Diet

Cruciferous Vegetables: Cancer Killer or Thyroid Killer?

Eating vegetables is frequently the hardest part of following a healthy diet. Many people say they do not like vegetables.

However, most of them just do not know how to cook them or eat them to make them tastier. Others think they are not worth our attention and rely too much on supplements.

Doctors throughout the globe support vegetable consumption. They nurture every cell with its numerous benefits. But they may be classified differently accordingly to their shape, texture, color, and flavor (1).

For their part, cruciferous veggies are very common. You may probably have some of them in your refrigerator. Let us examine them together and see what we can draw out from them.

What are cruciferous vegetables?

The word “cruciferous” comes from the Latin that translates as “bearing a cross.” That’s because of the leaves of these vegetables, which grow crossed against one another. You can notice, for example, that collards have four leaves in each layer. But there are other examples in each one of them. And it is a big family of more than three thousand species.

They contain highly nourishing substances, and they are a relatively easy way to cultivate. Thus, the entire world produces and consumes cruciferous veggies. Their origins can be traced back to West Asia and Europe.

Nowadays, the Mediterranean basin is one of the largest production areas. Nevertheless, they can be cultivated in several environments. They grow without requiring much attention, and the harvests can produce quite a lot.

Cruciferous are present in plenty of traditional dishes all over the world, from Spain to China. Not in vain, cruciferous vegetables are one of the leading food crops worldwide.

You can find them in the market all year long. However, the coldest season of the year is the best moment to grow them. But surely, this depends on the country and the weather (2). 

Top 16 cruciferous vegetables

You will see how the majority of the following species are very familiar to most of us. So, we’re not only covering the characteristics of each. We’re also giving you a few tips to use cruciferous and adapt them to your dietary habit.

The most essential cruciferous vegetables nowadays are:

  1. Cabbage: One of the most common raw cruciferous vegetables in the world. Most of us have tasted cabbage, either white, purple, or green. It is fresh and crunchy and usually taken raw or softly cooked. In the past, cabbage was widely used by breasting women, and it has almost no calories. It is vital in the preparation of sauerkraut and kimchi. 

  2. Broccoli: As an interesting fact, kids tend to reject broccoli, but later in life, they may get to love it. Sweet and tasty, the contrast between the soft part of the broccoli sprout and the firmness of the stalk is great. You may choose to eat them boiled, steamed, or stir-fried, but not raw. Most of us have seen broccoli as an intense green vegetable. However, in North America and Europe, it is possible to find white and purple colors. These resemble cabbage, but with a texture that belongs to cauliflowers. Broccoli is also rich in potassium and pantothenic acid.

  3. Cauliflower: One of the most vitamin-rich plants in the list, particularly B vitamins, vitamin C, and folates. It is sweet and salty at the same time. You can cook it in so many ways and combine it with several different ingredients, such as cheese, milk, tomatoes, onions, poultry, or eggs. Roasted cauliflower is one of the preferred preparations. The texture may vary according to the cooking method. And its white color makes it an interesting choice for decoration.

  4. Brussels sprouts: Small and gracious, they look like one-inch diameter cabbages. You may take them to the oven with cheese, boil them with garlic or add them to a stew. Take advantage of their sweet touch. Sprouts are an excellent option to mix new textures and sensations to the most common meal. An interesting detail is that Brussels is rich in magnesium and vitamin K.

  5. Arugula: As with kale, arugula is part of the dark green leaves‘ subgroup. It is recommended by the USDA for its excellent nutritional qualities. You may add it to Italian recipes, including pizzas, pasta, and salads. 

  6. Watercress: For centuries, watercress has been recognized as a plant that is both delicious and medicinal. You may combine watercress with almost any other ingredient in a fresh salad. Many also put some fresh watercress with meat preparations, like stews and grills. 

  7. Radish: Fantastic, spicy, fresh. You may include a bit of grill, salads, and seasoning with aromatic herbs. The best option for liver wellbeing.

  8. Kale: Common in North America, but spreading to new frontiers where it has been unknown for a long time. This vegetable is very rich in iron. It goes fantastically with many other vegetables, particularly if you let them rest and let the flavors combine. To improve the slight bitterness, choose plain or sweet contrasts like parboiled carrots, sweet corn, or mushrooms.

  9. Wasabi: Making its presence from Asia, it is an excellent companion for fish and meat. It is spicy and nutritive, as well as simple and easy to add to your meals. It resembles radishes, but is smaller and has an intense green color. It is also related to the mustard family. 

