Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are a group of green foods rich in a range of essential nutrients. When you include them as a regular part of your daily diet, these vegetables are linked with lower rates of many chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease

Low in calories and high in fiber, cruciferous vegetables also help you feel fuller longer, making them a great addition to weight-loss and heart-healthy diets

There are more than 3,000 different cruciferous species, with the most common vegetables including:

While they offer many of the vitamins and minerals your body needs for the day, research shows that cruciferous vegetables also contain unique nutrients that promote healthy body functions and may prevent disease. 

Health Benefits

Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, compounds that give these dark green plants their bitter flavor. Research shows glucosinolates have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, helping to protect our cells from disease-causing damage.

As a group, cruciferous vegetables are also high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Together with its glucosinolates, this powerful nutrition profile offers health benefits like:

Heart Health

Diets high in fruits and vegetables are consistently associated with lower heart disease risk. Studies show that cruciferous vegetables support this effect because their glucosinolates help reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Good cholesterol levels help keep your arteries free from fatty deposits that lead to heart problems and stroke

Cancer Protection

The glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables have been shown to kill cancer cells and stop tumor growth. Many observational studies show significantly reduced rates of many types of cancer in people with high cruciferous vegetable intake, including breast, lung, pancreatic, and stomach cancers. 

Improved Immunity Against Disease

Cruciferous vegetables’ nutritional content is also associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show these vegetables’ plant-based nutrients have antimicrobial properties that give your immune defenses a boost against sickness-causing pathogens as well. 

Can Aid with Weight Loss

On average, a serving of cruciferous vegetables has up to 20% of your daily fiber requirement. Research shows that getting about 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and reduce obesity and diabetes risk factors. 

Continued

Nutrition

Rich in many vitamins and minerals, cruciferous vegetables are also a great source of omega-3s. These healthy fats are essential to many bodily functions — like helping to maintain good cognitive health, reducing the risk of mental decline, and conditions like Alzheimer’s disease

Cruciferous vegetables are also an excellent source of:

Nutrients per Serving 

Exact nutritional content varies among different types of cruciferous vegetables, but the macronutrients are relatively consistent. As an example, one cup of cooked broccoli contains:

Portion Sizes

The USDA recommends you eat at least 1.5 to 2.5 cups of cruciferous vegetables per week. Studies link three servings of vegetables a day with slower aging and lower risk of disease, and you can add cruciferous varieties to your daily total with:

  • One cup of raw leafy vegetables as one serving
  • A half-cup of cooked vegetables as one serving
  • A half-cup of pure vegetable juice as one serving

How to Prepare Cruciferous Vegetables

Cooking cruciferous vegetables can change their nutritional content. Research shows that some nutrient levels decrease with longer cooking time, including vitamins C and B and antioxidants like flavonoids and beta-carotene

However, cooking vegetables can make some nutrients more bioavailable — or easier for your body to absorb and use — like vitamin A, iron, and calcium.

Research shows that steaming vegetables helps retain the greatest nutritional value, while boiling them is the least effective method. But microwaving, stir-frying, and sautéing each offer happy mediums, as does simply eating your veggies raw. 

To get the best balance of cruciferous vegetables’ nutrients, include them in your diet in a variety of ways, like: 

  • Chopping up arugula or spinach for a salad or pesto
  • Adding bok choy, kale, or spinach to soups and stews — which helps retain water-soluble vitamins otherwise lost through cooking
  • Roasting a side dish of Brussel sprouts and radishes in the oven
  • Stocking up on frozen vegetables like broccoli, which decline in nutritional content over time when fresh
  • Substituting turnips for potatoes in dishes like mash, gratin, or French fries
  • Sneaking a serving of kale into a green smoothie or juice
  • Grating cauliflower into rice or using it in place of flour in pizza crust 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 10, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Advances in Nutrition: “Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables.”

Advances in Nutrition: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Broccoli.”

Food Quality and Safety: “Status and prospects of nutritional cooking.”

Harvard Medical School: “Making one change — getting more fiber — can help with weight loss.”

Journal of Functional Foods: “Crucial facts about health benefits of popular cruciferous vegetables.”

Oregon State University: “Cruciferous Vegetables.”

University of Florida: “Eating Defensively: The Nutrition and Food Safety Benefits of Cooked Produce.”

USDA Food Central: “Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Cabbage.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination

Get Diet and Fitness Tips In Your Inbox

Eat better and exercise smarter. Sign up for the Food & Fitness newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, I agree to the WebMD Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of WebMD subscriptions at any time.