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What is Cruciferous?

Helena Reimer
Helena Reimer

The word "cruciferous" stems from the New Latin word cruciferae, which means "cross-bearing." It is a term used to describe plants that have the sepals, flowers and leaves positioned in a cross-like pattern. Cruciferous plants belong to the mustard plant family, cabbage plant family or angiosperm family and are often referred to as crucifers, cruciferae or Brassicaceae. The flowering plants either grow wild or they are grown for culinary and ornamental purposes.

Among the cruciferous family are more than 300 genera and more than 3,000 species, which include vegetables, wild flowering plants and weeds as well as small shrubs. In the Mediterranean region, cruciferous shrubs might grow to be as high as 10 feet (about 3 m). Wild flowering plants such as the matthiola, alyssum and iberis are often used in gardens for ornamental purposes as well as in flower bouquets and other flower arrangements. The flowers of cruciferous plants usually have four petals and four sepals, which are opposite one from the other to give the appearance of a cross. They have two short stamens and four long stamens, which are also positioned in a cross-like appearance.

Kale is an example of a cruciferous vegetable.
Kale is an example of a cruciferous vegetable.

The crucifer plant family includes perennials, annuals and biennials. A perennial plant is one that can last for more than two years, an annual is a plant that lasts a year or less, and a biennial is one that takes two years to complete its life cycle. Biennials such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts are mainly used for culinary purposes and thus are commonly grown as annuals.

Radishes are considered a cruciferous vegetable.
Radishes are considered a cruciferous vegetable.

Vegetables within the family are referred to as cruciferous vegetables. They are cultivated for culinary purposes worldwide and are considered to be one of the major crops around the world. Depending on the vegetable, the roots, stems, flowers, leaves and seeds are consumed. Examples of these include radish, beets, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and mustard seeds. The vegetables are suitable for raw consumption as well as for steaming, stir frying, boiling and baking.

Cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, which helps protect the DNA cells and fight against cancer. They are said to be high in vitamin C, fiber and other important nutrients, including cancer-fighting agents such as sulforaphane and selenium. Other substances found in the plants are goitrogens and nitriles, which in large quantities might be harmful for health. Goitrogens can contribute to the formation of goiters, and nitriles can negatively affect the kidneys or liver. These substances can be reduced in the foods by boiling the food for about 30 minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines a vegetable as cruciferous?

Cruciferous vegetables belong to the Brassicaceae family, characterized by four-petaled flowers resembling a cross and leaves that form a rosette at the base. They are known for their health-promoting compounds like glucosinolates, which can have anti-cancer properties. Common examples include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale.

Why are cruciferous vegetables considered healthy?

Cruciferous vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. They are particularly rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and manganese. Their high glucosinolate content has been linked to reduced cancer risk, as these compounds can neutralize carcinogens. Studies suggest a diet rich in cruciferous veggies can lower the risk of certain cancers.

Can eating cruciferous vegetables help with weight management?

Yes, cruciferous vegetables can aid in weight management due to their high fiber content, which promotes satiety and helps maintain a healthy digestive system. They are also low in calories, allowing for generous portions without consuming too many calories, making them an excellent addition to a weight management diet.

Are there any risks associated with consuming cruciferous vegetables?

While cruciferous vegetables are generally safe and healthy, they contain goitrogens, which can interfere with thyroid function in sensitive individuals. Those with thyroid issues should consult with a healthcare provider. Cooking these vegetables can reduce goitrogenic compounds, making them safer for those concerned about thyroid health.

How can cruciferous vegetables be incorporated into a balanced diet?

Cruciferous vegetables are versatile and can be included in a balanced diet in various ways: raw in salads, steamed, roasted, or stir-fried. They can also be blended into smoothies or soups. The key is to consume a variety of these vegetables regularly to reap their full health benefits.

What is the recommended daily intake of cruciferous vegetables?

While there is no specific recommended daily intake for cruciferous vegetables, dietary guidelines suggest filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Aiming for at least 2-3 cups of vegetables per day, with a variety of types and colors, including cruciferous options, is a good practice for overall health.

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    • Kale is an example of a cruciferous vegetable.
      By: silencefoto
      Kale is an example of a cruciferous vegetable.
    • Radishes are considered a cruciferous vegetable.
      By: ginettegagne
      Radishes are considered a cruciferous vegetable.