Journey To Health: The Wonder of Cruciferous Vegetables

By Eli Follick

The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes an updated version of “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” every five years, based on the latest scientific research. One of my favorite sections is titled “My Plate” ( In fact, the advice you’ll find there aligns with many of the principles I espouse in this column – namely, that the “benefits of healthy eating add up over time, bite by bite” and that “small changes matter.” Among other guidance, My Plate suggests that vegetables should make up half of your plate and they should be varied.

Personally, I like to incorporate cruciferous vegetables every day in my meal plans. These are a group of foods that contain a rich range of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, lipids (fats), and amino acids. Cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, kale, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and similar green leaf vegetables. They have been shown to fend off a host of serious conditions, including heart disease and some cancers, and to reduce “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, according to the American Heart Association and the National Cancer Institute.

Cruciferous vegetables also contain as much as 20 percent of our daily fiber requirement, according to “The Doctor’s Book of Food Remedies” by health and fitness writer Selene Yeager. The Nutrition Almanac says they can even help you lose weight, lower blood pressure, and reduce obesity and diabetes risk. WebMD cites them as a good source of omega-3 healthy fatty acids, essential to helping maintain cognitive health and reducing the risk of mental decline.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults should eat cruciferous vegetables regularly, considering one cup of raw leafy vegetables as one serving, a half cup of cooked vegetables as one serving, and a half cup of pure (no sugar, no salt, no additives) vegetable juice as one serving. Steaming vegetables is among my favorite ways to prepare them. I will measure out a half cup of fresh or frozen broccoli, put it into the steamer and simmer the water until I am satisfied. I like it al dente rather than mushy. Another technique I like because it lends itself to endless variety is poaching. I start with about ½ inch of water, in a fry pan, add ½ cup of a vegetable such as bok choy or Brussels sprouts, and poach. One time I even tried Chablis as the liquid, and the result was great flavor. I have also experimented with seasoned plain soup stock. Tasty. A teaspoon of powdered garlic in the water. Also, yummy. No matter what I did, what I changed, and which vegetable was used, I liked the result.

Once during a small gathering, I put out several vegetables, a variety of liquids, and opened the kitchen for the guests to choose their own combinations. Everybody had fun tasting each other’s creations. When we were done, I did an internet search for each
combination and announced the nutritional values of what they had tried.
It wasn’t exactly charades, but everybody went home with ideas about how they
were going to add more healthy choices to their diets.

Another technique I have included in my repertoire is roasting. I start with
a cookie sheet smeared lightly with olive oil, placing vegetables on top. I then spray the array lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt (not too much). I put the tray into an oven heated to 350-400 degrees F. The total roasting time varies with
the piece sizes. You can also add non-cruciferous vegetables, such as sliced red peppers and tomatoes. It all works.

A sneaky but tasty way to consume more vegetables is to add a couple of handfuls of spinach or kale to a plain unsalted vegetable soup stock. A bowl of soup is a quick, filling meal and is warming on cooler days.

If you have access to a smartphone or a computer, it’s easy to find a multitude of healthful recipes you’ll like in which vegetables are the star.

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