On the Table

Those stinky veggies are good for you

CORRESPONDENTMarch 7, 2012 

In the category of "food as medicine," some of the most potent disease fighters around are also the strongest-flavored and stinkiest.

Among the most elite of the good-for-you crop are brassica or cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

You may think of cruciferous vegetables as being in the cabbage family, too. Cabbage is definitely included in this group, but so are many others that share similar qualities. Other examples include kale, collards, bok choy, daikon, turnips, arugula, watercress, radishes and rutabaga.

These veggies get their name from the four-petaled flowers they produce that look like a "crucifer," or cross.

They're rich sources of dietary fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C and a collection of phytochemicals associated with health benefits. These foods are also rich in calcium, iron and folate, an important B vitamin.

Eating generous amounts of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a lower risk of some forms of cancer including lung, liver, breast, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Some research suggests that as little as five servings each week can significantly reduce cancer risk.

That's not much food. One serving is equal to about a half-cup of raw, chopped cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower, or one cup of raw, chopped kale. A couple of good-sized helpings of any of these foods and you've got your five servings covered.

Cruciferous vegetables are distinctive for their nutritional value, but they stand out for being strongly flavored and even odorous, too. How you experience them depends on many factors, including your personal body chemistry as well as whether the vegetable is cooked or raw.

It can change over time, too. As much as I love most cruciferous vegetables, I have not until recently been able to chew, let alone swallow, a Brussels sprout. Now I'm crazy about them. Go figure.

It's worth experimenting to find new ways to include these veggies in your diet. For example, you may like the flavor of cooked broccoli better than raw, and you may find you like some vegetables best when they're blended with other flavors.

For example, I like raw cabbage, but I prefer it mixed with sweet, shredded carrots and vinegar in coleslaw.

If you're looking for an easy way to improve your diet, work more cruciferous veggies into your meals.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to Suzanne@onthetable.net and follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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