Healthy habits // Load up on cruciferous veggies

While consulting with people privately or teaching classes at area food co-ops and in the workplace, I’ve noticed that people are more receptive to the idea that there’s a connection between what they eat and how they feel. For someone like me who has studied the effects of food on health for years, it’s gratifying to see an increase in the number of people who want to prevent disease and improve health through eating nutritiously.

My goal in writing these monthly columns on nutrition is to inform and educate people about how to support their health through dietary choices. Be assured that eating naturally wholesome food doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing. Nourishing ourselves and our families can be one of the great pleasures in life, and one that is worth learning to do.

Let’s start with a very easy step that goes a long way toward strengthening your health — cruciferous vegetables. Studies show that you can help prevent cancer just by eating three to five cups of cooked cabbage-family (cruciferous) vegetables per week: broccoli, cauliflower, red and green cabbage, kale, collard greens, turnips or Brussels sprouts.
These vegetables all contain compounds called sulfuraphane and indoles, which give them tremendous cancer preventing properties. Indoles suppress the growth of tumors and inhibit cancer cell metastasis (the movement of cancerous cells from one part of the body to another). Sulfuraphane can increase the body’s ability to detoxify carcinogenic substances.

All over the world, cabbage-family vegetables have been shown to be protective against cancer. A study done in the Netherlands collected data from more than 100,000 people over six years and found that people who ate at least three cups of cooked cabbage-family vegetables per week lowered their risk of colorectal cancers by a whopping 49 percent. Yes! The risk of developing colon cancer can be cut in half by eating more broccoli. A study done in Singapore found that regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables lowered risk for lung cancer (the most common form of cancer in the U.S.) by 30 percent in non-smokers and by 69 percent in smokers. And studies at the University of California at Berkeley found that one of the indoles present in the crucifers can actually halt the growth of breast cancer cells.So get cooking! And I mean that literally.

While munching on raw cauliflower and broccoli have become popular as snack alternatives, beware of unpleasant side effects.

Cruciferous vegetables contain irritants to the large intestine that, when eaten raw, can cause bloating, gas and abdominal cramping. Cooking or fermentation (as in the case of sauerkraut or kim-chee) neutralizes these irritants. Cabbage family vegetables also contain goitrogenic compounds that interfere with the body’s ability to use iodine. This can depress the thyroid gland, the body’s “master gland” that regulates energy levels, metabolism and endocrine functions. Again, these anti-nutrients are neutralized by cooking or fermentation.

Broccoli and cauliflower are among the most convenient of the cabbage family vegetables. They’re available fresh and frozen, year round. The easiest way to cook them is by steaming. Steamed broccoli and cauliflower are great with butter, grated cheese or with your favorite sauces. You can also sauté broccoli and cauliflower for a delicious stir-fry, boil them in soups or roast them with olive oil and garlic. Foods for fighting disease are economical, readily available and can taste so good. So get started!

Jennette Turner is a natural foods educator who lives in the Lowry Hill neighborhood. Her writings and recipe tips can also be found at the Wedge Community Co-op’s website — For more information about her work, go to