Lower Your Cancer Risk With Cruciferous Vegetables

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 1:35pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

Thousands of scientific studies prove that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can prevent cancer and other diseases. Not only are these foods low in calories, they are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and beneficial plant chemicals. More specifically, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale have been shown to be especially potent cancer fighters. While the sulfur-like odor of cruciferous vegetables may make them less desirable than other vegetables, the very chemical that causes this potent smell provides the most impressive protection against cancer.

Cruciferous vegetables: the benefits

Cruciferous vegetables contain many plant chemicals that are associated with a lower risk of cancer. By stimulating the body to produce enzymes which break down cancer-causing substances, these naturally occurring chemicals help slow the growth of cancer cells in the breast, endometrium, lung, colon, liver, and cervix. In addition, various studies have associated diets high in cruciferous vegetables with lower risks of lung, stomach, colorectal, bladder, and prostate cancers.

Guidelines for consumption of curciferious veggies

A small amount of cruciferous vegetables goes a long way. One clinical study showed that men between the ages of 40 and 64 who ate 3 or more half-cup servings of cruciferous vegetables a week were 41 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer. Another study among men and women ranging in age from 50 to 74 showed participants who ate an average of 3.7 half-cup servings of cooked broccoli weekly were 50 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer as subjects who said they never ate broccoli. Researchers have also discovered that the beneficial plant chemicals in cruciferous vegetables work together to produce a greater cancer fighting effect.

Incorporating cruciferous veggies into your diet

Incorporating cruciferous vegetables into your diet is easier and more delicious than you might think. To take advantage of their cancer fighting potential, add a half-cup serving of any of the following a few times a week:

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

Spotlight on sprouts: super cruciferous broccoli

In part because it contains the cancer-fighting chemical sulforaphane, broccoli always tops the list of healthiest vegetables. However, broccoli sprouts contain 20 to 50 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli. That means a few tablespoons of broccoli sprouts contain as much sulforaphane as is found in a pound of mature broccoli. When scientists at Johns Hopkins University fed broccoli sprouts to rats for several days and then gave them carcinogens, the animals developed smaller, fewer and slower-growing tumors than the ones that did not eat sprouts.