Eat Your Crucifers
A Closer Look at Brassica Oleracea aka Super-Veggies
What do kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts have in common? That is, besides being damn flavorful, densely nutritious, and hearty vegetables? They all fall under the umbrella of being Brassica oleracea.
Brassica oleracea is a species of the plant kingdom that contains some of the most nutritionally dense foods that you can pick up in the produce section of your local food store or co-op. Another common term for these species of plants as they relate to human consumption is cruciferous vegetables (or crucifers). Whatever you decide to call them, just file them away in your mind as ‘good foods’. In short, eat more cruciferous vegetables. So, what exactly is a crucifer?
In nature, when speaking of Brassica oleracea, or crucifers, one is speaking of wild cabbages. But in your diet (unless you gather your own wild cabbage), this species of plant boils down to a common vegetables that have been cultivated for human consumption for thousands of years, examples of which are cabbage, kale, broccoli, bok choy, collards, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
It is thought that humans have been eating crucifers since the most ancient of times, but the first documentations of their cultivation for food can be traced back to the Greeks, specifically to the writings of Theophrastus (a guy who not only studied with Plato in his youth, but took over the Peripatetic school of philosophy after Aristotle – a very smart fellow, who obviously understood the importance of these vegetables).
From the standpoint of your palate, these beefy vegetables are big on flavor. Some people find that they are, too, flavorful, in fact, and are taken off guard by the intensity of vegetable taste that has been lost in our contemporary diets of processed sweets, sugars, and syrups. They are like the steaks of vegetables – thick, luscious, and something dense to sink your teeth into. They fill you up like few items from the garden can. They make a soup a meal. They make a salad a feast. Stir fry them with rice, and you might be too full to worry about having to prepare a meat. However, they are not only big on taste, they are big on nutrition, delivering huge amounts of the vital elements that make your body go, and keep your immune and cardiovascular system in great shape.
Generally speaking, crucifers are noteworthy for a few reasons:
- They contain a type of flavonoid that activates liver detoxifying enzymes.
- Crucifers are high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.
- They regulate white blood cells and cytokines. White blood cells are the scavengers of your immune system, while the cytokines are the messengers that coordinate the activities of the immune system’s cells, in general.
- They are great preventative weapons against cancer.
Cancer Fighting Properties of Cruciferous Vegetables
Most research and documentation about crucifers focuses on the anti-cancer qualities of these vegetables. A review of research published in the October 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that 70% or more of the studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer. These studies ranged from examinations of reductions in oxidative stress (the overload of harmful molecules that called oxygen-free radicals) to the benefits of phytochemicals (specifically sulforaphane, which stimulates the enzymes involved in detoxification of carcinogens).
In short, the badass nature of these vegetables in the anti-cancer realm is well documented. Do some research and you’ll find more reasons to eat crucifers that you’ll fell like reading.
Nutritional Values of Common Crucifers
How to Cook Crucifers
Like with most things Spartan, less is more. Raw consumption of these vegetables insures that you are getting the most of the good stuff, without breaking down and boiling away the good stuff (like phytochemicals). Light steaming is second best to raw. But, ultimately, just eat your crucifers, your body will thank you.
Tips for Including More Crucifers in your Diet
- Use kale on your sandwiches instead of lettuce
- Scooping hummus? Use broccoli or cauliflower.
- Add them to soups and salads alike.
Spartan Recipes for Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli, Kale, and Sweet Potato Soup
Spicy Broccoli and Cheese Soup
Garlic Baked Brussels Sprouts
Garlic Kale Scramble