What are cruciferous vegetables, do we need them, and is there a tasty way to cook them?

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  • Your body needs the nutrients from cruciferous vegetables for several functions.
  • Half a cup of cooked, or one cup of raw cruciferous vegetables a day is all that's needed.
  • There are tasty and enjoyable ways to prepare these veggies.

How often do you eat your greens? Never? A few times a month? Once a week, or every day?

Among your greens are a group of vegetables that include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radish, watercress and cabbage.

Interestingly, the collective “cruciferous” name is derived from the Latin term “Cruciferae” meaning “cross-bearing” which alludes to the four petals resembling a cross.

The current South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines recommend you eat one serving (½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw) of greens every day in combination with a large variety of coloured fruit and vegetables. 

Why is it important to eat cruciferous vegetables? 

An excellent source of vitamins and minerals, cruciferous vegetables contain folate, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and calcium.

Folate is an important B vitamin for red blood cell production and to protect your DNA from damage. 

These vegetables are also the main source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is necessary for optimal blood clotting and bone health.

Just ½ a cup of cooked (1 cup raw) broccoli, or ½ a cup cooked (1 cup raw) spinach or kale meets your daily vitamin K needs.

Vitamin A is not only important for optimal immune function, it also maintains eyesight, fertility and proper cell growth.

A plant source of vitamin A is beta-carotene which needs to be converted to active vitamin A in your body.

Carrots are regarded as the eyesight vegetable, but ½ a cup of cooked or raw spinach or kale is also a good source of beta-carotene. 

They contain phytonutrients

Phytonutrients are colourful substances that plants produce. They are healthy and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that protect the body cells from oxidative damage and DNA damage.

By doing this, they prevent diseases such as cardio vascular disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Cruciferous vegetables contain a phytonutrient called sulforaphane.

A super source of sulforaphane is broccoli microgreens which contain 40 times the sulforaphane content compared to broccoli florets.

It has been found that your intake of sulforaphane from eating cruciferous vegetables three to five times a week may reduce your risk of cancer by 30 to 40%.

This is because sulforaphane interacts with your cell signaling pathways, leading to increased glutathione enzyme activity, an important liver detoxification enzyme which helps to protect you against cancer.

How to prepare these vegetables 

If you think the only way to eat these vegetables is to boil them, you are mistaken.

When steaming, add some taste by drizzling over a little olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper, chili, onion, almond flakes or crushed nuts.

Roasting in the oven or air fryer with olive oil, spices and herbs, makes them crunchy and delicious, also achieved by flash stir frying with sweet chili and soya sauce.

With winter upon us, what can be tastier than a soup made from these vegetables with a variety of tasty ingredients?

Prevent the bloat 

Not all people experience bloating when eating cruciferous vegetables – if you do, you may actually suffer from poor gut health.

This is a condition where the bad bacteria such as yeast and candida dominate the good bacteria, causing you to experience bloating.

Including the correct type of fibre in your diet may help to reduce symptoms.

Other strategies to decrease bloating include:

  • Eating a smaller portion of the vegetables that cause you to bloat.
  • Combining these vegetables with other vegetables may help. For example, you can add roasted broccoli florets to a lettuce, carrot and tomato salad or enjoy a green combo smoothie.
  • Cook them instead of eating them raw. Try a variety of ways such as roasting, stir frying and soups.

If uncomfortable gut symptoms when eating vegetables persist, consult a dietitian for individualised medical nutrition therapy.

Please visit the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) website to find a registered dietitian in your area.

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