Cruciferous Vegetables: Why Are They Important

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What do arugula, kale, and Brussels sprouts have in common? Aside from being trendy ingredients in your diet, they are all delicious cruciferous vegetables and pack a nutritional punch.

In recent years, the cruciferous family of vegetables has generated a lot of interest, especially in the health world, due to their cancer-fighting compounds. Yes, it is a unique property of these veggies. This trend has led many gardeners to wonder what cruciferous vegetables are and if they can grow them in their gardens. 

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Are you ready to add more cruciferous veggies to your diet? Remember that these tips will make packing your vitamins and minerals easy and enjoyable.

What are Cruciferous Vegetables?

Broadly, cruciferous vegetables belong to the Cruciferae family. This group mainly contains the Brassica genus but also includes a few other genuses. In general, these vegetables are cool-weather vegetables and have flowers that have four petals. These four petals are so designed – that they resemble a cross.

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Cruciferous veggies are a diverse group. The group includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and bok choy, which you might have heard of. Other uncommon ones include arugula, Brussels sprouts, collards, watercress, and radishes. Fun fact: The name “cruciferous” is an informal classification for members of the mustard family. The word comes from the Latin cruciferae meaning cross-bearing – because the four petals resemble a cross.

Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

While these veggies grow in all different shapes, colors, and sizes. In addition, they share several nutritional benefits. Most of these cruciferous veggies are rich in vitamins and minerals such as folate and vitamin K. 

It is important to note that dark green cruciferous veggies also are a source of vitamins A and C and are loaded with phytonutrients – these are plant-based compounds that might help to lower inflammation. Phytonutrients can also reduce the risk of developing cancer. These vegetables also are rich in fiber and low in calories. The combination helps you feel full and satisfied without overeating.

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It does not take much to reap the benefits. Adults only need two and half cups of vegetables a day. One cup of raw and cooked veggies – such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. This quantity is equivalent to a 1-cup vegetable serving. Remember that two cups of raw leafy vegetables, such as kale and bok choy, are the equivalent of a 1-cup vegetable serving.

Different Types of Cruciferous Vegetables

Cauliflower

Do you know that this versatile veggie is delicious in many ways? You can use it beyond steaming. Try roasting florets or “steaks” of cauliflower – as it releases its pleasant flavor. 

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When pureed, cauliflower is a great substitute for cream sauce. Are you looking for other creative cauliflower options? Mash into a pizza crust, grate it into a substitute for rice or you can even pickle it for a low-calorie salty, crunchy snack.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts practically beg to be in the oven. It just melts in your mouth. You can even roast it and toss it with something sweet like dried fruit or maple syrup. You can also enjoy it with something savory – from Parmesan cheese to sliced olives.

Kale

The almighty kale is a beautiful green for your salad dish. Remove the tough stem, slice it into thin ribbons and toss it with toppings, dressing, and all. 

The best thing is – this hearty green will not wilt for days.  It also makes it an excellent option for packing ahead. You can pair the bitter bite with something sweet, such as roasted carrots, diced apples, or dried fruit, to balance the painful bite. Do you know that kale also is an excellent addition to smoothies? You can even bake it into crisp chips.

Arugula

Did you know that arugula is one of the most accessible greens to grow in your garden or a planter? You can enjoy this spicy leaf pureed into a pesto with a kick – toss it over whole-wheat pizza once it emerges from the oven. You can also use it in a variety of tossed salads. 

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Try fresh arugula paired with feta cheese, cubed watermelon, and a balsamic dressing for a classic combination – it is a good combination.

Importance of Cruciferous Vegetables in Cancer Research

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients. They include several carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin); vitamins C, E, and K; folate; and even minerals. 

These veggies are also a good fiber source and might contain a group of substances known as glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals. Remember that these chemicals are responsible for cruciferous veggies’ pungent aroma and bitter flavor.

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During food preparation, chewing, and digestion, the glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables are broken down to form biologically active compounds like indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates. Remember that Indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane have been most frequently examined for their anticancer effects.

Interestingly indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in mice and rats – including the breast, bladder, colon, liver, lung, and stomach. 

