Named for their cross-shaped flowers, these nutritious veggies — including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, to name a few — have been closely associated with lowered cancer risk in numerous studies. In other words, these superfoods are the real deal.
Here are some of my favorite cruciferous veggies — and delicious ways to enjoy them:
Don’t let arugula’s small, delicate leaves fool you — they’re packing all sorts of body-loving ingredients, including vitamins A, C and K, plus iron, potassium, magnesium, and numerous beneficial phytochemicals. Also known as “rocket,” arugula consistently scores high as one of the healthiest foods you can eat — so putting more of it on your plate is a wellness no-brainer.
How to Use: With its peppery kick, arugula-based salads are a tasty, grown-up alternative to traditional lettuce, and they mix easily with other greens like baby spinach, mustard greens, and radicchio. Arugula is also great to toss into sandwiches for some extra crunch and zing. And you can grind it up into a pesto to toss with zucchini noodles.
Call it bok choy or ‘Chinese Cabbage,’ this cruciferous member of the cabbage tribe is an excellent source of carotenoids, flavonoids, and Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and K. Bok choy is also rich in calcium and folate and a raft of antioxidant compounds, some known for their cancer-fighting powers. For those concerned about skin and bone health as well as blood pressure, bok choy is a great go-to veggie for your shopping list.
How to Use: Enjoy it frequently — and not just in the occasional stir-fry. Shred a few of the mild, slightly sweet stems and toss into salads, or wilt into soups and broths. Instead of doughy dumplings, use bok choy leaves as a wrapper for your favorite fillings. Instead of the same old steamed spinach side dish, lightly sauté bok choy instead: Add garlic, a bit of olive oil and spices to the mix, then top with fresh fish or slices of organic poultry or grassfed meat.
Not long ago, the lowly Brussels sprout was an unwelcome guest on a dinner plate. Fast forward a few years, though, and the word has gotten out — Brussels sprouts are très trendy and routinely show up on restaurant menus. These golf-ball sized cruciferous veggies are loaded with protein, fiber, and vitamins A and C as well as glucosinolate, a phytonutrient that helps protect against cancer. Need more reasons to indulge? Brussels sprouts help support heart and eye health.
How to Use: When you go to buy your Brussels, look for fresh, healthy-looking sprouts, preferably on the stalk. From there you can shred them and toss raw into salads, or steam, roast, mash, sauté, or bake them. But whatever you do, don’t overcook them — that will degrade many of their protective nutrients.
This under-appreciated nutritional powerhouse has so much to give! It’s loaded with phytochemical compounds that help cancer risk, while delivering so many vitamins, including vitamins B1, B5, B6, C, and K, and minerals, including potassium, iron, and magnesium, which help keep your heart, brain, and immunity humming.
How to Use: You can stick with classics like coleslaw and sauerkraut (ferment your own for extra immunity-boosting power!), or branch out and try a few new dishes. Don’t feel like cooking? Then use the leaves as a wrap for leftovers or chop up a wedge, drizzle with oil and vinegar, and voila!, an inexpensive, instant, extra-crunchy salad.
Now, I don’t want to play favorites in the cruciferous sweepstakes, but I’m a big fan of cauliflower. It’s got antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients to help keep your heart and brain healthy, plus high levels of Vitamins C and K, and beta-carotene to help keep immunity strong. It also delivers significant amounts of folate and fiber to support digestive health, plus plenty of phytonutrients, those valuable compounds in plants that help combat disease.
How to Use: So many choices: A creamy, non-dairy cauliflower soup, hot or cold, is a year-round treat, as is roasted and mashed cauliflower. You can make cauliflower fritters, paleo-friendly pizza crusts, cauliflower rice, steak — the possibilities are endless, as are the benefits, so get cooking!
But wait, there’s more!
There are so many more cruciferous veggies to pick from, and your gut bacteria loves variety, so cast a wide net. Next time you hit the produce aisle, don’t forget the broccoli, broccoli rabe, collard greens, daikon, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips to give your body a boost now and for years to come.