By now, most everyone knows that vegetables are good for health and that these are essential to a healthy diet.
Unfortunately, the growing rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases (like cancer and diabetes) are a reflection on how most Americans diet. Simply put, we don’t frequent vegetables or alternate sources of protein (like plant-based protein) enough. This is alarming, as chronic conditions are then responsible for the vast majority of deaths in the United States and worldwide.
Cardiovascular diseases (such as ischemic heart failure, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death), various forms of cancer (including lung, colorectal, and stomach cancers), and metabolic diseases (such as diabetes, and dyslipidemia) are all connected to detrimental dietary and lifestyle habits. Learning to incorporate more vegetables into one’s diet will not only lower the risk for chronic conditions but also help regulate organ systems.
Cruciferous vegetables, or brassica vegetables, get their name by belonging to the Cruciferae family also known as the Brassicaceae family (1). Examples of cruciferous vegetables include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and collard greens (but there are many more). What is interesting about these types of vegetables is the countless health benefits they offer to the consumer on-top of already rich nutrient contents.
Cruciferous vegetables are constantly under scientific study for their effect on chronic conditions like cancer. These type of vegetables are rich in sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. When broken down and digested, these compounds produce a variety of other biologically active elements including indoles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates (2). These compounds are acknowledged for their positive effects in cancer prevention in animal studies, although human-based studies are more inconclusive. This is probably due to many factors playing a role in cancer formation and in the likelihood that individuals who frequent cruciferous vegetables are also engaging in other risk-reducing behavior.
Eating More Vegetables:
Incorporating more vegetables into the daily diet will lower morbidity and also mortality of non-communicable diseases. A major reason for the growing rates of obesity and diabetes is the dependence of American culture on animal-based protein and products. Animal products are often high in saturated fats. Furthermore, they possess a variety of irritants that may trigger low-grade inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Conventional nutrition practices and guidelines, such as those offered by government institutions such as USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), did not acknowledge the importance of vegetables in the past. Guidelines like the “The Food Pyramid,” were deeply influenced by big food corporations involved in political lobbying. This lobbying, in turn, meant that these corporations had an influence over nutrition guideline content, which often portrayed red meats and dairy as more important than vegetables.
These type of stained guidelines had an effect on the dietary habits of many Americans and the importance of vegetables was undermined. New guidelines like “MyPlate” are doing a better job in emphasizing the importance of fruits and vegetables to the daily diet, now constituting half of every meal as it should be.
For those who find it difficult to incorporate vegetables into a meal, stir-frys are the way to go. Stir-frys are an easy way to get the recommended vegetable servings into one meal. Salads too are also a great way to take in some extra greens and are very flexible in taste.
A Quick Breakdown of Benefits:
A big reason why vegetables and other plants are considered healthy is their rich nutrient density. The concept of nutrient density describes the relationship of nutrient content to caloric content. A nutrient dense food provides high nutrient levels per calorie. On the other hand, foods that provide no nutritional value but do provide calories are said to be empty calories.
The following are brief descriptions of 3 well-known cruciferous vegetables and their respective nutrient contents:
A cup of kale contains about 33 calories, 3 grams of protein and 2.5 grams of fiber. Kale is rich in vitamins A, C, B9 (folate), K and even ALA (an omega-3 fatty acid). Mineral content includes calcium, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus (3).
A cup of chopped broccoli has approximately 30.9 calories, 2.6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber. It contains vitamins A, B9 (folate), C, D and E. Broccoli also offers omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Mineral content includes calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, and manganese amongst others (4).
A cup of cauliflower has about 25 calories, 2.0 grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fiber. Vitamin content includes vitamins A, B6, B9, B12, C, D, E and K. Mineral content includes calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, and lastly, potassium (5).
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Higdon, Jane, et al. “Cruciferous Vegetables.” Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, 2 May 2018, lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/cruciferous-vegetables.
“Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention.” Cancer.gov, National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet.
“The Truth About Kale.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/food-recipes/kale-nutrition-and-cooking.
“Broccoli, Raw Nutrition Facts & Calories.” Nutrition Data Know What You Eat., nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2356/2.
“Cauliflower, Raw Nutrition Facts & Calories.” Nutrition Data Know What You Eat., nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2390/2.