Cruciferous Vegetables Are Prevention Powerhouses

When former president George H.W. Bush publicly proclaimed his dislike of broccoli, he wasn't doing himself any favors. This ubiquitous vegetable is part of a family of vegetables that is a veritable powerhouse when it comes to cancer prevention.

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, which is part of the cabbage family. Cruciferous veggies get their name from their plants' four-petal flowers, which look like a cross (crucifer).

The evidence is overwhelming that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps prevent cancer. Cruciferous vegetables in particular are a rich source of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, which break down during digestion. Glucosinolates help eliminate carcinogens before they can damage DNA or change the cell-signaling pathways that prevent the transformation of normal cells into cancer.

This metabolic byproduct may also help regulate our body's complex system of cancer defense enzymes. There's even evidence that glucosinolates alter the metabolism or actions of hormones to inhibit the development of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer.

Glucosinolates break down into several compounds, including isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates offset the harmful effects of the carcinogens produced when we process or cook meat, which is a major cause of colon cancer. Eating about four one-half cup servings of cruciferous vegetables each week may reduce your risk of colon cancer by 20 to 50 percent.

Cruciferous vegetables are also rich in other critical nutrients, including calcium, iron, folate, and fiber.

Burned out on broccoli? There are many vegetables to explore in the cruciferous family. It should be easy to include several in your weekly meal plan.

  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage (all types, including Napa cabbage)
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radish
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip
  • Wasabi
  • Watercress

Although there are no established minimum daily requirements specifically for cruciferous vegetables, experts recommend four to five one-half cup servings weekly. Every vegetable has a unique nutrition profile, so consume a wide variety of veggies to maximize your cancer-protection potential.

Here are a few tips from the American Dietetic Association for getting the most out of your cruciferous vegetables.

  • Eat them soon after purchasing
  • If you cook them, do so just until they are tender-crisp (don't overcook)
  • Don't keep leftovers for more than five days

National Cancer Institute. "Fruit and Vegetable Consumption." 2009-2010 Cancer Trends Progress Report. Web. 15 April 2010.

Oregon State University. Linus Pauling Institute. "Cruciferous Vegetables." Web. 19 May 2010.

American Institute for Cancer Research. "Foods That Fight Cancer?" Web.

American Dietetic Association. "Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer."

Collins Karen. "Nutrition Wise." American Institute for Cancer Research. Web. 15 January 2007.

Collins, Karen. "What's Your Vegetable-to-Meat Ratio?" American Institute for Cancer Research. Web. 1 January 2007.