There is no denying that vegetables are a requirement for nourishment and a healthy body. The sheer number of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that they provide work hard to make sure our bodies can function properly.
However, cruciferous vegetables definitely seem to be on nearly every list of must-eat foods out there, and for good reason – they provide amazing health benefits. These vegetables work hard for your entire body, and they provide considerably more benefits than any other vegetable or food group. (1)
What are Cruciferous Vegetables?
These vegetables, which are also known as Brassica vegetables, are all a part of the cabbage family. (2) Their plants are in the Cruciferae family, and are known by their cross-shaped flowers with four petals. The most common choices are:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Bok Choy
This group of vegetables provides a wealth of nutrients, including numerous vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and they are also a great source of fiber. They also contain phytonutrients such as flavonoids, carotenoids, and glucosinolates, which are all an important part of overall health.
Cruciferous vegetables provide all of this with a very low calorie content, which is why they are considered one of the healthiest vegetable groups. (1) While they provide exceptional nutrition for the whole body, one area in which these crunchy vegetables excel is their role in immunity.
How Cruciferous Vegetables Boost Immunity
Cruciferous vegetables are rich in vitamins A and C, antioxidants, chlorophyll, folate, essential fatty acids, and anti-carcinogens. The most important substances in these vegetables in terms of immunity are known as glucosinolates. These phytonutrients are chemicals that contain sulfur, which are also what gives these vegetables their bitter taste. (2) These molecules, which are made up of a combination of sulfur, nitrogen, and sugar, are present in 100 different forms in these vegetables, and every one of them have shown evidence of having anti-cancer properties. (1)
Interestingly, it doesnâ€™t appear that on their own do not provide the anti-cancer benefits on their own. When these vegetables are chewed, chopped, or sent through the digestive process, an enzyme known as myrosinase break down the glucosinolates into compounds known as indoles, thiocyanates, nitriles, and isothiocyanates (2). While there are many different compounds formed, there are five that have undergone extensive study (1):
- Glucophanin breaks down into sulforaphane
- Glucosobrassicin becomes indole-3 carbinol (a non-sulfur bensopyrrole) (1)
- Sinigrin becomes allyl-isothiocyanate
- Gluconasturiian becomes phenethyl-isothiocyanate
- Glucotropaeolin becomes benzyl-iothiocyanate
During these studies, it has been shown that these compounds are most responsible for boosting immunity.
It is also important to note that these vegetables contain high amounts of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and detoxifying nutrients. These nutrients provide significant support for the three systems that are most important in helping to determine cancer risk and development, as well as other health systems throughout the body (1). This overall support also helps to boost immunity by providing much needed nutritional support that promotes whole-body health.
Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Investigation
The compounds formed by the glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables have been studied extensively for their potential benefits for cancer prevention. In animal studies and laboratory-grown cell experiments, research has shown that these compounds (3):
- Protect against cell DNA damage
- Provide antibacterial, antibacterial, and antiviral properties
- Inactivate cancer causing agents
- Produce cancer cell death
- Prevent angiogenesis and the migration of tumor cells
Additional studies have also been conducted on humans to determine the efficacy of these. (3) Some of these studies have provided evidence that some of the glucosinolates in these vegetables have some effect on cancer-related biomarkers. (4) Additionally, these compounds have been tested on four of the most common forms of cancer to determine their effects.
Breast Cancer – Analysis of studies performed in the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada found that there was no connection between cancer risk and the intake of cruciferous vegetables. (5) However, another controlled study found that the risk of breast cancer was reduced in women who ate these vegetables more often.
Prostate Cancer – Studies conducted on groups of men with and without prostate cancer found that those who had a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables showed a decrease in their risk of prostate (6). When clinical trials that were performed in the US, Europe, and the Netherlands were studied, there was little to no connection between the risk for prostate cancer and eating these vegetables.
Lung Cancer – Findings on the association between eating these vegetables and lung cancer have also produced mix results. A study conducted in the United States provided evidence that women that consumed more than five servings of the vegetables each week showed a decrease in their risk for lung cancer (7). However, cohort studies that were conducted in the Netherlands, Europe, and the US displayed that there was no connection between eating these vegetables and overall risk for the disease.
Colorectal Cancer – While studies performed in the Netherlands and the US have not shown any connection between the risk for colorectal cancer and eating the vegetables, a study conducted in the Netherlands did show that there was a reduced risk of colon cancer in women who had a higher intake of the vegetables (8). There are have also been studies that have found that there may be a connection between the isothiocyanate-metabolizing enzyme S-transferase and the risk of both colorectal and lung cancers.
While additional study is needed to better understand the associations between cancer risk and cruciferous vegetables, the results so far are exciting. The role that these vegetables play in our overall health, especially their impact on numerous organ systems throughout the body, show that they are powerhouse vegetables that need to be included in our diets. In fact, in order to reach the most beneficial range of glucosinolates, it is recommended that we consume an average of a half cup up to two cups of these vegetables each day. However, it is believed that even eating them as little as two to three times per week will provide benefits as (1).
Cancer Fighting Cruciferous Vegetable Coleslaw
- 1 (12-ounce) bag Broccoli Slaw OR 1 small head of cabbage, finely shredded
- 1 cup organic kale or collards finely shredded
- 1â„4 cup organic raisins
- 1â„4 cup organic walnuts, chopped
- 1 cup organic apples, chopped (1 large apple) 1 cup of your favorite dressing (below)
Â Dressing IngredientsÂ
- 2â„3 cup Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise, or 3 tablespoons Raw Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 serving pure liquid stevia
- 2 tablespoons almond or coconut milk
- Pinch Finely Ground Pink Himalayan Salt
- Pinch white pepper, ground
- * Put all ingredients in blender or magic bullet and blend.
- In a medium sized bowl, combine salad ingredients and mix well.
- Add dressing and mix until evenly distributed.
- Chill in refrigerator and enjoy!
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