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Brassicaceae Vegetables – The Super Foods

Brassica (Cruciferous) Veggies are nutrient dense

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.

Which veggies are in the Brassica family?

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

Health Benefits

The brassicas are excellent sources of vitamins A, C, E, K, thiamin, riboflavin, and natural folate 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 carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in brassicas and help protect the retina from damage.

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.

Researchers from Rush University, in a 2017 study, found that people who ate just one serving of leafy green vegetables per day (ex. cabbage, kale, collard greens, and arugula) has better memory. In fact, the study showed that these leafy green eaters appeared 11 years younger in terms of age in their cognitive health when compared with those who rarely or never consumed those green leafy vegetables.1

Recently, some researchers from the University of Vienna analyzed how microbes in the gut process the sulfur-containing sugar sulfoquinovose to create hydrogen sulfide which has an anti-inflammatory effect in the gut.  Key species of beneficial gut bacteria can use the sulfoquinovose sugar as food (as opposed to glucose from other starches and sugar itself which feeds everyone; especially the harmful species). As such, this sulfur-containing sugar sulfoquinovose acts as a prebiotic to our microbiome. 2

Cooked versus Raw

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. The water soluble nutrients can be lost to water when boiled (steaming reduces this risk).

Now if you have thyroid concerns, hypothyroid, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or other, then eating a lot of raw brassicas isn’t recommended as they do have a compound in them that can be goitrogenic; meaning they may block the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland cells and/or inhibit thyroid hormone release.  This makes it harder for the thyroid to function optimally.  Once or twice a week consumption of raw brassicas for most people doesn’t push them into further thyroid imbalance, but more than that can be riskier.  To reduce all risk, simply cook your brassicas. Cooking inactivates these goitrogenic compounds. Eating them cooked (steamed, baked, stir-fried… no matter) will reduce all potential goitrogenic effects.

Selection Tips

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.

Serving Size

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 servings.  The American Dietetic Association counts a serving as 1 cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup cooked.  

Try baking your broccoli by cutting it into similar sized portions (like a 1” floret) then drizzling that with avocado oil and a little sea salt.  Simply bake them on a cookie sheet at 350 till done; about 30-45 min depending on the size of your pieces.

Brussels sprouts are delicious when quartered and baked with a little bacon grease or avocado oil, then drizzled with feta and pine nuts or fig balsamic vinegar.

Cabbage is tastes wonderful when stir fried in a little butter and sea salt.


  2. A sulfosugar from green vegetables promotes the growth of important gut bacteria — ScienceDaily


Erin Williams, MSN CN LMP, is the founder of, a health and wellness company established in 2001. Erin has a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Purdue, a master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University, and is currently studying to become a Functional Medicine Practitioner. Erin enjoys sharing her love of natural health and wellness with people through lectures, blogs, and consultations.

Post Author: EZBalanceWellness