Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy, arugula, horseradish, radish, wasabi, watercress and kale are known as cruciferous vegetables. They are so named because their four equal-sized flowers resemble a cross.
Cruciferous vegetables are plants in the family of Brassicaceae or Cruciferae.
These plants are a rich source of glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that give these plants their pungent aroma and bitter taste.
The unpleasantness of these compounds probably helped plants survive since predatory animals don’t know that its healthy. It repels predators. They don't like broccoli!
Chewing and digesting cruciferous vegetables releases the plant's library of compounds, especilaly its biologically active, isothiocyanates and indoles. These two medicinal compounds contain sulfur and nitrogen respectively, minerals often at the core of biological activity.
Both compounds are highly regarded in the ethnopharmacology world where the effectiveness of traditional medicines is evaluated by scientific methods and laboratory tests.
According to their results, isothiocyanates and indoles inhibit cancer growth and possess strong antioxidant and anti-atherogenic activity.
Broccoli was named for the Latin word for arm (brachium) when the Romans first cultivated the plant. The plant contains calcium, lutein, indoles, and foliate. Due to its high fiber content and its high gucosinolate content, broccoli is a preventive agent for colon cancer.
Depending on the method of preparation, broccoli’s library of compounds undergo a radical transformation. Some are converted into inactive forms or removed but others can become more bioavailable. Broccoli sprouts are even more powerful than broccoli.
It’s been about twenty years since Bush the elder castigated broccoli. During that time the evidence continues to mount that the phytonutrients embedded into the fibers of its stalks and the high concentration of carotenoids in its floret makes broccoli extremely beneficial to health.
Cruciferous vegetables owe their preventive effects to the library of sulfur-containing compounds they contain. The strong smells they produce and the bitterness of their taste are due to their sulfur content, which protects the plant from microorganisms and insects.
Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing glycosides embedded in the cells of cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, sprouts, kale and mustard seeds).
Upon hydrolysis, (addition of water) these glycosides yield isothiocyanates, thiocyanates, and indoles. These are the compounds that have become the focus of much research by many pharmaceutical companies in their quest to design new and more powerful anti-cancer drugs.
Thiocyanates and isothiocyanates block tumor production.
Isothiocyanates have been shown to inhibit tumor growth in a variety of body sites. Presumably, this occurs due to an inhibition of the binding of carcinogen to the DNA in the target cell.
Indole-3-carbinol, also called I3C, is the compound formed during the digestion of glucosinates. It is in this form that cruciferous vegetables exert their preventive effect by repressing the growth of cancer cells and altering estrogen metabolism. By blocking estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells, I3C may be an effective tool in preventing breast cancer. Foods rich in the precursors of I3C are cabbage, radishes and other members of the Brassicaceae family.
Indoles are tryptophan-like alkaloids. Their structure is therefore similar to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin, which are also tryptophan-based compounds. Indoles are also similar in structure to psychoactive compounds like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).
Brassica oleracea Cabbage
Cabbage was originally used as a medicinal herb when it was first cultivated in Western Europe 3000 years ago.
Cabbage was a staple to the workers building the Great Wall.
Cabbage leaves were used to repress inflammation while pastes were made to relief pain and discomfort. Cabbage is a good source of indol-3-carbinol, a known repressor of cancer.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from fermenting vegetables and spices. It originated as simply salted Chinese cabbage. It wasn’t until later that chili peppers were added.
Kimchi is now made with Chinese cabbage, onions, garlic and peppers, all vegetables beneficial to heath. It contains a high concentration of dietary fiber, while being low in calories. Kimchi is rich in vitamins A and B as well as calcium and iron.
Kimchi contributes to the low rate of obesity in Korea and contains lactobacillus that promotes digestion. Kimchi also contains a unique library of phytonutrients that possess anti-cancer activity.
Sauerkraut is cabbage that has been preserved by the process of pickling. In this process, a saturated salt solution or brine is added to cabbage to promote its conversion by its own, native colony of lactic acid bacteria.
Sauerkraut has a distinctive sour flavor due to the lactic acid that forms these when bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage. This process is called lacto-fermentation.
Sauerkraut is a great source of probiotic bacteria (lactobacilli), on par with yogurt. Probiotics improve digestion by altering the environment so pathogenic bacteria can’t survive.
Sauerkraut, owing to its high sulfur content, is a natural skin cleaning agent. Since it is rich in fiber, sauerkraut is a preventive food for colon cancer
Raphanus sativus Radish
The radish (Raphanus sativus) is a root vegetable.
Radishes are found in varying colors, sizes and shapes.
Radishes have been used in Traditional Medicine to treat a litany of diseases including whopping cough, cancer, gastric discomfort, liver disease, constipation, arthritis, kidney stones and intestinal parasites. Radishes are used in India as a diuretic and facial cosmeceutical.
Radishes are good sources for a library of phytochemicals including isothiocyanates and the antioxidants, lutein, chlorophyll and carotenes. Radishes are also high in vitamin C, calcium, sulfur and potassium.
Radishes are divided into winter and summer varieties depending on the season in which they grow.
Winter radishes such as daikon (Japanese or Chinese radish) have elongated white roots. Daikon is an important part of Japanese cuisine.
Daikon is served raw in salads, and as a garnish for sashimi. Daikon is also marinated in vinegar while cooked daikon is an ingredient in homostyled miso soup.
Summer or European radishes are smaller than their Oriental counterparts.