What are Cruciferous Vegetables?
Cruciferous vegetables are a broad and diverse group of vegetables featuring popular favorites like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, collard greens, bok choy, arugula, radishes, and more.
Cruciferous vegetables are often, but not always, dark leafy greens. Actually, the word “cruciferous” is New Latin for “cross-bearing”, referring to the shape of the flowers, whose four petals resemble a cross.
There are thousands of individual species of cruciferous vegetables, and they’re a common food crop worldwide.
Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables
There’s a lot to love about cruciferous vegetables. To start, they’re rich in vitamins, nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. Specifically, most cruciferous vegetables are rich in:
- Vitamin C for immune support, healthy tissue, and protection from free radicals
- Vitamin K for blood, heart, and bone health
- Beta Carotene for eye health, cognitive function, and disease prevention
- Fiber for digestion, gut health, blood sugar, and weight loss
Cruciferous vegetables also contain substances that have demonstrated promising anti-cancer properties(1). Glucosinolates and isothiocyanates have been shown to be especially protective against lung, breast, and prostate cancer(2).
The health benefits of cruciferous vegetables make them an obvious choice for everyone, and they’re also one of my favorite foods for weight loss.
Five Popular Cruciferous Vegetables
Cauliflower is a popular, versatile, and healthy cruciferous vegetable. A single serving contains 75% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, 25% of your daily vitamin K, and 10% of your daily vitamin B6. Cauliflower is also a good source of fiber and water (92 grams of a 100-gram serving are water), making it an ideal weight loss food.
Although the first color most of us picture when we think about cauliflower, is white, it also comes in orange, green, and purple varieties. The colored varieties have a similar flavor to white cauliflower but offer additional health benefits.
- Orange cauliflower gets its coloring from additional beta carotene. Its vitamin A content is significantly higher than white cauliflower.
- Green cauliflower, also known as “broccoflower”, looks like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. It’s also similar to broccoli in texture and provides more fiber than other colors of cauliflower.
- Purple cauliflower gets its beautiful, rich purple hue from the antioxidant anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is also found in foods like berries, cherries, grapes, and the purple varieties of carrots and potatoes.
The simplest way to prepare cauliflower is to chop it into florets and steam it. Another easy preparation method is to roast cauliflower, either on its own or in a roasted vegetable medley. Cauliflower also makes an ideal substitute for many high-carb foods. You can make cauliflower “rice”, mock potato salad, mashed cauliflower, and even cauliflower pizza crust. Buffalo cauliflower bites are an easy addition to any meal and a great plant-based substitute for buffalo chicken wings.
Broccoli is another popular cruciferous vegetable that’s packed with health benefits. A single serving contains 135% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, making it an excellent immune booster. Plus, broccoli contains 116% of your daily vitamin K, 14% of your daily vitamin B6, and 11% of your vitamin A.
Broccoli also contains potent antioxidants and compounds that may reduce blood sugar and cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and support healthy cells and tissues throughout your body.
Like cauliflower, the simplest ways to prepare broccoli are to chop it and steam it, or create a roasted vegetable medley. Broccoli is also delicious sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, either alone or as part of a healthy stir fry. For a warm and creamy comfort food, try cheesy broccoli casserole.
Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. A single cup of kale provides as much vitamin C as a serving of broccoli and more than twice as much as a serving of spinach. Plus, kale provides 206% of your daily vitamin A, 684% of your daily vitamin K, and a number of important minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Kale also contains substances called bile acid sequestrants, which can lower cholesterol levels and may lead to a reduced risk of heart disease over time.
The most common type of kale is curly green kale, but there are many different varieties including purple kale.
The easiest way to add kale to your diet is simply to chop some up and add it to your favorite salad. Or, for a healthy and delicious alternative to potato chips, toss kale with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and bake up some crispy kale chips. You can even add kale to your favorite smoothie recipes, like this berry smoothie (just substitute the spinach with kale).
Cabbage offers many of the same health benefits of cruciferous vegetables we’ve seen throughout the article, but where it really stands out is digestion and gut health. This crunchy cruciferous vegetable is loaded with both insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber can’t be broken down by the intestines and supports digestive health by bulking stools and promoting regular bowel movements. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, supports beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. To cultivate optimal health and wellness, you need to love your gut, and cabbage is a powerful food for gut health.
Like kale, the easiest way to add cabbage to your diet is simply to chop some up and add it to your favorite salad. Or, for an extra crunchy treat that’s a little spicy and a little sweet, try this crispy slaw.
Many people are surprised to learn that arugula is a cruciferous vegetable. At first glance, it seems to have more in common with non-cruciferous vegetables like spinach and lettuce. But arugula is cruciferous, with many of the same vitamins, nutrients, and health benefits of other cruciferous vegetables.
Unlike other cruciferous vegetables, arugula is most often consumed raw. It makes a nice peppery and spicy addition to salads and sandwiches. You can also sprinkle it onto your favorite pizza to add a healthy flavor kick, or mix it into your favorite omelet or breakfast scramble. Like spinach and kale, arugula is also a great way to add some extra flavor and nutrition to a smoothie.
Nutrition is the foundation of health and healthy weight loss. The health benefits of cruciferous vegetables make them a great food choice and one that I feature in my weight loss program. I hope this article inspired you with a few tasty new ways to include more cruciferous vegetables in your nutrition plan.