Brassicas – Anti-Cancer Super Foods


Type broccoli or kale into any research database and you will turn up more studies that you can read in a week.   Broccoli and kale belong to a large family of vegetables called Brassicaceae or the brassica family.   This group of vegetables is also referred to as the cruciferous vegetables as they grow in patterns where four petals cross over one another. Although the common name for these plants is arguable, the health benefits are indisputable, research shows they are anti-cancer, high in fiber, and can lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

In terms of commonly eaten plant varieties, the brassicas are comprised of the following vegetables.

  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Brussels Sprout
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radish
  • Romanesco
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip
  • Watercress

Brassicas are full of nutrients

The brassicas are excellent sources of vitamins A, C, K, thiamin, riboflavin and folic acid as well as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. One cup of raw broccoli contains 135% of your daily vitamin C needs (more than a medium orange), 3 grams of protein and only 30 calories! These vegetables’ high soluble fiber content also promotes healthy and regular bowel function, lowers blood lipid levels and stabilizes blood sugar levels.   Two natural occurring carotinoids, lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in brassicas and help protect the retina from damage.

Phytochemicals fight disease

Numerous phytochemicals also give brassicas a powerful punch to help prevent disease. Isothiocyanates have been proven to inhibit the growth of tumors in certain circumstances for bladder, breast and pancreatic cancers. Sulforaphane is another phytochemical that has been studied a lot recently. Sulforaphane has been shown to improve liver detoxification of carcinogens and other toxins. Sulforaphane can also encourage the production of blood vessel protecting antioxidant enzymes. The indoles from these vegetables play a crucial role in the detoxification of estrogens. In addition, the amino acid tryptophan is an indole derivative. Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. Indole-3-carbinol is a chemical proven to boost DNA repair in cells and block the growth of tumor cells.

Getting brassicas into your diet

For optimal levels you’ll want to eat your veggies raw as bioavailability of isothiocyanates from fresh uncooked brassicas is approximately three times greater than when cooked, for sulforaphane it’s not that large of a loss, but there is still higher levels in fresh versus when it is boiled or steamed. Choose organic, fresh, in-season, locally grown vegetables whenever possible. Since harvested vegetables lose flavor, sweetness and texture with age, the least amount of time they are stored, the better. Choose vegetables with compact, tightly closed heads and tips, fresh looking tops and leaves, crispness, brightness of color and heaviness in relation to size. Cook until tender-crisp, but not soft, so that the vegetables still retain their bright color. The longer the vegetable is cooked, the more the enzymes and nutrients are destroyed in the process.

For good health, the recommendation for daily vegetable consumption is minimally 5 servings as part of a 1,500 to 2,000-calorie diet, I try to eat ten, yes, 10!. The American Dietetic Association counts a serving as 1 cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup cooked.

For the majority of folks eating numerous servings of brassicas is a great idea. Those with thyroid issues however need to be mindful. Brassicas, although very healthy, are goitrogenic vegetables, meaning they may block the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland cells and/or inhibit thyroid hormone release. Consuming large quantities of raw brassicas when you have a low thyroid function isn’t recommended – I’m not saying not to eat them, they are healthful vegetables, I’m saying be mindful of your quantities. Eating raw brassicas daily may be too much for those with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. A few servings a week is typically well tolerated. Cooking inactivates these goitrogenic compounds though, so steam them up and enjoy them in unlimited amounts.

By the way, my husband and kids love Brussles Sprouts… of course baking them with bacon may have been the trick.