Top Three Reasons Why Cruciferous Vegetables Are So Good for You
People ask me, "What products do you use on your skin? It glows." I reply, "A $2 bar of soap and some olive oil". Then of course I tell them that I eat more cruciferous vegetables than anyone I know. By the look on their faces, I think they would rather me recommend a $150 bottle of skin cream!
I can tell you right now that this will not be my most popular blog entry. My video on how to prepare cruciferous vegetables is probably my least viewed, but it's actually the one I'm most proud of. Why? 'Cause I know how important these vegetables are for everyone for optimal health.
I could probably give you ten reasons why eating a 'cruciferous a day' is good for you, but an easy acronym will help remind you of the top three:
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Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds that increase glutathione production in the body. Simply put, glutathione is an antioxidant. But it's not just your average, run-of-the-mill antioxidant. Glutathione is respectfully referred to as the "Mother of All Antioxidants". The liver relies on glutathione each and every day to process the by-products of metabolism, stress, poor diet, and exogenous toxic chemicals. All of these make up our total toxic load, and over time weigh heavy on the liver's capacity to stay above water. A deficiency in glutathione has been linked with chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, heart disease, chronic infections, autoimmune disease, liver disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer's, and to very ill patients suffering from almost every kind of disease (1).
Glutathione is so important because it recycles itself and synthesizes other antioxidants in the body to be utilized properly (2). In fact, well-known antioxidants like vitamin C and E wouldn't be able to work effectively without glutathione's natural capacity for synthesizing them. (3).
But just because our bodies produce and recycle our own glutathione doesn't mean that we don't need it from outside sources. Quite the contrary: Our total toxic load, as well as genetic factors, can leave the liver's capacity for high quality production of glutathione at risk. For all the antioxidants to be functioning optimally, glutathione synthesis needs be effective inside the body through the support of foods known to increase glutathione production.
Cruciferous vegetables can be called "food for the immune system". Immune cells rely on antioxidants and the liver's detoxifying function to quell the damaging affects of free radicals, but the body has many ways to prevent disease. One of which is through the help of certain compounds (like the ones in cruciferous vegetables) that have the potential to suppress the development of certain cancers by activating genes with the specific job of suppressing tumor growth in precancerous cells (4). With tumor-suppressor genes "switched on", abnormal cells are "switched off" before they have the opportunity to form into a cancerous tumor. Sulphoraphane is a key player in this process.
Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur compounds. An optimal supply of sulfur-containing molecules is needed to detoxify many of the substances we encounter on a day-to-day basis (5). Sulfur is a "sticky" mineral that attracts toxins to it and holds them in place to be eliminated. It aids the liver's second stage in detoxification, which transforms the toxins from fat-soluble to water-soluble. This is a necessary process that allows the toxins to be disposed of properly through the urine. Without this, many of the toxins that have been released from their holding cells may become even more harmful than the original toxic substance (6). Again, glutathione is a major player (if not thee major player) in the liver's detoxification process. Because of its ability to detox the body in such a way, glutathione has yet another name: "The Master Detoxifier".
So Where Can I Get Me Some?
My rule of thumb is 'one a day'. This isn't really hard. Really. There are a handful of vegetables in the cruciferae family (referred to as cruciferae or brassica interchangeably). I have them memorized, and each time I'm at the market, I grab at least a few varieties:
- Bok Choy
- Brussels Sprouts
- Mustard Greens
As far as cooking goes, the Linus Pauling Institute through Oregon State University recommends to eat these precious vegetables raw most of the time. Cooking in liquid, even steaming, can leach out the healthful compounds and even inactivate some of them. This is my preference too; I like my cruciferae uncooked. Contrary to popular belief, cruciferous vegetables may be less gas-producing for many individuals if consumed in raw form.
'One a Day' Grab and Go Ideas
See my cruciferous recipes below, but here are three staple ideas of what to do with your plethora of cruciferae waiting in the fridge:
Raw Slaws: I almost always have a Pyrex bowl of thinly sliced cabbage and other hearty vegetables mixed together undressed. I have one or two pre-made dressings ready to go in the fridge. I toss the cabbage in with some arugula or watercress and some protein and have a satisfying meal that's quick and easy.
Spinner Salads: I have three salad spinners full of different kinds of cruciferous greens in my fridge at all times. The greens are washed, chopped and ready to be made into crisp salads at the drop of a hat. I keep the delicate greens like watercress and arugula in a separate spinner, heartier varieties like kale and collards in another, and miscellaneous greens like mustard and kohlrabi greens in their own. Even tougher greens like kale can be made into a salad by massaging with olive oil and salt to break down the tough fibers (see Massaged Kale Salad below).
Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad with Apricot-Citrus Prawns
An elegant way to get your greens, orange and lemon coalesce with fresh apricots to top tender baby arugula and sauteed prawns. Soft goat cheese is blended with toasted pine nuts and dried apricots for a sweet, sour and nutty kick. Tempeh can easily substitute the prawns...
Does anyone else here love Whole Foods' Broccoli Crunch as much as I? Broccoli, toasted cashews, turkey bacon and currants come together in this comforting salad with a crunch. My version is a little healthier than the original and it tastes pretty close to the real thing...
Massaged Kale Salad (and you don't even have to be certified in massage to make this!)
Ready in an instant, this simple salad from my friend and colleague Brigitte Mars welcomes additions like avocado, sliced shiitakes, or any other vegetable you have in the fridge...
2. Murray, Michael, ND. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. New York: Three Rivers Press. 2001.
3. The Glutathione Experts. What is Glutathione? Biochemistry and Metabolism. 2009.
4. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. LPI Research Newsletter. Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Risk. 2009.
5. Hass, Elson, MD. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. New York: Celestial Arts. 2006.
6. Livers, Erin. Spring Cleanse and Rejuvenation Program: Stage II Liver Detoxification. 2008.
7. Perricone, Nicolas, MD. Daily Perricone. Boosting the Immune System with Cruciferous Vegetables. 2008.