Cruciferous Vegetables

From the July 2007 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

With the growing popularity of nutritional supplements, more and more Americans are looking for accurate information about the nutrients that can make a real difference in their health and longevity. The reality is, however, that the most powerful thing you can do to improve your health is to eat more green vegetables. Americans eat a piddling amount of greens. If they ate a lot more, disease rates of all types would plummet. Not only are vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals, they also contain thousands of phytochemicals that are critically important for our health.

As researchers have looked more deeply into nutritional science, it has become widely known that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is a far better way to get your nutrients than fiddling around with supplements of various individual nutrients. And the very best way to get the benefits of this superior nutrition is to harness the power of high-nutrient super foods. Not all vegetables are created equal, and one of the most fascinating areas of research in the last 10 years has been the therapeutic value of cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables are those in the broccoli and cabbage family and include such foods as bok choy, radishes, and watercress.

Close to 300 case-controlled studies have shown a protective effect of vegetable consumption against cancer, and cruciferous vegetables have the most powerful anticancer effects of all foods. Studies have shown that eating fresh fruits, beans, vegetables, seeds, and nuts reduces the occurrence of cancer. If consumption of plant food intake goes up 20% in a population, cancer rates typically drop 20%. But cruciferous vegetables have been shown to be twice as effective. As cruciferous vegetable intake goes up 20% in a population, cancer rates drop 40%.

Most of the phytonutrients we hear about (vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene) function as antioxidants in your body, meaning that they neutralize free radicals, rendering them harmless. The phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables do this and more; they also activate your body’s own built-in antioxidant control system.

When you take in otherwise natural antioxidants such as vitamin C and E in the form of isolated supplements, they fight little one-on-one skirmishes against free radicals, but not much more. Their beneficial effects are gone in a few hours. Synthetic or isolated fractions of vitamin E, beta carotene, or vitamin C are even less effective and also can cause pro-oxidant behavior, creating more of the free radicals that you are trying to fight.

The benefits of the glucosinolates in whole green vegetables are vastly superior. Instead of getting short-lived benefits (or outright harm), the unique compounds in cruciferous vegetables cycle over and over, protecting your body for 3-5 days after consumption. They fuel numerous bodily systems already in place, enabling them to function more effectively. These systems defend not only against free radicals, but many other types of damage, as well
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