Cancer Fighting Crucifers and Red Cabbage Salad

Learn about all of the cabbages in the cruciferous family. Some may even surprise you!

| April 2018

  • cancer fighting crucifers, colorful anytime salad
    Don't forget to mix and soften the salad before placing in the refrigerator for chilling.
    Photo by Getty Images/MarynaVoronova
  • cancer fighting cruciferous vegetables
    “How to Eat Better,” by James Wong, is a go to guide for anyone looking to learn more about fruits and vegetables and their benefits.
    Courtesy of Sterling Epicure

  • cancer fighting crucifers, colorful anytime salad
  • cancer fighting cruciferous vegetables

How to Eat Better: Simple Science to Supercharge Your Nutrition (Sterling Epicure, 2017), by James Wong, is filled with colorful recipes containing fruits and vegetables. Wong uses research to explain the many health benefits of specific fruits and vegetables. Follow the recipes for a healthier you. Find this excerpt in Vegetables, “Cabbages.”

Just like other leafy greens, the vegetables in the cabbage family (called “crucifers”) are real nutritional superstars, providing calorie for calorie more essential nutrients such as vitamins A, C and folic acid than pretty much any other fruit or vegetable. But why make a section dedicated to them alone? Well, it’s the growing body of research pointing to the potential for a group of chemicals uniquely found in this vegetable family to prevent degenerative diseases that did it. Science may still be piecing the puzzle together, but here’s the latest.

Crucifers Against Cancer?

In order to fight back against attack from insect predators, these plants have evolved the ability to generate pungent, bitter-tasting, sulphur-based compounds called glucosinolates. When chopped, chewed or digested, glucosinolates break down into substances called isothiocyanates, which possess interesting biological effects. While these might be acutely toxic to tiny insects, in our much bigger bodies they paradoxically may have a protective effect according to a growing stack of research. Test-tube and animal studies have shown that glucosinolates and their products can suppress cancer cell development in the colon, lungs, liver, bladder, breast and stomach, and research looking at dietary patterns has frequently (but by no means always) shown that people who eat more of these vegetables tend to have a statistically lower risk of developing certain cancers.

The crazy thing about the products of glucosinolates is that they appear to work in at least three totally different ways. Not only do they demonstrate the ability in some test-tube and animal studies to stop cancer cells from multiplying and even to naturally self-destruct, while ignoring healthy cells, they also appear to be able to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals that are associated with developing cancer in the first place. Other studies have suggested they may go even further, triggering your body’s own natural defenses against carcinogenic substances by stimulating the secretion of enzymes that mop these up before they have a chance to damage cells. This suggests a theoretical trifecta of cell defense, attacking from all sides, if these studies are replicable in humans.

The effects of glucosinolate consumption can be seen pretty quickly, too. In one Italian study, by adding 3 servings of broccoli (that’s a lot of broccoli!) to the daily diets of male smokers, a significant reduction in the inflammation associated with several degenerative diseases was seen in as few as 10 days. In another small trial funded by the US-based National Cancer Institute, adding about 5-1/4 ounces of various cruciferous vegetables to participants’ daily diets was able to reduce levels of oxidative stress (a risk factor for developing certain cancers) by an impressive 22 per cent in just three weeks.

These trials were both very small and extremely short term, and it is important to point out that other human studies have shown mixed results. More evidence is clearly needed before any hard and fast conclusions are drawn, but there does appear to be a growing body of research that suggests that adding a couple of servings of this group of vegetables to your daily diet could be a particularly healthy choice. This section will show you how to get the best from them.

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