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Cruciferous Vegetables

What do broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower have in common? Well, lots once you get past their dissimilar looks. They're all part of the cancer-fighting Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables. They're all rich in vitamins; they all taste great; and they're all in season now.

Meet the Family

Scientists believe that cruciferous vegetables contain natural substances that may protect against five cancers—lung, breast, stomach, prostate and colon. Other members of this illustrious family include mustard greens and rutabagas. (For more information about these vegetables read greens or unearth our story on root vegetables.) The cruciferous clan got its name because the plants have four flowers that form the shape of a cross.

Researchers are only just beginning to learn about all the phytochemicals in vegetables, says Melanie Polk, Director of Nutrition Education at the American Institute for Cancer Research, a Foodfit resource association. What is known is that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetable a day can decrease your risk of cancer by as much as 20 percent.

"Eat your cruciferous vegetables, but also eat other vegetables," advises Polk. "Variety is the key—generous portions of a whole, wide variety. Also look at different cooking methods, eating some raw, some lightly steamed. As more research is done on cooking methods, it's possible that lightly steamed vegetables might even have a little bit more nutritional value [than raw]."

Broccoli

Broccoli is a nutrition powerhouse. A cup of cooked, chopped broccoli has more vitamin C than a navel orange. The green vegetable is also packed with vitamin A and calcium. A recent study found that a chemical in broccoli appears to be a potent treatment for the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and may protect against stomach cancer.

Look for broccoli with a deep green color and tightly closed buds. Avoid vegetables that have yellowed. Broccoli will keep for about four days in the fridge. It pairs well with olive oil, garlic, and herbs like parsley, dill and oregano.

Brussels Sprouts

They look like mini cabbages and they can taste like them too if they hang around the refrigerator too long. But eaten fresh, Brussels sprouts have a sweet and nutty taste that's just delicious. Enjoy them with a bit of butter or seasoned with black pepper, lemon or vinegar. Brussels sprouts are full of vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and potassium.

At the market, choose firm, bright green sprouts. Smaller is better—little sprouts are more tender than big ones. Don't store Brussels sprouts longer than three days or they will develop a strong flavor. Before you cook sprouts, cut an X in the base of the sprout so that it cooks at the same pace as the leaves.

Cabbage

There are too many varieties of cabbage to name them all, but aficionados love Napa and Savoy. Green cabbage has a lot more folate than red cabbage, but the latter contains anthocyanins, an important phytochemical. So the best bet nutrition-wise is to make a multi-colored slaw using both. Like the rest of the cruciferous family, cabbage is full of vitamin C and vitamin A.

Buy tight, firm, heavy heads of cabbage with no broken or bruised leaves. It's important not to overcook cabbage. Boil uncovered in salted water for about five minutes until the leaves are tender. Don't overdo it or the cabbage will become unappetizing.

Cauliflower

Mark Twain once said, "Cauliflower is cabbage with a college education." The creamy white vegetable seems more akin to broccoli and the two can often be used interchangeably in recipes. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of folate and fiber.

Look for firm, white or cream-colored heads that are free of bruises or brown spots. The leaves should be bright green and crisp. Cauliflower partners well with a variety of flavors, including garlic, lemon, curry and cheese.

Don't be shy—cruciferous vegetables are delightful in these FoodFit recipes:

Broccoli Sauté with Garlic and Olive Oil
Broccoli Soup with Lemon Cream
Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cumin
Cranberry Beans with Rice and Cabbage
Marinated Coleslaw
Curried Cauliflower Soup with Parsley Cream

 

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