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The Remarkable Anti-Toxin, Cancer-Fighting Power of Cruciferous Vegetables

While cruciferous vegetables--broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens and more--may be top on the list of veggies kids loathe, when it comes to nutrition, these vegetables are definitely on the A-list.

What makes them so incredibly healthy is their potent cancer-fighting compounds, which help detoxify carcinogens in the body and may prevent healthy cells from morphing into cancerous ones.


Not a fan of this cruciferous vegetable? Check out the tips at the end of this article.

More Crucifers Please

The health benefits of these vegetables seem to have been known for some time. Around 234-149 BC, Cato the Elder, a Roman statesman, wrote a treatise on medicine that included the following insight:

"If a cancerous ulcer appears upon the breasts, apply a crushed cabbage leaf and it will make it well."

If cabbage isn't your favorite, don't worry. There are many other cruciferous vegetables out there, and one's bound to taste good to you. Today these vegetables have been found to combat cancer of the of breast, endometrium, lung, colon, liver, colon and cervix, and include:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard greens
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Bok choy
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Arugula
  • Horseradish
  • Radishes
  • Daikon
  • Wasabi
  • Watercress

Healthy Compounds Worth Noticing

Cabbage Man

Crucifers like cabbage may contain at least a dozen health-promoting compounds.

There are at least a dozen compounds in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables that have peaked scientists' interest. Most recently, researchers isolated phytochemicals called glucosinolates from broccoli sprouts. When chopped, chewed and digested, these compounds change into isothiocyanates, which are powerful compounds that may inhibit cancer.

In a study by Ohio State University researchers, the isothiocyanates were able to stop cancer cells from spreading in two human bladder cancer cell lines and one mouse cell line. What's more, the compounds had the greatest effect on the most aggressive of the cancers.

"While young sprouts naturally have higher concentrations of these phytochemicals than full-grown broccoli spears, eating the spears also provides health benefits," said Steven Schwartz, a study co-author and a professor of food science and technology at Ohio State University.

FYI: One tablespoon of broccoli sprouts has as much beneficial sulforaphane (see below) as one pound of full-grown broccoli.

Other compounds that may be responsible for the cancer-fighting effects of cruciferous vegetables include:

  • Indole-3-carbinol: A glucosinolate that's formed when the vegetables are crushed or cooked. Research has found that it deactivates an estrogen metabolite that promotes tumor growth, particularly in breast cells. It's also been found to keep cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body.

  • Crambene: A phytonutrient.

  • Sulforaphane: A type of isothiocyanate that's been found to increase the liver's ability to detoxify carcinogenic compounds and free radicals. This in turn protects against cell mutations, cancer and other harmful effects.

More Reasons to Eat Your Broccoli

Many powerful findings support the notion that adding cruciferous vegetables to your regular diet is a wise choice. Here are some of the most noteworthy studies:

  • A study at the Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California found that people who ate more broccoli (about four half-cup servings/week) were 50 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who never ate broccoli.

  • Men who ate two or more half-cup servings of broccoli per week were 44 percent less likely to develop bladder cancer than men who ate less than one serving a week, according to researchers at Harvard and Ohio State universities.

  • Rats fed broccoli sprouts and then injected with a carcinogen had smaller, fewer and slower-growing tumors than rats fed a regular diet, according to a study at John Hopkins University in Baltimore.

  • Men aged between 40 and 64 who ate three or more half-cup servings of cruciferous vegetables a week were 41 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who did not.

  • A study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition found that sulforaphane fights the spread of cancer cells, even in the later stages.


Start your kids eating broccoli and other crucifers early on so they'll continue their healthy eating habits into adulthood.

Tips to Get More Crucifers in Your Diet

Some people naturally love the taste of cruciferous vegetables and have no trouble eating them regularly. For the rest of you, here are some helpful tips:

  • Try steaming crucifers and topping with cheese, lemon, butter or other toppings.

  • Add crucifers to your salads (or, if you prefer, add broccoli sprouts).

  • Add broccoli sprouts to sandwiches.

  • Cook Brussels sprouts and take apart the leaves. Then toss with olive oil, lemon and other seasonings for a tasty warm "salad."

  • Add broccoli or cauliflower florets to marinara sauce for pasta or other Italian dishes.

  • Make your own homemade cream of cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) soup.

  • Try juicing crucifers with lemon and parsley into a tasty vegetable cocktail.

Recommended Reading

Six Disease-Fighting Super Antioxidants You are Likely Not Getting Enough Of

Those Who Don't Diet are Better at Improving Health Than Those Who Do Diet


The Linus Pauling Institute

American Institute for Cancer Research

Health Orbit

PDR Health Cruciferous Vegetables

The World's Healthiest Foods

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