  10. Bok Choy: From Chinese cuisine, bok choy is now used in western countries, too. This collard, of intense green color, had a relative that also resembles celery. In a salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, soy, and sesame seeds, bok choy can become an easy and delicious treat.

  11. Collard greens: They are very popular in southern regions of the United States. Actually, they are widely consumed during New Year’s meals. They belong to the cabbage family and have green leaves you need to remove before preparing or eating.

  12. Horseradish: A delicious and pungent vegetable you can grow in your back yard or garden for a very long time. It is used as a condiment or spice, and it is related to wasabi and mustard. It gives a spicy taste to your foods.

  13. Turnips: They are also members of the Brassica vegetables, even though they look a bit different. These are often combined with radishes and carrots and cultivated during summer days.

  14. Mizuna: This one is native from Asia and not as popular as broccoli. However, you can use mizuna in your Western dishes, too. And it has many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents.

  15. Land cress: It is very similar to watercress, but grows even more rapidly. It has an intense green color and a strong peppery flavor. Land cress is a great addition to your salad. It gives a slightly pungent taste, and it is very popular in winter.

  16. Daikon: As the name implies, this one is very common in Japanese foods. When you eat daikon, you’re consuming basically the root of the plant. It grows during winter with a slight and minimalistic taste, very much like the Japanese style.

Health benefits of cruciferous vegetables

The United States Department of Agriculture divided the vegetables by color. The USDA advises having a regular intake of veggies, especially those with dark green leaves.

In each category, they include cruciferous vegetables. That illustrates the main role that these plants play in a healthy diet (3). 

  • Nutrients: Cruciferous veggies provide lots of nutrients. You may find some of these constituents exclusively in cruciferous vegetables, as in sulfoxides. Another nutrient you will always find is vitamin C. For example, a regular portion of cabbage incorporates around 70% of the vitamin C daily intake for adults.

    This is striking for some, especially if you believe that vitamin C is only found in citrus fruits. Against all the odds, most cruciferous is not sour, but maybe a little bitter or spicy. Broccolis are rather sweet and have plenty of vitamin C, similar to lemon juice. So, we can say that appearances are deceiving when it comes to cruciferous vegetables. 

  • Antioxidants: The bitter sensation, strong in some cases, is due to some antioxidant sulfur-compound nutrients called glucosinolates. They combat oxidative stress and contribute directly to facilitate heart tissue restoration. Thus, coronary patients should consider having them as a regular option in their diet. These can be very helpful in lowering the risk of heart disease, too (4).

  • Heart disease: The Journal of the American Heart Association reported that Australian women with higher ingestion of cruciferous had healthier arteries and less atherosclerotic plaque buildup (5). We also need to determine, though, if the same applies to men. That’s why the Shanghai Men’s Health Study established that lower cruciferous vegetable intake might lead to a 22% higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality (4). 

    Five different glucosinolates and derivatives were found in a study in Germany. This study was named European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Such molecules, when transformed on the body, become building blocks of our cardiovascular tissue. They interact with metabolic liver functions or become paramount for disease prevention (6). 

  • Weight loss: Not to mention that most members of the cruciferous family are low-calorie food. They are also an excellent source of dietary fiber. That is to say; they may help to reduce sizes by giving you a sense of earlier satiety. Cruciferous vegetables are definitely useful in your weight loss arsenal (7)

  • Carotenoids: They are also rich in carotenoids, flavonoids, lutein, folic acid, and other vitamins, including A and K. These nutrients are related to the immune system. They also contribute to many processes, create compounds, and build new cells. Many cruciferous veggies contain calcium, to the extent that many scientists compare a portion of cruciferous to a glass of milk. The nutritional profile varies from one species to the other. However, they all have in common a very complex pack of vitamins and minerals.

  • Liver enzyme production: Another benefit derived from cruciferous veggies is the stimulation of liver enzyme production. For all of the above, they are favorable for people with restricted alimentary regimes. In these cases, they provide a significant boost to the immune system and many vitamins and minerals. They induce satiety and give the body a substantial portion of the nutritional requirements.

  • Health problems: In March 2019, the Global Bulletin of Fruits & Vegetables published some epidemiologic studies of the effects of cruciferous vegetable consumption. More than 88.000 Japanese people above 45 years old of both sexes and concluded that the frequent intake of cruciferous leads to less risk of cancer, cardiac and respiratory diseases, and strokes (8,9). 

