It’s Time for Crucifers

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s spring arrives, so do the cruciferous vegetables, named for the shape of their flowers, which grow in the shape of a cross.  Cruciferous vegetables are a large family, including the popular broccoli and cauliflower and the less used brussel sprouts, cabbages, kale and other
greens, turnips, radishes, rutabaga, watercress and kohlrabi.
Nutrient Benefits
Cruciferous vegetables are also a family with powerful nutritional impact. Beyond containing great doses of fiber, folic acid, vitamin C and beta-carotene, these cruciferaes boost detoxifiers that help prevent cancer.  Examples of the compounds discovered in the cruciferous vegetables so far include not-so-familiar names of isothiocyanates, such as sulforaphane, and indols.  Researchers will tell you that these vegetables are chemically complex and that isolating active components is difficult, to say the least.  So, rather than reach for a bottle of antioxidants, think color, texture, and taste - think of the variety of vegetables just within the cruciferous group.
Here are some fun facts:
• One-third pound of broccoli has more vitamin C than 2 1/2 pounds of oranges or 204 apples (Source: Mann Packing Broccoli fun facts www.broccoli.com).
• One serving of cauliflower, about 1/6th of a head, contains a full day’s supply of vitamin C
• A 1/2-cup of cooked kale contains a whole day’s supply of vitamin A.
• One cup of Brussels sprouts contains 125% of the daily requirement for vitamin C.
• Greens like collard greens, kale and mustard greens are good sources of calcium. The calcium from kale is absorbed better than calcium from milk (50% vs 32%).
Purchasing and Storage Tips
Cruciferous veggies last best when placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated. Use them within a week.
• Broccoli: Buy broccoli when it's green and before the yellow buds open.
• Brussels sprouts: These “mini-cabbages” should have a bright green color with a firm texture.
• Cabbage: Cabbage should feel heavy for its size and be free of blemishes or mold. Outer leaves should appear fresh, not wilted.
• Cauliflower: Look for cauliflower that's white and firm - simply cut away slightly browned areas.
• Greens: Leafy greens should be crisp without signs of withering and are best used within a few days.
Cooking Ideas & Tips
Most cruciferous vegetables can be treated equally in recipes.  Here are some easy, delicious tips to help you eat more cruciferae:
• Cut broccoli and cauliflower into small florets and place them in bags in your refrigerator. Eat them raw with a dip or in salad; marinate in lemon juice or flavored vinegar mixed with oil and herbs or mustard and eat as a snack.
• For cooked versions, simply steam, or toss into soup or stew, stir-fry, or marinate and then grill them.  While nutrient content is greatest in fresh veggies, save slightly ripe and sagging ones by adding to favorite cooked recipes, especially soups and stews.
• Often forgotten and tossed out, broccoli stems can be peeled if tough or left unpeeled and added to soups.
• Toss raw or slightly cooked cruciferae with pasta, garlic, and fresh herbs.  For something different, try green cauliflower or purple broccoli - prepare them as you would the "originals."
• Add chopped kale or collard greens to soup, pasta sauce, or pizza sauce.
The incredible variety of vegetables easily starts with the cruciferous family.  Make these family members a regular and easy part of your 'five a day' produce campaign to a healthy lifestyle.
By Rachel Trevethan, MS, RD, LD, University of Dayton, Private Practice, Center for Cholesterol Treatment &
Education.

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