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The Power Of Crucifers (Part 1)

So you think cabbage and cauliflower taste ugh! Find out why research says these humble veggies are nutritional superstars and how you can learn to love them.

Ask any meat lover what veggies they’d go for, given a choice, and more likely than not, the answer would be potatoes, tomatoes, peas and maybe, carrots. Alas, the lowly crucifers – viz. cabbage, cauliflower, nolkol et al – languish at the bottom of the most favored list. Actually there could be a scientific reason for this lack of enthusiasm: Researchers have discovered that people who have two copies of a certain gene are very sensitive to the bitter taste of glucosinolate-containing vegetables such as the crucifers.

So you think cabbage and cauliflower taste ugh! Find out why research says these humble veggies are nutritional superstars and how you can learn to love them.

So you think cabbage and cauliflower taste ugh! Find out why research says these humble veggies are nutritional superstars and how you can learn to love them.

(This may have some evolutionary implications since such taste receptor genes may have helped early humans avoid toxic plants, which are often bitter).

But there are some excellent reasons to train your taste buds to appreciate these humble veggies.

Most of us begin to feel more anxious about our health after we hit 40. We know, for example, that we should get more calcium to ward off osteoporosis. And as we age, we are at higher risk for cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis.

To hedge our bets, we may pop a daily multivitamin. But an increasing body of evidence to suggest that may not do the trick. “Food should always be your first choice for optimal nutrition,” says Felicia Busch, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the author of The New Nutrition: From Antioxidants to Zucchini. “Every day scientists are learning that foods offer more than just calories, vitamins, and minerals. All the beneficial substances have not even been identified yet, but it’s foolish to think that supplements can reliably mimic nature’s bounty. A bad diet with supplements is still a bad diet”.

Food is Medicine

Food is Medicine

Food is Medicine

A substantial amount of research shows that people who eat a plant-based diet – mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes – live longer and enjoy better health than people whose diets consist mainly of animal-based foods like meat. Many cultures developed their cuisines around plant foods out of necessity. Traditionally, animal protein was expensive, so limited quantities were available. Indian diets, as well as other Asian, Mediterranean and Latin American cultures are known for pairing healthy plant foods with lean protein (fish, chicken) and monounsaturated fat (olive, sesame, groundnut oils, nuts). A Mediterranean-style diet has been found responsible for:

  • Longer life expectancy
  • Reduced heart disease
  • Relief from rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lower rates of Parkinson’s disease
  • Lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease

Florets for the heart

“One of the first steps in the development of atherosclerotic plaque in blood vessels is the oxidation of LDL cholesterol”, explains Susan B., MS, RD, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. “In terms of inflammation, a chronic, low-grade inflammatory state in the body is believed to set the state for cardiovascular disease, so any food that has anti-inflammatory properties would be beneficial in reducing systemic, low-grade inflammation”.

Antioxidant compounds, such as those found in cruciferous vegetables, provide antioxidant defense and help to limit the oxidation of LDL, “which is a critical first step,” says B.. Cruciferous vegetables are rich sources of compounds called sulforaphanes, which act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in the body. These two effects are of particular importance with respect to heart disease. A Chinese study looking at total vegetable intake, total fruit intake, and cruciferous vegetable intake found that high intakes of total vegetables, particularly the cruciferous vegetables, were associated with a significantly reduced risk of death, particularly death due to cardiovascular disease.

You’ve got some brass (ICA)!

Cruciferous vegetables, also referred to as Brassica vegetables, are members of the cabbage family. They include:

Cabbage (including Chinese cabbage and bok choy)

Cabbage (including Chinese cabbage and bok choy)

Consuming more plant foods also means you will be getting more phytonutrients in your diet. Phytonutrients are found only in plant foods, and include carotenoids, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, phenols, saponins, sulfides and thiols. “Some of these may help the body produce nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator and can help to reduce blood pressure,” says B.

A diet high in fruits and vegetables is also nutrient dense but not calorie-dense, so it can help control body weight. That’s important, since overweight and obesity are risk factors for heart disease.

“Also, plant foods are excellent sources of dietary fiber. And soluble fiber (found in certain plant foods, including broccoli and cauliflower) helps to lower serum cholesterol levels, which also reduces the risk for heart disease”, says B.

Bringing up broccoli

Broccoli is a nutrition champion. Like other cruciferous vegetables in the Brassicaceae family, it’s rich in vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin), and fiber, plus potassium, vitamin K, and beta carotene. One cup (85 gm, raw, chopped) has about as much vitamin C as a medium-sized orange. And all for only 30 calories per cup. Broccoli sprouts, the edible young shoots from broccoli seeds, are even richer in sulforaphane, gram for gram. Two small studies suggested that eating them along with broccoli will boost sulforaphane absorption more than eating either food alone. On the other hand, broccoli sprouts have lower levels of other potential anti-cancer compounds, and they lack the full range of nutrients and fiber found in broccoli.

Buying & cooking

Look for fresh broccoli with tight florets that are dark green or purplish, not yellow

Look for fresh broccoli with tight florets that are dark green or purplish, not yellow

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