Cruciferous Vegetables – bioactive superfoods

I’ve just had a question about cruciferous vegetables on a previous post, so thought I’d write a quick blog to highlight this group of vegetables and the powerful effect they have as bioactive foods in our bodies. I do recall a recurring horror experience with cruciferous vegetables as a child. But back then most Australian home cooks were boiling their vegetables within a second of their lives, depleting them of their delicious spicy flavour and crunchy texture, but that was how it was done then. So now we know how delicious this group of vegetables can be if we prepare them in ways that don’t destroy their delicate taste and texture. Let’s explore this group of vegetables which I now love. In fact, I’ve just enjoyed a snack of red cabbage and broccoli sprout sauerkraut, the fermentation process produces probiotic microorganism which help maintain and restore the gut microbiome, more on this in another blog.

Vitamin C deficiency causing scurvy

Cruciferous or Brassica vegetables come from the Cruciferae or alternately, Brassicaceae family. This family includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, turnips, Bok choy, and Chinese cabbage.  Other edible cruciferous vegetables include radish, horseradish, watercress, and wasabi.  

Why are Cruciferous vegetable so good for us

The reason mums all over the work want their kids to eat these vegetables is because they are so good for us. They provide a rich source of sulphur containing compounds called glucosinolates (β-thioglucoside N-hydroxysulfates) which give us the slightly pungent aroma and spicy or peppery taste. These glucosinolates and the metabolites they break down into are the reason we want to eat them for their health benefits. We now have a large body of evidence supporting the health promoting and disease preventative effects of these glucosinolates with Indole-3-Carbinol and Isothiocyanates leading the pack.

Cruciferous vegetables are important sources of vitamins and minerals, fibre and various phytochemicals including the glucosinolates. (see table) There is some evidence showing cruciferous vegetable intake has a preventative effect in cardiovascular disease, reducing obesity, normalising blood lipids and in the prevention of vascular complications in diabetes. Yet the real super food status comes from the effect of cruciferous vegetables as a cancer preventative food. In animal studies the bioactive indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to help protect cells from DNA damage, whilst helping to inactivate carcinogens. They also have antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects as well as inducing cell death or apoptosis (which is a good thing), and they inhibit blood vessel formation and tumour cell migration which are both needed for tumours to spread or metastasize away from the initial site of cancer. The cancers found to be influenced by these compounds in cruciferous vegetables include prostate, colorectal, lung, cervix and breast cancer and most specifically hormone dependent cancers.

wound healing phases

Cruciferous vegetables also play an important role in managing the hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause and menopause. Our bodies breakdown or metabolize estrogen into various metabolites. Some of these estrogen metabolites are good for us, but others are bad causing inflammation, epigenetic changes to our DNA and proliferative effects which alter cells and contribute to the undesirable symptoms of menopause. This is where cruciferous vegetables comes in, as the Indole-3-carbinol (13C) a metabolite of cruciferous vegetables regulates estrogen metabolism to increase the good estrogens whilst reducing the bad ones.

Getting back to the little girl faced with three piles of uneaten and unappetising cruciferous veggies. Please don’t over cook these vegetables, you will ruin the taste and reduce the super bioactive nutrients they offer, and you will scar your child’s appreciation of this fine and delicious vegetable.

I’ll include some tasty and easy recipes for you to experiment with, until then make sure there are some cruciferous vegetables on your plate and remember in order to get them on your plate you need to buy them at the market. 

wound healing phases

Cooking Cruciferous Vegetables – less is more

As a general rule cruciferous vegetables taste better and retain more bioactive compounds if you keep the cooking time to a minimum, with a view exceptions such as cabbage rolls which need to be well cooked. They are also the perfect vegetable for fermentation for saurkraut and kim Chi. This amplifies their super food status to next level. I’ll do a post on fermentation so check it out. 

Nutty Broccoli


Broccoli – cut into florettes

Hazelnut oil – 20 mls

Almonds (lightly roasted) – cut into slithers

White wine vinegar or White Balsamic vinegar – 20 mls

Season with black pepper and salt to taste.


You can either lightly steam the broccoli or blanche in boiling water for a couple of minutes. I prefer the blanching method as it’s quick and easy. 

Combine the hazelnut oil and vinegar in a jar and shake to combine, its good to add the pepper to this to boos the flavour of the dressing. 

Drain the broccoli and add to a serving bowl with the dressing, toss to dress the florettes. Sprinke with roasted almonds and season with sea salt flakes. 

This dish is delicious hot or cold, so make extra for snacks the next day. 


Protein for wound healing
omega-3 for wound healing

Croatian Red Cabbage Salad

This recipe was given to me by Mrs Krznaric a lovely Croatan woman I know who always has this dish on the Christmas table by popular demand. It is simple, but truly delicious with the piquancy of the pumpkin oil and red wine vinegar dressing.


Red cabbage shredded finely

Sea salt

Pumpkin oil or Olive oil (1-2 Tbs)

Red wine vinegar 2 Tbs (adjust to taste)

Cracked black pepper

Parsley to garnish or a sprinkle of dill seeds which marry perfectly with cabbage.

Salt with cabbage with 1 Tbs of sea salt, and allow to drain in a colander for a couple of hours.

Once the cabbage has wilted and drained well, dress with the pumpkin seed oil and red wine vinegar and freshly cracked black pepper and toss well to ensure well combined.

This dish improves the next day, and even the day after so make extra for snacks in the coming days. Thanks Mrs Krznaric for the inspiration.