Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables, also called Brassicas or the cabbage family, are members of the Brassicaceae family, many of which are actually cultivars of a single species (Brassica oleracea): cabbage, Savoy cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kohlrabi, gai lan, and kale! Additional crucifers include cultivars of Brassica rapa (turnips, napa cabbage, bok choy, and rapini), horseradish, watercress, garden cress, radish, daikon, collard greens, rutabaga, and mustard greens. The term “cruciferous” comes from the Latin cruciferae, which means “cross-bearing” and refers to the shape of these plants’ flowers.
All of these veggies are powerhouses of nutrition and linked to numerous health benefits, including lower risks of all-cause mortality (general measure of health and longevity), cardiovascular disease and cancer. Cruciferous vegetables are high in dietary fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals, but even more impressive is the array of beneficial phytonutrients that crucifers are famous for (especially sulfur-containing glucosinolates).
Let’s take a look at the health benefits associated with cruciferous vegetable consumption, in general!
Cruciferous Veggies Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk
A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis, which included data from 95 studies that evaluated fruit and vegetable intake, showed eating 100 grams of cruciferous vegetables per day (about 1 serving), on average, led to an 18% decrease in ischemic stroke, a 17% decrease in hemorrhagic stroke, a 16% decrease in total cancer risk, and a 12% decrease in all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease. Wow!
A 2011 analysis of the Shanghai Women’s Health Study and Shanghai Men’s Health Study (encompassing 134,796 adults) found a 31% reduced risk for cardiovascular disease mortality and a 22% reduced risk for total mortality among individuals who ate 1 or 2 servings of cruciferous vegetables daily (average of 166 grams per day for women and 208 grams per day for men) compared to those with the lowest cruciferous vegetable intake, only 1 or 2 servings of cruciferous vegetables per week (average 28 grams per day for women and 34 grams per day for men).
A 2019 meta-analysis showed that cruciferous vegetables were some of the most important fruits or vegetables to consume on a daily basis (root vegetables and green leafy vegetables were also important, as were mixing up eating raw versus cooked vegetables). For every 100 grams of cruciferous vegetables consumed daily, risk of cardiovascular disease decreased by 11% and risk of all-cause mortality decreased by 10%.
One 2014 human trial also found that eating a high-cruciferous-vegetable diet reduced some markers of inflammation associated with several disease states (particularly the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 [IL-6]), pointing to one mechanism through which cruciferous vegetables reduces cardiovascular disease risk.
Cruciferous Veggies Reduce Cancer Risk
Cruciferous vegetables are a unique source of a class of phytonutrients, called glucosinolates, which are particularly well-known for their cancer prevention benefits. Glucosinolates produce isothiocyanates when the vegetable is damaged (for example, sliced, crushed or chewed), and many of these are known to upregulate genes involved in protecting against DNA damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress, as well as increase the activity of phase II detoxification enzymes (such as quinone reductase and glutamate cysteine ligase) that help remove toxic substances and carcinogens from the body.
Given these unique nutrients, it’s no surprise that a variety of prospective cohort and case-control studies have found that overall cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with lower risk of:
- bladder cancer (up to a 20% lower risk),
- breast cancer (up to a 15% lower risk),
- colorectal cancer (up to an 18% lower risk),
- endometrial cancer (up to a 21% lower risk),
- gastric cancer (up to a 19% lower risk),
- liver cancer (up to a 27% lower risk),
- lung cancer (up to a 25% lower risk),
- ovarian cancer (up to an 11% lower risk),
- pancreatic cancer (up to a 21% lower risk), and
- prostate cancer (up to a 10% lower risk).
Yes, cruciferous vegetables are absolute rock stars when it comes to our health!
Examples of Cruciferous Vegetables
- bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese broccoli
- collard greens
Nutrients in Cruciferous Vegetables
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