On a daily basis, plant-based foods protect you against many serious chronic diseases [Ref 1]. This article is a guide to using cruciferous vegetables, which are your top cancer-fighting foods.
How Cruciferous Vegetables Protect Against Cancer
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, watercress, arugula, mustard greens, and turnip greens, cauliflower and radishes. The word cruciferous means they produce a four-petal flower that resembles a cross. These foods are proven to fight cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables provide sulforaphane, a compound that suppresses the growth of cancer cells. [Ref 2]. For example, researchers showed that broccoli and collard greens significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer [ref 3]. The benefit is enhanced when plant-based foods are combined with a decreased intake of meat, eggs, and dairy.
Harvard University researchers showed that eggs and poultry significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer progression [Ref 4]. On the other hand, one serving a day of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage or kale reduced the risk by more than half. [Ref 5}
The Secret to Activating the Cancer-Fighting Ability
Sulforaphane forms when you chew a cruciferous vegetable, chop it with a knife, or blend it. The chewing or chopping or blending action mixes the vegetable’s enzymes with its other components. Sulforaphane forms during this mixing reaction.
Unfortunately, sulforaphane does not form after a cruciferous veggie is cooked!
Options are to enjoy them raw or you can chop your cruciferous vegetables and let them sit on your cutting board for 40 minutes before cooking. “Chop and wait” allows time for the enzymes to mix and form sulforaphane. Once formed, sulforaphane is not destroyed by cooking. Personally, I enjoy eating mine raw. I love the fresh taste of all the nutrients in raw broccoli and greens.
Are Frozen Cruciferous Veggies Just as Good?
No, they’re not. Frozen broccoli and other frozen cruciferous vegetables cannot produce sulforaphane because they are blanched before frozen. Blanching increases their shelf life but destroys the enzymes needed to form sulforaphane. You can still get some decent nutrients from frozen veggies but not the special cancer-fighting feature.
In general, eating more plants and fewer animal products prevents cancer. Cruciferous vegetables are unique because of their specific cancer-fighting abilities. Start making them part of your daily routine.
Ref 1. Hung HC, joshipura KJ, Jiang R, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004;96(21):1577-84.
Ref 2. Li Y, Zhang T, et al. Sulforaphane, a dietary component of broccoli /broccoli sprouts , inhibits breast cancer stem cells. Clin Cancer Res. 2010;16(9):2580-90.
Ref 3. Boggs DA, Palmer JR, Wise LA, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake in relation to risk of breast cancer in the Black Women’s health study. Am J Epidemiol. 2010; 172(11):1268-79.
Ref 4. Richman EL, Stampfer MJ, Paciorek A, Broering JM, et al. Intakes of meat, poultry, and eggs and increase risk of prostate cancer progression. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(3):712-21.
Ref 5. Richman El, Carroll PR, Chan JM. Vegetable and fruit intake after diagnosis and risk of prostate cancer progression. Int J Cancer. 2012;131(1):201-10.
Carla Hightower, MD, MBA is a physician, health coach, workplace wellness consultant, and speaker. She helps people heal themselves with food. Through wellness workshops and courses, she helps companies create healthy, energetic teams.
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