Crucifers are the bane of the dinner plate for some (especially children) yet are a secret weapon for those who have realized their outstanding effects on health! As the air gets a little cooler, cruciferous vegetables are making a come-back in farmers and grocery markets all over America. These nutrient packed veggies come in all shapes and sizes with a wide range of nutritional benefits, keep reading to find out just what they do for our bodies, and more importantly, how to enjoy them in your diet!
Where do crucifers come from?
The name might sound confusing and quite frankly, a little prehistoric, so what is a cruciferous vegetable anyway? Cruciferous vegetables are a family of vegetables that were named for the “cross-like” shape of their flowers. This family includes broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, kale, and cabbage as well as the lesser-known veggies, bok choy, garden cress, kohlrabi, horseradish, and arugula. Notice anything interesting while reading this list? Yep, these might be some of the strongest-tasting things you can put on a plate!
Some of the amazing health benefits…
While crucifers are strong in flavor, they are even stronger when talking about health benefits! These veggies not only contain high amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and gut-friendly soluble fiber, they have a rich array of nutrients and phytochemicals that are potent against disease. Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that are arguably some of the best things you can eat to lower your risk of cancer. Our bodies break down glucosinolates into potent compounds that have been shown to protect cells from DNA damage, inhibit tumor migration and blood vessel formation, as well as inactivate cancer-causing compounds. Furthermore, they have antioxidant capabilities and are great at detoxifying the body from harmful chemicals and bi-products. Many human studies suggest that a diet rich in crucifers will reduce the risk of developing several types of cancer including lung, breast, colon, and prostate. Sounds like a good enough reason to eat Kale to me!
Why many people dislike crucifers
It’s no secret that many people dislike the strong flavors of crucifers, but did you know that some people are more sensitive? Some people, many researchers have begun to call them “supertasters,” are sensitive to the compound called “phenylthiocarbamide” or “PTC.” When sampling PTC they get a bitter taste in their mouth, while others can try PTC and taste nothing at all. It turns out that one of the powerful cancer-fighting compounds found in crucifers called “isothiocyanate” closely resembles PTC. This results in the “supertasters” having a stronger aversion to cruciferous vegetables then their “non-super” counterparts because of the extra bitterness. Does this mean that they can never find these healthy vegetables palatable? No way!
Try these helpful tips that will make eating cruciferous vegetables much more enjoyable:
1. Turn up the heat!
Many of these vegetables will have better palatability when cooked. Roasted cauliflower or steamed cabbage has a less bitter flavor than raw. Don’t be too concerned about keeping these vegetables raw for nutritional benefits. While there are great nutrients and enzymes found in raw vegetables, you still benefit from eating them prepared in multiple ways (both raw and cooked!). In fact, some studies shown that certain nutrients (specifically sulforaphane in broccoli) actually increased after light cooking, as in the case of steaming broccoli for 3-4 minutes. Furthermore, cooked cabbage has been shown to be a good food source for the beneficial bacteria found in your colon. To make sure you are getting the most out of your crucifers, eat them in various forms, raw and cooked. The only thing to avoid in order to preserve nutrients is the microwave!
2. Butter them up!
Pair cruciferous vegetables with a fat source, but this doesn’t mean drowning vegetables in gobs of ranch dressing! Try tossing Kale and Arugula with a little olive oil and lemon juice to help balance the bitterness. Pouring a little melted butter over steamed cauliflower will help bring out the natural sweetness of the vegetables while masking the bitter! Roasting cabbage slices in olive oil lends a deliciously mild flavor, just add a little sea salt and black pepper!
3. Get sneaky!
If nothing else works, hide cruciferous vegetables in mixed dishes to trick your palate. Throw some bok choy into your teriyaki stir-try, put a few pieces of baby arugula or finely chopped kale into your salad mix (mild lettuce varieties like romaine, green leaf, spinach or butter lettuce will help balance out the bitter), try shredding cabbage, Brussel sprouts, or even radishes and tossing them into a “coleslaw” with carrots and vinaigrette. This is delicious with fish tacos or as a side for pork or chicken.
No matter how they are prepared, cruciferous vegetables should become a greater part of everybody’s diet! The health benefits are immense and make the extra effort to make them delicious, totally worth it! For some clever uses for crucifers, see the recipes below!