Nutrition Corner: Boost your health with cruciferous vegetables

September 17th, 2015 12:53 pm

Cruciferous vegetables — or those vegetables when the plant flowers, the petal forms a cross — are power foods packed with flavor and natural disease-preventing compounds.

It’s hard to say enough good things about broccoli and its cousins in the cruciferous family of vegetables, which includes cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts. Some of the leafy green vegetables like kale and collard, mustard and turnip greens are also part of the cruciferous family.

These veggies are packed with nutrients. In every bite, you get fiber, vitamin C and beta-carotene, along with a healthy serving of several disease-fighting phytonutrients. Phytonutrient are plant nutrients or chemicals found naturally in the plant. One type of phytonutrient are antioxidants.

Antioxidants can help our bodies in a number of ways. They can slow, prevent or repair damage to the body cell. How? If there are no antioxidants around, free radicals will steal the missing part that they need from healthy cells.

Free radicals can come from a number of sources. Some research suggests they come from high-fat diets, food additives, processed foods, cigarette smoke, radiation, sun exposure and other environmental factors. They also come from our body during natural processes like digestion. If we nourish our bodies with a variety of foods rich in antioxidants, we might increase our chances of living longer, healthier, productive lives.

The cruciferous vegetables are also rich in sulfur-containing compounds and other chemicals that appear to have strong anti-cancer properties. Research has shown the same compound that gives their unique smell during cooking also protects us against cancer. They are very healthy to eat, so what is stopping people from eating more cruciferous vegetables? Maybe it’s the smell of cooking, or the time needed to prepare them in tasty ways.

Here are some hints to reduce their cooking smell. First, do not overcook. Possibly the main reason for Brussels sprouts’ bad reputation is they are cooked too long, which makes them mushy, discolored and strong tasting. Next, place a whole walnut (in the shell) in the cooking water while the vegetables are cooking. The walnut shell reduces odor.

Cruciferous vegetable can be eaten fresh or cooked. Here is a tasty easy to make recipe for those wonderful little cabbages, Brussels sprouts. It’s so tasty that even the two-bite rule, meaning everyone takes two bites, might end up with an empty dish.

Roasted Brussels sprouts

1 to 2 Tbsp. minced garlic

3 Tbsp. olive oil

12-15 small Brussels sprouts

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Black pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried parsley flakes)

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Spray casserole dish with non-fat cooking spray. Place the olive oil, parsley and garlic in a large re-sealable bag. Add Brussel sprouts, and shake to mix. Pour into the prepared casserole dish. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through. To serve, top with Parmesan cheese and pepper.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at