The Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous veggies are super healthy but you need to know something about goitrogens and oxalates in order to get the most nutrition out of them possible.

Let’s explore a family of vegetables called the cruciferous vegetables. They’re super healthy for you, but you need to know something about goitrogens and oxalates in order to get the most nutrition out of them possible. Those are big words, but read on and you’ll see it’s pretty simple.

The Health Benefits of Cruciferous Veggies

Some of the Super Foods in the cruciferous family are broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower.

Here’s the need-to-know quick scan version:

  1. These veggies are actually better for you cooked than raw.
  2. Cut them 5-10 minutes before cooking to optimize cancer-fighting agents.
  3. Lightly steaming is best.
  4. Organic options = more phytonutrients (the good stuff) and especially important for kale as nitrites concentrate in the green leaves

Read on for the great nutritive value and health benefits of all cruciferous vegetables:

  • Detoxify (increase the liver’s ability to neutralize potentially toxic substances)
  • Reduce free radical damage
  • Can prevent cancers, especially bladder and prostate
  • Good for heart health
  • Prevents eye degeneration
  • Healthy skin and immune system

And for each vegetable’s shining moment:

Broccoli

Star Quality
More Vitamin C than oranges! Good source of fiber, plant omega 3s. High in folic acid, of particular importance for pregnant women.

Select, Store, Serve

  • Tight bud clusters, firm stem (not limp), rich green color. Pass on broccoli with yellow or brown.
  • Cut 5 minutes before cooking to optimize cancer-preventive compounds (seriously, who knew that??)
  • Steam no more than 5 minutes.
  • Serve with tomatoes and fat/oil/butter to receive the greatest benefits

RELATED: Healthy Broccoli Winter Seasonal Salad  

Kale

Star Quality
Super high Vitamin K and A (think eyes!), great Vitamin C source. Almost 10% DV of calcium in one cup. Protection against ovarian cancer.

Select, Store, Serve

Kale is a dark green, leafy vegetable, by the

way, for those of you who (like me a few years ago) have never heard of it. You can find it in the bulk lettuce section in a grocery store. In general, the darker the green, the more nutrients a veggie will have.

  • “Curly kale” is the standard kale, dark green and…well…curly. Look for firm leaves and stems. Smaller leaves are more tender and milder in flavor.
  • Wrap in damp paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge, unwashed.
  • Can store a few days, the longer in the fridge, the more bitter it will become.
  • Cooking kale is a good idea (see below for more details). Lightly steam or use in soups or casseroles.

    steaming mixed greens to dehydrate kale swiss chard spinach

Cauliflower

Star Quality
Excellent source of Vitamin C (90% DV), almost 15% DV of folate/folic acid and fiber.

Select, Store, Serve

  • Clean white heads, no brown spots or flowers blooming
  • Store in paper or plastic bag in fridge up to a week
  • If you pre-cut florets, eat within two days to preserve freshnesscut cauliflower for Paleo cauli rice in the Instant Pot

Cabbage

Star Quality
Great source of Vitamin K (almost 100% DV) and 50% DV of Vitamin C. Good source of fiber. Huge breast cancer fighter. Red cabbage fights Alzheimer’s.

Select, Store, Serve

  • Dense, firm heads; avoid buying pre-cut cabbage
  • Whole head in a plastic bag in the fridge; can keep for 2 weeks
  • If storing partial head, wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Vitamin C is being destroyed every minute it sits…

I always thought cabbage was a nothing food, like iceberg lettuce, just because they looked similar to me. Because of that, the first one I ever bought in my whole life was while doing research for Kitchen Stewardship®. Now I buy them all the time! They’re practically a staple in my kitchen.

They’re incredibly cheap around St. Patrick’s Day, so I encourage you to commit to buying at least one a year and figuring out what to do with it. I like this simple cabbage salad and this cabbage soup.

5 reasons cabbage is awesome

Added Bonus:  The antioxidant effect of cauliflower and cabbage lasts for 3 to 4 days after eating the vegetable! (source)

What are Goitrogens and Oxalates? And Why do I Care?

Goitrogens and oxalates (oxalic acid) are both natural substances found in some plant foods.  Goitrogens interfere with thyroid function.

They are found in kale, broccoli, and cabbage. “When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating kale [and spinach].” (source)

Nourishing Traditions says that oxalic acid blocks calcium and iron absorption and irritates the digestive tract.

How To Get The Most Benefit From Eating Cruciferous Vegetables

Cooking (i.e. lightly steaming or sautéing in butter and olive oil) destroys or neutralizes both goitrogens and oxalates. So you don’t really need to remember their names or how they might hurt you.

Just remember to eat this family of veggies cooked most of the time. Occasional raw broccoli or cauliflower isn’t going to hurt you though, unless you have a thyroid or kidney/gallbladder issue. If that’s you, you may want to avoid these foods altogether to be safe.

Don’t save the cooking water from kale; the oxalic acid is in there.

Here’s some Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat Vegetables.

Recipes You Might Like:

Sources: 1 2 3 4

9 thoughts on “The Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables”

  1. I know this is an older article. Does this also apply to things like turnip greens? I just cooked some (organic from the farmers market) tonight in some organic chicken broth and they were heavenly! I was so proud. But now reading this I’m wondering if I should have steamed them and gotten rid of the water. Hm.

    1. Crystal,
      I’m guessing not…but to be sure you’d want to Google turnips to see if they have any goitrogens or oxalates. It just seems to me that turnips are different enough from any of these veggies (and if it was tasty, eh, who cares?) 😉 Katie

  2. So this means no coleslaw? Or does the vinegar neutralize the goitrogens and oxalates? Also, does this mean it’s not a good idea to juice kale?

    1. Amy,
      I’m guessing fermenting has to get out the bad stuff, as far as coleslaw goes (the traditional fermented kind). Juicing kale regularly is probably not superb…but I’m a fan of balance. Surely some raw greens can’t kill ya, right? 😉 Katie

  3. “1.These veggies are actually better for you cooked than raw.”

    I think you should research this more because I have also read the opposite. I’m not saying you are wrong, I just want to know the truth – which I know is important to you as well.
    Thanks!
    🙂

    1. I’ve learned that in anything nutrition, you can find exactly the opposite. I eat cruciferous veggies both ways myself, but if I had a disease affected by goitrogens or oxalates, I would always steam them. ??? Better safe than sorry, and right now I have a balance no matter who is right. 😉 Katie

  4. Cabbage and Kale are my favorite foods….yes even over chocolate.
    The best kind of kale is Cavolo Nero, aka Dinosaur Kale. Try cooking it with olive oil, sesame, and lemon. (the stems take longer to cook than the leaves)

  5. Great post as usual! I just purchased a head of cabbage a few weeks ago and sauteed it right before it was about to go bad. I can’t wait to make this soup, it looks delicious~thanks!

    KissyKat’s last blog post..A Day in the Life

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