Cruciferous Vegetables – Healthy superfoods

 by Dr.Helly Hernandez


The cruciferous vegetables are plants native to Western Asia and Europe, belonging to the family of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae, from which its name comes, which are characterized by having four petals opposite each other in the form of a cross. Among this group of vegetables are broccolis, cauliflowers, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, curly cabbages, etc.
Cruciferous vegetables are known as winter vegetables because they require low temperatures for their growth, and are characterized by their particular smell and flavor due to the presence of sulfur groups in their chemical and nutritional composition.
Cruciferous vegetables have been widely studied for their nutritional and antioxidant properties due to the multiple bioactive components and their beneficial effects on human health. In particular, the interest of the medical and scientific community is focused on the role of sulfurafans, isothiocyanates and other compounds in the prevention of different types of cancer, due to their high effectiveness and their effect on the metabolism of xenobiotics.

Nutritional composition

The major nutritional components of cruciferous vegetables are carbohydrates, protein, vitamins (ascorbic acid, folic acid, tocopherols, and provitamin A, vitamin K in the form of ubiquinone). Iron, calcium, selenium, copper manganese and zinc are the main minerals in this type of vegetables. Phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and potassium are present in cruciferous plants as micronutrients

The contribution of energy of cruciferous vegetables is due to their contribution of carbohydrates, which varies in a range between 0.3 to 10% of their weight. The highest content of dietary fiber is present in Galician cabbage or cabbage with 4.6% of fresh weight, followed by broccoli (30.4% dry weight) and cauliflower (26.7% by weight).

The protein content of crucifers varies from 1 to 3.3%. The cruciferous with the highest protein contribution is kale (3.3%) while the radish contains less than 1%. The amount of fat is negligible (less than 1%), which makes them ideal foods to include in the low-fat and cardio-protective diet

The cruciferous or Brassicaceae are characterized as a good source of vitamin C. The content in broccoli is more than 50 mg / 100 g of fresh weight. The average content of β-carotenes in the cruciferous is 0.5 – 1.0 mg in 100 grams of fresh weight, cauliflower provides 0.08 mg, Brussels sprouts 0.14 mg / 100 g and broccoli 0.81 mg / 100 g.

Carotenoids and tocopherols reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and degenerative diseases, immune dysfunction and macular degeneration associated with age.


Properties of cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables contain a group of secondary metabolites called Isothiocyanates and Sulfurafans, also contains other bioactive components such as flavonoids and minerals such as selenium.

Inhibition of pro-cancer substances: Isothiocyanates can inhibit the bioactivation of pro-cancer substances found in cigarette smoke such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Protection against oxidative stress: Isothiocyanates increase the levels of glutathione, which maintains the oxidation-reduction balance and protects the cells from free radicals or reactive oxygen species.

Antibacterial properties: Prevents infection by Helicobacter pylori, the causative agent of gastritis, and peptic ulcer.
Anti-inflammatory properties: Reduces inflammation of tissues by regulating the activation of proinflammatory cells

It is a metabolite of glucosinolates, present in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage. They have the capacity to generate the death of cancer cells and inactivate their growth.

Beneficial effects on health
Based on the described properties of the main bioactive components of cruciferous vegetables, a series of studies have been published that expose the effect of these on certain pathologies such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, among others.

Skin cancer
Regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables is related to an incidence of skin cancer up to 3 times lower compared to those who do not consume them

Esophagus cancer
Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition that affects the quality of life of individuals who suffer from it and represents a series of health risks, such as the development of esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus, is considered a precancerous condition. Barrett’s Esophageal Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of cancer at the esophageal level. It has been proven that sulfurafans induce the death of tumor cells in Barret’s Esophageal Adenocarcinoma.

Lung cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in the world and the main risk factor is tobacco consumption. Therefore, the effect of isothiocyanates has been studied since they can inhibit the bioactivation of procancergens found in cigarette smoke, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Breast cancer
One of the greatest effects of isothiocyanates and indoles present in cruciferous vegetables is the regulation of estrogen metabolism. Specifically, indole-3-carbinol has anti-estrogenic effects, which allows inhibiting the growth of estrogen-dependent cells including tumors of the breast, endometrium, and cervix.

Cardiovascular diseases
The benefits of cruciferous vegetables have also been demonstrated on cardiovascular health, it has been proven that the consumption of broccoli reduces the markers of oxidative stress and lowers cholesterol levels.

Other health benefits
Scientific evidence has also demonstrated directly and indirectly the benefits of cruciferous vegetables in the prevention of metabolic disorders, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and respiratory problems such as asthma.

The role of isothiocyanates in the metabolic syndrome is well demonstrated. Carrying a diet rich in vegetables (where broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables make up a significant portion) is associated with a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The prevention of oxidative stress induced by pollution prevents airway inflammation associated with asthma.