Eat Your Cruciferous Veggies and Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

We’ve always been told to eat our vegetables. Our parents, teachers, and family may not have really known why they were constantly harping on this, but they were right. Many people understand the concept that real, whole foods like vegetables, fruit, unprocessed meat, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils like coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and walnut oil are nutrient dense. This means they contain a large amount of vitamins and minerals compared to the amount of calories they have. While vegetables and fruit do have a lot of vitamins and minerals, they also contain compounds called phytochemicals. Our parents may not have been aware of them, but phytochemicals are super powerful compounds that can not only improve our health but prevent disease.

 

What is a Phytochemical?

Phytochemicals are like the super heroes of vitamins and minerals. They’re chemical compounds found in plants that are often responsible for a distinct characteristic like the color or smell of a plant and have the ability to greatly impact our health.

One interesting fact about phytochemicals is that they all work differently! Depending on the specific chemical, it could work as an antioxidant, be antibacterial, or any of the properties below.

Different Properties of Phytochemicals

1. Antioxidant: Most phytochemicals have antioxidant properties and protect our cells against oxidative damage, while reducing the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

  • Allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic)
  • Carotenoids (fruits, carrots)
  • Flavonoids (fruits, vegetables)
  • Polyphenols (tea, graphes)

2. Stimulation of Enzymes: Enzymes are compounds that are catalysts for reactions and help make sure they happen.

  • Indoles (found in cabbages) stimulate enzymes that make estrogen less effective and can reduce the risk of breast cancer
  • Terpenes (citrus fruits and cherries) enhance norepinephrine activity and boost serotonin

3. Interference with DNA Replication: Certain phytochemicals can interfere with how DNA replicates and prevent the multiplication of cancer cells

  • Capsaicin (hot peppers) protects DNA from carcinogens

4. Antibacterial Effect: Allicin from garlic has antibacterial properties that can kill harmful bacteria

5. Physical Action: Some phytochemicals can physically bind to cell walls and prevent harmful pathogens from sticking to the cell wall

  • Proanthocyanidins are responsible for these properties in cranberries and prevent urinary tract infections PLUS improve dental health

 

What’s so Great about Cruciferous Veggies?

Since I can tell that you’re dying to know this information we will get right to it. I’ve been obsessing over one specific phytochemical, Sulforaphane, to be exact. We convert glucoraphanin (precursor to Sulforaphane) to Sulforaphane in the body. There’s been significant research done on this phytonutrient and the results make you want to start getting more of it immediately. Where do you get it? You guessed it, cruciferous vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables as a group include broccoli, broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, turnips, horseradish, radish, mustard, rutabaga, watercress, land cress, garden cress, bok choy, pak choi, daikon, mizuna, maca, tatsoi, and wasabi.

Broccoli sprouts contain 100 times more of the powerful phytonutrient Sulforaphane than their mature counterpart, broccoli. Only about 20% of the Sulforaphane gets absorbed in the body so it’s important to get it from a source that has a lot. They are also inexpensive and available to anyone willing to grow them in a mason jar in their own kitchen, which is another reason why I’m intrigued by them. (You can even freeze them) I even made a short video on my YouTube channel showing you how to grow them at home.

If you want instructions on how to grow your own you can find them here.

 

 

One important nugget of information is that glucoraphanin is converted to Sulforaphane in the body by an enzyme called myrosinase. This enzyme is released when the plant is crushed and is heat sensitive. This is where you can easily miss out on all of the benefits you were trying to reap so try not to excessively cook your veggies and if you can eat them raw definitely do!

What the Research Says

There are TONS of studies that show the benefits of Sulforaphane and cruciferous vegetables on a surprising number of different cancers, blood markers, chronic diseases, and even autism!

You might be thinking… how? why? The infographic below shares a lot of the amazing statistics, but what I think the driving factor behind why cruciferous vegetables and Sulforphane in particular have such a profound impact is because of how they affect our genes. We all have genes that we get from our mother and father. These genes are affected by exposures in our environment, what we eat, exercise, and the choices we make on a daily basis. This is called epigenetics. We can positively impact our genes by our diet and lifestyle choices.

Sulforaphane is the most potent, naturally occurring dietary activator of a genetic pathway called NRF2.

Why should you care about this pathway? It controls over 200 genes that play an important role in our bodies. Many of these genes are antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and can inactivate potentially harmful compounds that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. This means we can prevent and potentially improve our health by activating this pathway through eating foods that contain Sulforaphane. That’s some serious motivation to eat your cruciferous veggies!

Questions? Thoughts? Just want to say hi? Shoot me an email at amandamontalvord@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

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