stress. Fortunately, antioxidants can neutralize these harmful compounds before they cause havoc inside your body. Cruciferous vegetables are among the best sources of antioxidants, like vitamin C and various carotenoids.
Cruciferous vegetables can also aid in cancer prevention through the phytonutrient known as isothiocyanates. Studies have shown that these healthful compounds can prevent cancer in several ways. It can stimulate antioxidant activity. Some studies have also revealed that sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate, can switch “off” genes that help cancer cells grow and multiply. An example for this is the gene that affects telomere production. In my article about premature aging, I’ve mentioned about short telomeres and its connection to aging. But, did you know that a short telomere is also linked to cancer? As it turns out, most cancerous cells need the specific protein that is responsible for telomere production to reproduce. By switching this “off,” cancer cells won’t be able to multiply and grow, which may lead to cell death.
C. Cruciferous Vegetables Help Eliminate Toxic Compounds
Today, we’ve heard a lot about smoothies and juices for detox. The most common ingredients used in these green juices or smoothies are members of the cruciferous vegetables like kale and cabbage. Why?
One remarkable health benefit of consuming cruciferous vegetables is that these crops help our liver in eliminating toxins inside our body.
To explain further, there are two phases of detoxification process namely phase 1 (oxidation) and phase 2 (conjugation). In some cases, phase 1 may convert a toxic chemical into a more harmful substance. Thus, phase 2 is necessary to complete the process. The good news is that cruciferous vegetables have compounds that can positively affect the two phases of detoxification. Studies have shown that compounds like indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane can stimulate both phases of the detoxification process.
This mechanism of action of indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane is also linked to cancer prevention.
D. Other Health Benefits
- Consuming cruciferous vegetables can give you a healthy and younger looking skin due to their nutrients, antioxidants, and other healthful substances that aids in detoxification.
- These leafy greens are rich in fiber, a vital nutrients for your digestive health.
- Cruciferous vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties. This is due to its omega-3, vitamin k and indole-3-carbinol contents.
Problems Encountered in Cruciferous Vegetables
As presented, cruciferous vegetables are truly the superstars of plant-based products. However, like other foods, these veggies also have a dark side. Here are some of the problems you may experience when you consume too much cruciferous vegetables.
A. Cruciferous Vegetables, Iodine and Your ThyroidCredit: Image courtesy of VictoryRock - pixabay.com
Most of you have probably heard the antagonistic effects of isothiocyanates on your body’s thyroid function, which takes place when isothiocyanates blocks thyroid peroxidase (TPO) from doing its job. Basically, TPO is an enzyme that plays a crucial role in creating thyroid hormones. To be exact, its main job is to add iodine during thyroid hormone production. Should you be alarmed?
Basically, this antagonistic effect of isothiocyantes is harmful when we consume excessive amounts of raw cruciferous vegetables. Thus, moderate consumption of these veggies will not harm your thyroid’s health. Aside from that, cooking can lower goitrogens and other antinutrients present in these veggies. Another remedy is to add iodine-rich foods, like sea vegetables, in your diet.
What about people with thyroid problems? While small amounts of cruciferous vegetables will not cause harm, it is still best to consult your doctor. They’re the best person who can fully evaluate your current condition and give you an idea on how many servings of these veggies you can eat.
B. Other Antinutrients Found in Cruciferous Vegetables
Like other plant products, cruciferous vegetables also have antinutrients. These compounds are a plant’s defense against its predators. For us humans, these compounds typically block nutrient absorption. So, what are the antinutrients found in these veggies?
- Phytates - Iron, manganese, zinc and calcium are some of the most important minerals for our health. But, once we ingest high amounts of phytates, these minerals are at risk. Yes, phytates or phytic acid can block the absorption of these essential nutrients. But, don’t worry. Moderate consumption of foods rich in phytates and several food preparation techniques can help you win the battle against this antinutrient.
- Oxalates – Like phytates, oxalates or oxalic acid can also block nutrient absorption. But, for this antinutrient, it is more centralized on calcium. Furthermore, ingesting large amounts of oxalates can also lead to formation of kidney stones. Nonetheless, cooking can also lower the effects of this antinutrient.
Common Examples of Cruciferous Vegetables
2. Bok choy
4. Brussel Sprouts
7. Collard Greens
9. Mustard Greens
As you can see above, there are numerous health benefits of consuming cruciferous vegetables. Thus, it is without doubt that cruciferous vegetables are universally hailed superstars.
If you’re worried about goitrogens and other antinutrients, cooking is an alternative you can take. However, there are some important notes you have to remember when cooking these kinds of vegetables.
Keep in mind that compounds like isothiocyanates and indoles are not readily available in cruciferous vegetables. In order to produce these healthful phytonutrients, glucosinolates must first be converted. Don’t worry, this is not a complex process. All you have to do is to chop these veggies and allow it sit for several minutes. The enzyme myrosinase will then convert glucosinolates into isothiocyantes and other healthful compounds. This is usually done before cooking since heat destroys myrosinase.
When cooking these vegetables, light steaming is a highly recommended method. Keep in mind that phytonutrients like isothiocyanates are easily diminished by heat. Thus, it is important that we don’t overcook these veggies.
You can also try making raw cultured vegetables, like Kimchi, that can offer a ton of health perks. With moderate consumption, you don’t have to worry about the antagonistic effects of goitrogens and other antinutrients.
Kale - An Infamous Cruciferous Vegetable
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