  • High in fiber: On the other hand, it is important to point out that we can see a significant difference between species. Some cruciferous, like cabbages and cauliflowers, may be a bit difficult to digest. They cause symptoms such as bloating and gas. This may prompt for a responsible intake by colonic patients. However, this is because of the high fiber content, which is taken by the gut microbiota. As such, cabbages and cauliflowers can be very useful as a natural prebiotic. That is, they feed healthy microbiota and promote proper colonization (10).

Is there evidence that cruciferous vegetables can help reduce cancer risk in people?

As stated above, there are many nutrients in this family of vegetables. They also have many phytonutrients, natural ingredients found in plants.

For example, we can count high levels of isothiocyanates. These are substances derived from a common component in cruciferous vegetables. They have been determined to play a major role in cancer cell inhibition in animals.

The U.S National Cancer Institute researched rodents to evaluate this effect. The study dictates that isothiocyanates avoid cell damage of genetic nature. They can prevent DNA damage in the cells. Moreover, they induce selective apoptosis (cell death process) when there are defective cells (11).

Other studies also contributed to additional data. They found out that people who took more cruciferous in their daily diet had a lower prostate cancer risk and lung cancer risk (12, 13). Under the same line, the American Journal of Epidemiology published The Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer. This research established how women who eat cruciferous reduced their risk of colon cancer. However, this study did not show the same results in men with colorectal cancer (14).

Nevertheless, it is difficult to reach definitive results. That’s because, in some cases, determining and measuring a patient’s diet is not always easy or exact. For some specific types of cancer, there is little to no evidence of influence with cruciferous.

Analysis and essays are indicating that all results mentioned above are not conclusive. Information may not be consistent. The studies are susceptible to bias or do not show there an association. That’s why there are only recommendations but not a final word about cruciferous and cancer.

At the end of the day, eating vegetables won’t harm patients. Quite the opposite, because it is associated with multiple health benefits. And one of them is a possible reduction in cancer risk, which is always welcome.

Another aspect we should also consider is how to consume cruciferous vegetables. There is a considerable distinction in the intake of whether the patients took the vegetables cooked or raw.

The modes of preparation thus add a significant confounding factor to the research. As you can see, making clear associations between cancer and diet is not easy. And the current lack of information on this matter is an important misleading factor.

Cruciferous vegetables vs. Non-Cruciferous vegetables

Are cruciferous vegetables better than non-cruciferous vegetables? Or is the opposite true? As you can see above, there are significant benefits to consuming cruciferous vegetables. However, there are a few cons. One of them is bloating and the production of gases, as stated above. But the other has to do with the thyroid function.

Cruciferous vegetables intervene in the reabsorption of certain hormones. For example, they interfere with thyroid hormones to a significant degree. That is why they have been associated with some thyroid disorders, especially hypothyroidism. It was tested and confirmed in animals, and it seems to be the same in humans (15).

Glucosinolates may disrupt the way your thyroid handles iodine. This element is essential to produce thyroid hormone. Thus, your thyroid may become affected by this type of vegetables. This is why doctors may recommend reducing the consumption of cruciferous veggies if you have thyroid problems.

Broccoli could be an exception in this case. Studies are confirming that broccoli does not alter the levels of thyrotrophic hormones. Quite the opposite, because broccoli and broccoli sprouts can be considered allies of our thyroid wellbeing. It provides a great deal of zinc and iodine, both useful for thyroid function (16).

There is food as good as cruciferous that perfectly combine with or substitute cruciferous. In particular, we can name chicory, parsley, coriander, lettuce, moringa, chard, and spinach.

Similar to cruciferous vegetables, they have many vitamins and minerals, low carbohydrates, and low calories. However, even green leafy vegetables are not as rich in fiber. Thus, they may not have the same effect on weight loss and satiety. They do not contain the same phytonutrients. Thus, their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant profile is not the same.

That’s why it is recommended to eat a combination of vegetables that include cruciferous and non-cruciferous varieties (3).

Conclusion

A healthy diet would not be complete without cruciferous vegetables. They are tasty, nourishing, easy-to-cook, and cheap. You can find them in every market and grocery store. These provide essential nutrients and help to keep the body in the best condition. 

