What are cruciferous vegetables?
Cruciferous vegetables are a diverse group of vegetables that include eating different parts of a range of plants. They include veggies such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and bok choy. They can also include other parts of the plant, such as the seeds (mustard seeds), root (turnips, radish), stems (kale, watercress), leaves (rocket) or flower heads (cauliflower). The term “cruciferous” was informally given to this group of plants as the flowers of some plants resemble a cross.
These are all examples of cruciferous vegetables:
- Asian greens – gai lan (Chinese broccoli), bok choy, choy sum
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage, wombok (Chinese cabbage)
- Collard greens
- Mustard seeds
- Rocket (arugula)
- Swede (rutabaga)
Cruciferous vegetables are packed with many health-boosting nutrients; it’s no wonder they are often called “superfoods”. Unfortunately, they also have a reputation of being the stuff of children’s nightmares (and adults too!) due to their complex flavours, which often require a degree of effort and skill to make taste good. There is a reason some people must be encouraged to "eat your greens".
Let’s look at all the health benefits of these underrated veggies first, before exploring some delicious ways to include them in your meals.
Health benefits of cruciferous vegetables
Vitamins and minerals
Cruciferous vegetables contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, C, E and K, folic acid, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They also contain essential trace minerals, such as iron, selenium, copper, manganese and zinc.
These vitamins and minerals play a role in:
- maintaining healthy heart function and regulating blood pressure
- protecting cells from free radicals and oxidative damage
- metabolic processes of the body, such as carbohydrate metabolism and production of healthy new cells, as well as energy production.
Cruciferous vegetables are a good source of soluble and insoluble fibre, which has been shown to:
- improve cholesterol levels and blood glucose control
- improve gut health by feeding the good bacteria in your gut, and improving the diversity of the gut biome
- prevent constipation and keep your bowels regular
- manage weight and prevent obesity.
Phytochemicals is a term used to describe the bioactive chemicals found in plants, which often impact the colour, flavour and smell of the plant. Cruciferous vegetables contain the exclusive phytochemical glucosinolates, as well as other phytochemicals, which are increasingly being researched due to their potential in:
- improving heart health by regulating blood cholesterol, decreasing blood pressure, and improving blood glucose control
- preventing and slowing the progression of cancers
- improving other health conditions related to inflammation and oxidative stress, eg, muscle, bone and joint issues, as well as nerve and brain health including mental health.
HRI is currently researching how naturally occurring chemicals associated with cruciferous vegetables could be used to develop new treatments for thrombosis (blood clot formation), stroke and diabetes.
Ways to enjoy cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables can have a strong, bitter taste. That, in combination with boiling or steaming them to within an inch of their lives, makes for a very unappealing combo. The good news is that modern varieties of cruciferous veggies have been bred to reduce that bitterness, and by using cooking methods that add lots of flavours and preserve the textures of these veggies, it's much easier to learn to love these crucial veggies.
Works best with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and other stronger tasting vegetables
- Roast in the oven on high heat (200–210°C) or sauté on high heat in a heavy-based frypan. You’ll want the vegetables to brown and caramelise – this reduces their bitterness.
- Pan-fry the vegetables in extra-virgin olive oil, or coat well with oil before roasting.
- Add in flavours – try garlic and parmesan, or diced pieces of shortcut bacon. A tiny pinch of salt and pepper to taste will also work wonders.
Raw – Sliced/Shredded/Grated
Works best with cabbage, wombok, cauliflower, broccoli
- Finely slice cabbage or purple cabbage and add to tacos or a crunchy salad.
- Finely shred wombok for a Vietnamese chicken and cabbage salad.
- Scatter rocket over a pizza or add into an omelette.
- Slice radish thinly and add to salads or into a sandwich.
- Grate or use a food processor to blitz cauliflower or broccoli into ‘rice’, then add into tasty rice dishes such as fried rice or risotto for a veggie boost.
Tip: In a hurry? Your supermarket will likely sell these ready prepped; look for slaw mixes or pre-grated cauliflower rice.
Works best with cauliflower, swede and other mild tasting vegetables
- Mash cauliflower with potato.
- Mash swede and carrot with some spices and enjoy as a side.
Works best with leafy vegetables, cabbage, broccolini and other crunchy vegetables
- Slice cabbage or kale and add to a stir-fry or fried rice.
- Stir-fry bok choy, gai lan or choy sum with garlic and dress with some soy sauce or oyster sauce, and sesame oil.
- Stir-fry broccolini with chicken strips and teriyaki marinade.
Works best with cauliflower, cabbage, kale and root vegetables, eg, swede, turnips, daikon
- Use swedes and turnips in a soup or stew base.
- Add chopped cabbage or kale into a minestrone soup.
- Add sliced bok choy into a bowl of instant miso soup.
- Add broccoli or cauliflower florets into a curry.
- Cut raw broccoli into small florets and enjoy with a yoghurt and mustard dip.
- Create a mini veggie tasting plate with quartered radish, veggie sticks (carrot, capsicum) and dip.
- Bake or air fry kale chips.
Header image: Pexels
- Connolly, E. L., Sim, M., Travica, N., Marx, W., Beasy, G., Lynch, G. S., Bondonno, C. P., Lewis, J. R., Hodgson, J. M., & Blekkenhorst, L. C. (2021). Glucosinolates From Cruciferous Vegetables and Their Potential Role in Chronic Disease: Investigating the Preclinical and Clinical Evidence. Frontiers in pharmacology, 12, 767975. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.767975
- Manchali S., Chidambara Murthy K. N., Patil B. S. (2012). Crucial Facts about Health Benefits of Popular Cruciferous Vegetables. J. Funct. Foods 4 (1), 94–106. 10.1016/j.jff.2011.08.004
- Ahmed, F. A., & Ali, R. F. (2013). Bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity of fresh and processed white cauliflower. BioMed research international, 2013, 367819. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/367819
About the author
The Healthy Eating Hub
This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.