What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?
If you've ever been told to "eat dark, leafy greens" to maintain a healthy eating pattern, you might think it's about swapping out iceberg lettuce for spinach in your salad. That's a great start, but there's so much more to explore in the delicious world of cruciferous vegetables. If you haven't yet been converted, know that these nutrient-packed veggies can be transformed into daily delights. But before you start cooking, let's take a look at what these vegetables are.
Breaking Down Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are a group of plants in the Brassica genus, that includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and many more. They are packed with nutrients that support overall good health and are known for their potential cancer-fighting properties–they may be responsible for a reduced risk of breast cancer or prostate cancer. Their sulfur-containing compounds (called glucosinolates) give them a bitter taste and pungent aroma. Raw, some make great slaws and salads, while others can be too bitter for some palates. Cooked, they can make great main dishes—sautéed, grilled and roasted—but they also work as side dishes to complement meat, fish and pasta.
Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables
Doctors and dietitians encourage people to eat cruciferous vegetables because they're a source of many vitamins and minerals. To start, these vegetables are a good source of fiber to help with digestion and keeping you regular, but there's much more these dark green vegetables provide:
- Cruciferous vegetables contain carotenoids, which may help protect our bodies from different types of cancers and aid in cancer prevention. Carotenoids can also help preserve healthy vision.
- Cancer research shows glucosinolates, those sulfurous compounds, have also been shown to have cancer-fighting properties.
- They're high in vitamin C, which gives our immune systems a boost and helps us heal.
- They also provide vitamin E, which has antioxidant properties to help keep your skin healthy and protect cells from free radical damage.
- Vitamin K is also found in brassica vegetables; this nutrient helps with blood clotting and bone health.
- Many of these veggies are good sources of potassium, which can help lower blood pressure as well as regulate muscle contractions.
- As a bonus, brassica vegetables are also low in carbs and calories.
Getting to Know Cruciferous Vegetables
Of course, each brassica vegetable has unique flavors and benefits. Some people have trouble getting enough fruits and vegetables, so if you're looking to increase your cruciferous vegetable intake or you aspire to follow a plant-based diet, we picked a few of the more common brassica vegetables to highlight for their nutritional value as well as the delicious dishes you can make with them.
These peppery leaves add a little extra flavor and a lot of calcium to salads and pizzas. For a 2-cup serving of raw arugula, you get 65 milligrams of calcium—that's about the same as 1/4 cup of milk.
Bok choy is a popular ingredient in stir-fries and other Asian dishes. It's a tasty crisp-tender veggie, but it does a lot more than add texture to dinner. A 1-cup serving of cooked bok choi contains about 40% of the Daily Value of vitamin A, 48% DV of vitamin K and 17% DV of vitamin B6.
Broccoli is a versatile cruciferous vegetable: it can add healthy amounts of green to all sorts of dishes as well as provide much-needed nutrients. For 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli, you get more than 2 grams of fiber and 21% DV of folate.
Brussels sprouts are getting a lot more love these days with new recipes to deliver loads of nutrients deliciously. Not only does 1 cup (cooked) of these mini cabbage-like veggies give you 4 grams of fiber, but the same amount also has 11% DV of potassium and 107% DV of vitamin C.
As slaw or as egg roll filling, cabbage can take on flavors and textures in nutrient-packed dishes enjoyed around the world. A 1-cup serving of raw cabbage packs 28% DV of vitamin C and 2 grams of fiber; savoy and red cabbage also boast healthy amounts of beta carotene.
Cooks have reinvented cauliflower in the last few years as a gluten-free and low-carb ingredient in unexpected forms like rice and pizza crust, but cauliflower also has a lot of vitamins your body needs. A 1-cup serving of raw cauliflower contains 57% DV of vitamin C and 14% DV of vitamin K, along with healthy doses of folate, vitamin B6 and potassium.
Kale has evolved from garnish to main dish, partly because kale makes satisfying salads, soups and one-dish meals, but it's also full of nutrients. It's easy to get a few more cups of vegetables into your daily meals with kale, but for 1 cup of raw kale, you get 22% DV of vitamin C and 68% DV of vitamin K.