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Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables: Cancer Prevention – and More!

6 Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

The potential health benefits of cruciferous vegetables are truly impressive. Also known as crucifers or Brassica vegetables, these super-foods have been shown to exert strong anti-cancer effects, to promote healthy eyes, to maintain healthy bones by supplying highly bioavailable calcium and vitamin K, to provide tons of vitamin C, and to treat H. pylori infections. To get the full scoop on the nutritional benefits and health-protecting properties of cruciferous vegetables, keep reading.

Cruciferous Vegetables and Their Anti-Cancer Effects

In some epidemiological studies, high intakes of cruciferous vegetables have been associated with reduced risk of colon, lung, bladder, breast, prostate and other cancers. Especially in case of colon and lung cancers, the evidence supporting the anti-cancer effects of crucifers seems solid.

The potential anti-cancer effects of Brassica vegetables have been largely attributed to the glucosinolates they contain. While glucosinolates themselves do not confer many health benefits, they are easily converted into isothiocyanates, phytochemicals with proven anti-cancer properties.

Eating Cruciferous Vegetables Promotes Healthy Eyes

When we think of carotenoids (pro-vitamin A), we typically think of carrots and other orange vegetables and fruits. But also many green leafy vegetables – including crucifers like kale, Japanese mustard spinach (komatsuna), turnip greens, garden cress, collard greens – are packed with these eye-healthy nutrients. One ounce of cooked and drained kale, for example, provides a whopping 76% of vitamin A in the form of carotenoids.

Purple cruciferous vegetables, such as purple cauliflower and purple (red) cabbage can also help maintain healthy vision thanks to the anthocyanins they contain. Anthocyanins – flavonoid pigments that give many black and purple vegetables and fruits their intense colors – have been shown enhance night vision, fight macular degeneration, increase circulation within the capillaries of the retina, and reduce the risk of retinopathy in diabetic patients.

Calcium and Vitamin K for Healthy Bones

Many cruciferous foods – such as Japanese mustard spinach (komatsuna), bok choy cabbage, turnip greens, collards, Chinese broccoli, kale, and broccoli rabe – also contain significant amounts of calcium, a nutrient that is crucial to keeping your bones strong at healthy.

What's more, the calcium in Brassica vegetables also appears to be highly bioavailable. A three-way randomized trial published in the November 1993 edition of the Journal of Food Science measured calcium bioavailability from several cruciferous vegetables 15 healthy women, and the results were promising: fractional calcium absorption from bok choy stems, boy choy leaves, broccoli, and kale averaged 0.478, 0.519, 0.520, and 0.527, respectively. Mean absorbability of milk calcium ingested at the same load (about 83 milligrams) has been shown to be slightly lower, about 0.463.

In addition to providing plenty of calcium, brassicas like Chinese broccoli, kale, rapini, turnip greens, and collards are also loaded with another bone-building nutrient: vitamin K. Research suggests that vitamin K can help increase bone mineral density as well as reduce fracture rates in osteoporotic people.

Many Crucifers Contain Even More Vitamin C Than Oranges!

Most cruciferous vegetables are also supercharged with vitamin C, and some – including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kohlrabi, mustard spinach, and garden cress – have been reported to contain even more vitamin C than oranges!

Eating cruciferous vegetables that contain high levels of vitamin C help keep your immune system, skin, bones, and teeth strong and healthy. Vitamin C can also act as a natural anti-histamine and may therefore help alleviate symptoms associated with certain allergies.

Cardioprotective Benefits

A study published in the July 2011 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fruit and vegetable intake was inversely associated with the risk of mortality from cardiovascular diseases, and that this pattern was particularly evident for cruciferous vegetables. The cardioprotective benefits of cruciferous vegetables are likely a result of synergies between a vast range of nutrients and phytochemicals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, fiber, and flavonoids.

Glucosinolates in Crucifers Fight H. Pylori Infections

Bacterial infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is associated with a marked increase in the risk of gastric ulcers and stomach cancer. Although mild H pylori infections can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics, scientists are constantly looking for alternative treatments as H pylori strains are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic drugs. One substance that has received considerable attention in this context is sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate that has been shown to exert inhibitory activity against H pylori. Broccoli sprouts are by far the best known natural source of sulforaphane, but also many other cruciferous vegetables (such as Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese broccoli, broccoli rabe, kohlrabi, mustard, arugula, and watercress) provide this powerful isothiocyanate. For additional information, check out our article on how broccoli sprouts kill H pylori.

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