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What are cruciferous vegetables and what makes them “super veggies?”


Christi Kirk is a registered dietitian at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert

Question: What are cruciferous vegetables and what makes them “super veggies?”

Answer: Cruciferous vegetables –  which include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage, red cabbage, collard greens, bok choy, radishes, turnips, rutabaga and horseradish root – could all be considered “super veggies” because of their potential cancer-fighting properties. Their name is derived from the fact that their four-petal flowers are cross-shaped. What makes these vegetables special is that when they are chopped, chewed or cooked, they release chemicals known as glucosinolates, which break down into biologically active compounds that some researchers think may fight cancer.

It’s been shown that glucosinolates may induce cell death (cancer starts when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control, according to the American Cancer Society’s website), inactivate carcinogens and protect cells from DNA damage. While there has not been a lot of research done on humans and we don’t exactly understand how these chemicals work, we do know that super veggies also are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and that means they play an important role in diet variety so including them at mealtime is vital!

Although no hard and fast recommendations have been established, most people should aim to eat at least five of these super veggies per week. But since cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur, they often have a strong or bitter flavor and pungent odor, so many people omit them from their diet.

Unfortunately, doing so can lead to a gap in nutrition. One way to counteract sulfur’s unpleasant effects is to drizzle in some balsamic vinegar near the end of sautéing the veggies.

All the super veggies are quite versatile and you might be surprised at how easy it is to use them. When sautéing them, be sure to look for a bright green color and keep the veggies crisp. Also, be careful not to overcook them in water because that only amplifies the sulfur taste. I like to put kale or collard greens in soups, and kale makes a great stand-in for lettuce in most any salad. It's healthier than iceberg lettuce and a one-cup serving size of this leafy green vegetable is only 36 calories. That's another great thing about all of these cruciferous wonders – they're low in calories and fill you up. Enjoy!

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center
Higley Road and US 60
2946 E. Banner Gateway Drive
Gilbert, AZ 85234
(480) 256-6444
(855) 256-6444

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