If there’s one nutritional ‘superfood’ on the supermarket shelves it has to be cruciferous vegetables. Rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre they are a beneficial addition to any diet. But there are also some amazing benefits that are exclusive to cruciferous veg. They contain compounds that can help to balance hormones, prevent DNA damage, boost our liver detoxification enzymes, protect against cancer, lower cholesterol and boost the immune system.
For this reason we often encourage people to eat at least one portion of cruciferous veg per day – whether due to genetics or for specific reasons such as hormone imbalances, digestive disturbance or to support detoxification. But our suggestions are often met with blank faces… “what are cruciferous veg?” and “I don’t like kale” seem to be the most common responses. So I thought I’d try to simplify it and show just how easy it can be to slip a portion of these powerful veg into your day.
The best cruciferous vegetables: Rocket, bok choy, broccoli, Brussles sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, horseradish, mustard, radishes, watercress, kohlrabi, wasabi, broccoli sprouts
Top tips for preparation: There are a couple of tricks that can help to get the most out of cruciferous veg. Sulforaphane is the compound that has amazing benefits. But it first needs to be converted by an enzyme before we can use it and this enzyme is deactivated by cooking. Eating raw broccoli isn’t to most people’s taste but there is a way around this.
To benefit most, chop the veg at least 10 minutes before using. This completes the conversion to sulforophane which isn’t deactivated by heat. If eating cruciferous vegetables that haven’t been prepared properly, eating some raw cruciferous veg such as a few radishes, some mustard, horseradish or wasabi also helps the conversion, as does a sprinkling of lemon juice.
Easy recipe ideas
Kale chips are a firm favourite family snack and really easy to make a large batch that will last the week. Simply remove the stems from a bag of kale and add 5 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp soy sauce and 1 tbsp maple syrup, coat the kale leaves and dehydrate in an oven at 80 degrees Celsius for up to 2 hours. Click here for the full recipe.
Smoothies are a super quick way to tick off a portion of cruciferous veg. Watercress and rocket work particularly well in any smoothie. We love using 1 pear, half an avocado, 1 large handful of watercress, the juice of half a lime and 150mls water for a healthy, filling mid-morning drink.
Sautéed or stir-fried is a great way to cook veg such as bok choy, kale and cabbage and serve as a side to any meal. We also often make kale and beans on toast where the kale is washed, shredded and lightly sautéed – with a little turmeric powder, a chopped leek and anti-microbial crushed garlic. This combo gives fab liver support too.
Soups: supercharge your soups by adding chopped kale, broccoli or blend cauliflower into any soup to add a creamy texture. We make large batches of this easy watercress soup and freeze portions for a handy, quick and delicious meal.
Salads: kale completely changes its taste and texture after a little massaging. Simply wash and shred the kale leaves, then massage with olive oil to soften. Our kale tabbouleh makes the most of this technique. And since red cabbage is one of the highest veg in terms of antioxidant scores, we like to grate it into salads or make homemade healthy coleslaw.
Crudités are one of the simplest ways to boost levels of sulfurophane. As they are eaten raw there is no need to be careful how you prepare the vegetables. Simply eat radishes with dips such as hummus, or our artichoke dip for a real liver boost. Raw cauliflower also works really well with dips.
Condiments: mustard, horseradish and wasabi are such concentrated sources of sulfurophane that only 1 tbsp counts as a portion. Every little bit helps so adding mustard and rocket to burgers, using horseradish liberally, not just with roast beef but as a sauce with any meals, it all stacks up.
Keeping a good supply of cruciferous veg in the fridge means you’re ready to add some goodness to anything you’re making; whether it’s sneaking in finely chopped kale to an omelette or pasta sauce or crushing steamed cauliflower into mashed potato. Watercress, rocket or kale work really well in homemade pesto and dips and the flavour of cauliflower perfectly compliments any curries. And if you’re eating out, it’s usually easy to order a side of rocket salad, broccoli or cabbage but just don’t forget to lather on the mustard too, especially if ordering cooked vegetables.
A word on cruciferous veg and thyroid function
In theory, raw cruciferous vegetables can act as a goitregen – i.e. interfere with thyroid function. Research on this is patchy, but seems theoretically possible if you’re iodine deficient and knocking back great quantities of raw kale every day. Iodine is found in seafood, seaweed (and in multivitamin and mineral supplements!). If you’re covering your iodine intake, and not eating plates of raw cruciferous veg all day we don’t see a problem including some raw veg to your diet.
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