Q: I hear a lot about cruciferous vegetables, but what else does this include besides broccoli? Do the others offer the same health benefits?
A: All cruciferous vegetables provide compounds that show potential to reduce cancer risk in several ways. In laboratory studies, these compounds seem to decrease inflammation, inhibit enzymes that activate carcinogens, stimulate enzymes that deactivate carcinogens and decrease cancer cells’ ability to spread. They seem to turn on tumor suppressor genes, which slow cell growth so that cell damage can be repaired and stimulate self-destruction of abnormal cells. What’s more, cruciferous vegetables are all excellent sources of vitamin C.
Yet within the wide variety of cruciferous vegetables, choices differ in the other nutrients they provide. Dark green choices such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe (rapini), mustard and collard greens, Swiss chard, kale and bok choy provide beta-carotene and tend to be rich in vitamin K. The red color in red cabbage and radishes signals the presence of flavonoid compounds called anthocyanins. Some cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard and mustard greens and broccoli rabe (rapini) are high in folate, which helps protect our DNA. Other cruciferous vegetables that add further variety include cabbage, broccolini, broccoflower, kohlrabi, turnips and rutabaga.
Human studies are inconsistent in showing a link between cruciferous vegetable consumption and reduced cancer risk. It’s possible that some people may get greater cancer protection from cruciferous vegetables than others due to genetic differences affecting how the body processes the compounds they contain. Differences in cooking and preparation may influence what these vegetables provide. Enjoy experimenting with variety, both in the ways you fix broccoli and the many other cruciferous vegetables.