Doctor’s Tip: Cruciferous vegetables are crucial for optimal health |

Doctor’s Tip: Cruciferous vegetables are crucial for optimal health

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor's Tip

Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens and water cress. They are one of Dr. Greger’s daily dozen in his book “How Not to Die” — foods we should be eating every day.

Cruciferous vegetables have four-petaled flowers, suggestive of a cross. The word cruciferous comes from crux, the Latin word for cross. Dr. Greger recommends one serving a day: 1/2 cup of chopped vegetables, 1/4 cup of sprouts or one tablespoon of horseradish.

Cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, which has important cancer-fighting properties. These vegetables have been shown to prevent cancer-causing DNA damage, prevent metastatic spread of cancer, prevent lymphoma, and reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer. Sulforaphane is formed from a precursor, a process that is dependent on an enzyme called myrosinase. It’s important to know that this enzyme is destroyed by cooking, and also by flash-freezing used on commercially-frozen vegetables.

There are 4 strategies used to ensure getting cancer-fighting sulforaphane when eating cruciferous vegetables: 1) Eat them raw, for example, in salads. 2) If you cook cruciferous vegetables to make soup, for example, chop them up at least 40 minutes before cooking, which allows the myrosinase time to convert the precursor to sulforaphane. 3) Eat some raw cruciferous vegetable such as broccoli or cauliflower before eating cooked. 4) Eat mustard powder or horseradish — both of which are cruciferous vegetables — with the cooked vegetables.

In addition to preventing cancer, cruciferous vegetables have been shown to have many other health benefits, some of which are listed below. In most cases, sulforaphane is the most important active ingredient. Broccoli has been studied the most, and broccoli sprouts offer 10 times the benefit than the mature plants:

• protect against neurodegenerative diseases

• help prevent cataracts by protecting the cells in the lens against oxidative stress

• treat autism by improving synaptic transmission between brain cells, reducing oxidative stress, improving mitochondrial dysfunction, and reducing neural inflammation (study by Harvard and Johns Hopkins)

• reduce total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), and dangerous oxidized cholesterol — thereby helping to prevent cardiovascular disease

• reduce blood sugar — helping to manage diabetes

• reduce allergic reactions such as hay fever

• protect against environmental pollutants

Broccoli and sulforaphane supplements have not been shown to work. So, once again, eating the whole food is important (which includes using cruciferous vegetables in green smoothies).

Take-home message: For optimal health, eat some cruciferous vegetables every day. If you cook them, be sure to use one of the strategies listed above to get sulforaphane — the most important ingredient.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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