Kale has had a long run in the health-food limelight. Now its cousins — including bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and, especially, cauliflower — are being touted as the coolest vegetables on the block. But to scientists and nutritionists, this family of vegetables, called crucifers, has always been hot.
“Cruciferous vegetables are among the most nutritious because they are rich in several vitamins and minerals, plus they contain unique disease-fighting compounds,” says Maxine Siegel, who heads Consumer Reports’ food-testing department.
Cruciferous vegetables are the most common dietary sources of glucosinolates. These are natural chemicals that give the veggies their pungent flavor and break down into cancer-protecting compounds. A study in the Annals of Oncology found that just one serving per week over a two-year period lowered the risk of breast, colon and oral cancer by 17 percent; esophageal cancer by 28 percent; and kidney cancer by 32 percent. Each type of vegetable has different anti-cancer compounds, so it’s best to eat a variety.
This vegetable family stands out for its rich bounty of vision-protecting carotenoids as well as fiber, folate, potassium and vitamins C, E and K. Some of these nutrients may contribute to that cancer-fighting ability, but they may also be part of the reason crucifers help control inflammation and protect against heart disease. In an analysis of 134,796 people, researchers in China found that those who ate about six ounces of crucifers per day reduced their risk of heart disease by about 20 percent compared with those who ate an ounce or less.
Steam or stir-fry. These methods preserve the most glucosinolates. Aim for an al dente texture. Overcooking not only turns these vegetables an unappetizing color but also makes them mushy, gives them a stronger flavor than you might like, and diminishes the nutrient content.
Try Brussels sprout chips. Remove the leaves from the base. Toss with olive oil and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until crispy, turning every five minutes.
Make a slaw. Season thinly sliced raw cabbage with rice-wine vinegar and olive oil. Use as a topping for fish tacos. Test-tube studies suggest that cabbage’s sulfur compounds make the selenium in fish a more potent cancer fighter.
Hang on to broccoli leaves and stems. Peel stalks and slice into coins to use in pasta dishes or as a dipper for hummus. Sauté greens with garlic in olive oil.
Use watercress for more than a garnish. Mix it with milder greens such as baby spinach, and pair with sweet and creamy ingredients including lemon juice, avocado and apple slices to balance out the strong flavor.
For further guidance, go to ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.