Cruciferous vegetables, more than any other vegetables, have been shown to have powerful anti-cancer properties. In particular, cruciferous vegetables produce glucosinolates. These sulfurous compounds are what give cruciferous vegetables their bitter taste. Researchers have found that these compounds fight various forms of cancer in lab rats. Studies on humans have found mixed results, but in general, people who eat a wide variety of cruciferous vegetables have a reduced risk of breast, colorectal, prostate and lung cancer.
Researchers have found several other benefits from cruciferous vegetables, including the following:
- Antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- The ability to deactivate cancer cells.
- Protects and preserves cells from DNA damage, which can contribute to cancer growth.
- Anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce the risk of cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
When you think of cruciferous vegetables, you probably think of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and bok choy, but there are many lesser known cruciferous vegetables worth exploring. Turnips, rutabagas and radishes belong to this vegetable family, as do kale, horseradish, arugula and collards.
In the garden, cruciferous vegetables are cool-season crops that grow best in the spring and fall. During the summer, they sometimes bolt to seed and become bitter. Plant cruciferous vegetables in light, well-draining soil in full sun to light shade. Keep the soil evenly moist and fertilize them with a balanced fertilizer. Most cruciferous vegetables can tolerate light frost. If you protect them with hoop tunnels or floating row covers, you can grow them almost year round.
Think you don’t like these vegetables? Perhaps it’s your cooking technique. Raw cruciferous vegetables have a pronounced sharpness, but steaming or roasting mellows them. Try sautéing kale or collards with a bit of olive oil or bacon. Add broccoli, cabbage and bok choy to stir-fries and soups. Mash turnips and rutabagas with potatoes or make a gratin with cheese and onions.
Lycopene, the phytochemical that gives tomatoes their red flavor, has made big news in recent years for its ability to cut the risk of cancer, particularly stomach, lung and prostate cancers. Animal studies have shown a positive correlation between lycopene intake and cancer reduction.
In addition to lycopene, tomatoes are a rich source of antioxidants and vitamin C. They have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce bad cholesterol. Cooked tomato products seem to offer more benefits than fresh tomatoes. Add dried tomatoes to salads and casseroles and eat salsa and tomato sauces several times each week.
Tomatoes and tomato products are widely available, but tomatoes are easy to grow in the home garden. They are native to Central and South America and thrive in warm, sunny weather. Plant them only after the last expected frost. Grow disease resistant varieties and cage or stake them for healthier fruit. Tomatoes need full sun and consistent moisture. Don’t like tomatoes? Watermelon and grapefruit are good sources of tomatoes, as well.
Orange vegetables, including winter squash, peppers, carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich sources of beta carotene. This antioxidant protects the body against damage from oxidation, a process that occurs as we age. Not only can beta carotene reduce your risk of cancer, but it can also improve immune function so you get sick less often and protect your vision.
In the garden, most orange vegetables need a long growing season and mature in the fall. One advantage to these vegetables is that they can be stored for long periods of time during the winter. Harvest winter squash and pumpkins before the first heavy frost. Store them in a cool, dry area, such as a basement or cellar, for up to four months.
Combine cubes of winter squash or sweet potatoes with olive oil and roast them. Toss them with a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon for a sweet, delicious treat. Or puree squash and pumpkins to make a tasty soup. Add canned pumpkin to stews, muffins and breads and toss peppers into stir-fries and salads.
The Science of Squash from the American Institute for Cancer Research
How Lycopene Protects Against Cancer from the Physicians for Responsible Medicine Committee
Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention from the National Cancer Institute
The Truth About Kale at WebMD.
12 Cancer Fighting Superfoods at Better Homes and Gardens.
Cancer Fighting Foods and Spices from the Cancer Cure Foundation.