There’s a variety of cruciferous vegetables, as described above. Most of them contain abundant fiber and phytonutrients. Among their health properties, we can include weight loss applications, a reduction in cardiovascular risk, a reduction in cancer risk, and both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Still, we also have negative effects such as bloating and thyroid problems. They may not be recommended if you have thyroid issues. In these cases, you should ask your doctor to get guidance about the appropriate portions of cruciferous vegetables according to your case.

Making use of cruciferous vegetables will bring a distinct flavor to our cuisine. It also protects the liver, heart, and other organs, control inflammation and boosts the immunity system.

Sources

  1. Dias, J. S. (2012). Nutritional quality and health benefits of vegetables: A review. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 3(10), 1354-1374.
  2. Williams, P. H. (1980). Chemistry and breeding of cruciferous vegetables. In The Resource Potential in Phytochemistry (pp. 139-155). Springer, Boston, MA.
  3. Buzby, J. C., Guthrie, J. F., & Kantor, L. S. (2003). Evaluation of the USDA fruit and vegetable pilot program: Report to congress. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Food Assistance & Nutrition Research Program.
  4. Zhang, X., Shu, X. O., Xiang, Y. B., Yang, G., Li, H., Gao, J., … & Zheng, W. (2011). Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 94(1), 240-246.
  5. Blekkenhorst, L. C., Bondonno, C. P., Lewis, J. R., Woodman, R. J., Devine, A., Bondonno, N. P., … & Prince, R. L. (2018). Cruciferous and total vegetable intakes are inversely associated with subclinical atherosclerosis in older adult women. Journal of the American Heart Association, 7(8), e008391.
  6. Riboli, E., Hunt, K. J., Slimani, N., Ferrari, P., Norat, T., Fahey, M., … & Overvad, K. (2002). European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC): study populations and data collection. Public health nutrition, 5(6b), 1113-1124.
  7. Mendes, N. E. D. A. S. (2012). Evaluation of different natural ingredients as satiety inductors (Doctoral dissertation, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia).
  8. Manchali, S., Murthy, K. N. C., & Patil, B. S. (2012). Crucial facts about health benefits of popular cruciferous vegetables. Journal of Functional Foods, 4(1), 94-106.
  9. Yip, C. S. C., Chan, W., & Fielding, R. (2019). The associations of fruit and vegetable intakes with burden of diseases: a systematic review of meta-analyses. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 119(3), 464-481.
  10. Kaczmarek, J. L., Liu, X., Charron, C. S., Novotny, J. A., Jeffery, E. H., Seifried, H. E., … & Holscher, H. D. (2019). Broccoli consumption affects the human gastrointestinal microbiota. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 63, 27-34.
  11. Bonnesen, C., Eggleston, I. M., & Hayes, J. D. (2001). Dietary indoles and isothiocyanates that are generated from cruciferous vegetables can both stimulate apoptosis and confer protection against DNA damage in human colon cell lines. Cancer research, 61(16), 6120-6130.
  12. Giovannucci, E., Rimm, E. B., Liu, Y., Stampfer, M. J., & Willett, W. C. (2003). A prospective study of cruciferous vegetables and prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers, 12(12), 1403-1409.
  13. Lam, T. K., Ruczinski, I., Helzlsouer, K. J., Shugart, Y. Y., Caulfield, L. E., & Alberg, A. J. (2010). Cruciferous vegetable intake and lung cancer risk: a nested case-control study matched on cigarette smoking. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers, 19(10), 2534-2540.
  14. Voorrips, L. E., Goldbohm, R. A., van Poppel, G. A. F. C., Sturmans, F., Hermus, R. J. J., & Van Den Brandt, P. A. (2000). Vegetable and fruit consumption and risks of colon and rectal cancer in a prospective cohort study The Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer. American Journal of Epidemiology, 152(11), 1081-1092.
  15. Burel, C., Boujard, T., Escaffre, A. M., Kaushik, S. J., Boeuf, G., Mol, K. A., … & KuÈhn, E. R. (2000). Dietary low-glucosinolate rapeseed meal affects thyroid status and nutrient utilization in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). British Journal of Nutrition, 83(6), 653-664.
  16. Chartoumpekis, D. V., Ziros, P. G., Chen, J. G., Groopman, J. D., Kensler, T. W., & Sykiotis, G. P. (2019). Broccoli sprout beverage is safe for thyroid hormonal and autoimmune status: Results of a 12-week randomized trial. Food and chemical toxicology, 126, 1-6.

 

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