Cruciferous vegetables get many mentions in the healthy eating columns of today’s press, rightfully so. But what exactly are they and why are they so good for us? Cruciferous vegetables are the powerhouse of the vegetable aisle – overlook them and you are missing a delicious and healthy way to fuel your body.  They feed the good bacteria in your gut as you load up on vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. These vegetables are low in calories and packed with nutrients. Although the individual nutrition profiles can vary, cruciferous vegetables tend to be high in vitamin A, C and K as well as dietary fibre.

Named for their cross-shaped flowers, these nutritious vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts and cabbage. They have been closely associated with a lowered cancer risk in many studies.  There is much evidence that kale, along with broccoli is one of the healthiest foods we can eat. Kale is an anti-oxidant superstar!

Here is a list of the top cruciferous vegetables and ideas on how to pack them into your diet –

Broccoli

The best way to cook broccoli is to steam or sauté with the minimum amount of water to release the maximum amount of vitamins and anti-oxidants. If you boil them you destroy half of their anti-oxidant activity along with polyphenols and vitamin C. Broccoli is one of those vegetables that you should eat as soon as you can. As soon as it is harvested the florets start to lose their nutritional value. The best way to buy it is in sealed bags and store it in the fridge, eating it as soon as you can. Try serving lightly steamed broccoli tossed with rocket or watercress, crumbled feta cheese and a mustard dressing for nutritious punch.

Kale

Calorie for calorie, leafy greens are some of the most nutrient dense of all fruit and vegetables. A regular intake of kale will help your body detoxify, help keep cholesterol levels in balance and reduce the risk of cancer. Kale can be wilted and added to salads, crisped in the oven, stir fried, blitzed in a smoothie and sautéed with a little olive oil and any other flavourings.

Cauliflower

This is becoming a ‘wonder’ vegetable being and is now being used for pizza bases, as a rice substitute or as a delicious alternative to mashed potato. It contains a wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidant phytochemicals. It lends a big hand to liver detoxification. Delicious mashed with butter and garlic, roasted as florets or slices or blitzed in the food processor to use as rice alternative.

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts are real little powerhouses in the cruciferous vegetable family containing 5 times the potentially cancer fighting glucosinolates than many of its close relatives. Glucosinolates are the bitter tasting, pungent sulphur based compounds that plants generate to fight back against insect predators which are proving to have a protective effect in our bodies when broken down by our digestive system.  We are discovering better ways of cooking them, sliced in stir fries, roasted with honey, tossed raw into salads, anything but boiled into a soggy pulp!

Cabbages

Cabbages are a staple food in lots of cuisines and they are delicious raw, cooked and fermented. Savoy cabbage is the richest in nutrients compared to the white and red varieties although the red cabbage packs a punch as far as polyphenol content due to its vibrant colour. Make sure you include all the varieties in your diet to gain the most from their varying nutrient profiles. Slice up cabbage and mix with apple or citrus fruits for a fabulous slaw, try any variety in a stir fry with cumin seeds or chilli. If you are feeling adventurous, look up a recipe for kimchi or sauerkraut which are both wonderful probiotic fermented cabbage recipes, extremely good for your gut.

Rocket

Don’t be fooled by these little leaves, they include vitamin A, C and K plus iron, potassium, magnesium and numerous beneficial phytochemicals. If the thought of a plain rocket salad is too strong, try mixing it through other greens such as lettuce and spinach.  Rocket can also be made into a pesto or stirred into noodles or pasta.

Watercress

A handful of this vegetable (about 50g) contains 45 times more lutein than tomatoes, as much vitamin C as an orange, the same amount of calcium as a glass of semi-skimmed milk, and similar levels of iron to spinach plus many more incredible nutrients.  The best way to consume watercress is raw or briefly heated in a soup. Use in raw gazpachos, salads, pestos and smoothies.

Other cruciferous vegetables to add to your diet are bok choy, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard greens, radish and turnips.