Studies in animals and experiments related to cells grown in the lab have identified several potential ways in which these compounds might help prevent cancer:

  • These veggies have antiviral and antibacterial effects.
  • They help protect cells from DNA damage.
  • They help inactivate carcinogens.
  • They have anti-inflammatory effects too.
  • These veggies induce cell death or apoptosis.
  • They inhibit tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) and tumor cell migration (needed for metastasis).

Are Cruciferous Vegetables Part of a Healthy Diet?

The federal government recommends consuming a variety of vegetables each day. As you are aware, different vegetables are rich in various nutrients.

Vegetables are typically categorized into five subgroups: dark green, red, and orange, beans and peas (legumes), starchy, and other vegetables. Note that cruciferous vegetables fall into the dark-green vegetable category. You should read more about vegetables and diet, including how much of these foods you should eat daily or weekly.

Higher consumption of vegetables, in general, might protect against some diseases, including some types of cancer. However, when scientists try to distinguish cruciferous vegetables from other foods in the diet – it could be challenging to get precise results. The reason is – study participants may have trouble remembering precisely what they ate. 

Also, people who eat cruciferous vegetables – have been found to have healthy behaviors that reduce disease risk. It is also possible that some individuals, because of their genetic background, metabolize dietary isothiocyanates differently. However, it has been proved that veggie is healthy for all as it has numerous benefits.

Growing Cruciferous Vegetables in Your Garden

Planting cruciferous vegetables in your garden can also be a fun outdoor family activity. Experts have suggested planting cruciferous vegetables like radishes, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens. Cruciferous vegetables grow best once temp has reached below 70 degrees and generally are in season in California during the late fall and winter months. 

These vegetable plants are hearty and can handle the cold if planted before the first frost. If you’re worried that your garden location is too hard, you can plant kale! Kale is the most resilient of cruciferous vegetables and can even grow in snow. Kale plants get sweeter in colder climates, making them the perfect base for recipes.

Growing Conditions for Cruciferous Vegetables

Planting cruciferous vegetables in your garden can also be a fun outdoor family activity. Experts have suggested planting cruciferous vegetables like radishes, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens. Cruciferous vegetables grow best once temperatures have reached below 70 degrees and generally are in season in California during the late fall and winter months.

These vegetable plants are hearty and can handle the cold if planted before the first frost. If you’re worried that your garden location is too hard, you can plant kale! Kale is the most resilient of cruciferous vegetables and can even grow in snow.
Cruciferous vegetables prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil, similar to western Europe’s temperate coastal env. Most of the cruciferous vegetables originated from western Europe. They all require full sun for good growth.

Larger varieties like kohlrabi, cabbage, collard greens, cauliflower, and broccoli need plenty of space between individual plants. Leafy green species such as mustard greens and bok choy can be planted much closer together.
The leafy green crucifers are the easiest for beginner gardeners to get started with. These include Bok Choy, Collard Greens, Kale, and Mustard Greens.

Spear and head-forming plants such as broccoli and cauliflower are much harder to get right and picky about their growing conditions.
Head-forming varieties such as red cabbage, napa cabbage, green cabbage, and savoy cabbage lie in the middle. Many of you will be successful if you are diligent about pest and disease prevention and management.

Make sure to rotate your cruciferous crops. It would be ideal for growing several different vegetable garden locations. Note that plants need the same types and amounts of nutrients. They attract the same pests and suffer from the same diseases. By rotating your crucifers, you will break the pest cycle.

Bottom Line

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in several essential nutrients. When you include them as a regular part of your daily diet, these vegetables are linked with lower rates of many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. They are low in calories and high in fiber. These veggies help you feel fuller longer, which makes them a great addition to weight-loss and heart-healthy diets. The cruciferous family of vegetables is prone to the same diseases and pests like other veggies.

Consequently, it is best to ensure that you rotate the location of all cruciferous vegetables on your farm each year. In other words, you should not plant a cruciferous vegetable where a cruciferous vegetable was grown last year. This will help you to protect them from diseases and pests that can overwinter in the soil.

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