There are lots of reasons to eat your veggies, and even more reasons to eat dark green vegetables. All vegetables are rich in fiber, which fills you up, regulates blood sugar, and may even lower cholesterol. Dark green vegetables are high in beta carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A that has some unique anticancer properties not found in Vitamin A. (Though beta carotene is a bright orange color, in combination with other plant pigments it forms a dark green.
One special group of vegetables, however, may prove to have a unique cancer-fighting ability. Beyond the effects of fiber, and beyond the benefits from beta carotene, this potent group, the crucifers, offers special protection against our most feared disease.
Cruciferous vegetables are so named for their crosswise arrangement formed by the four petals in their flowers. Included in this family of vegetables are cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and mustard, kale and other greens.
Crucifers help prevent cancer in nothing new. How cruciferous vegetables help protect you? For years it had been assumed that cruciferous vegetables offer protection because they add beta carotene and fiber to the diet, while at the same time replacing cancer-causing fats. In this regard, crucifers were no different from other vegetables.
There’s a class of chemicals unique to crucifers that seem to account for their benefits. The chemicals are called indole-3-carbonals or simply indoles. They work not so much by attacking cancer-causing agents directly as by triggering enzymes that neutralize carcinogens.
Indoles are part of a class of chemicals called antioxidants. Virtually all chemical reactions in the body produce some kind of debris, and this debris cause damage to cells. Antioxidant nutrients like indoles and beta carotene found in cruciferous vegetables short-circuit harmful reactions, protecting the cell’s DNA from damage – damage that could otherwise lead to the development of cancer.
The good news is that diet really can make a difference because cancer incidence could be reduced by as much as 35% if people adhered to healthier eating patterns, including the increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables. Foe some cancers the numbers are far more impressive: 75% reduction in colon cancer and 50% reduction in breast cancer. Regarding the latter, researchers have linked low breast cancer rates in some parts of China to high consumption of cabbage.
Be advised, though, that you should avoid overcooking cruciferous vegetables. Overcooking, and especially boiling them for too long, robs vegetables of their nutrient content and keep vegetables fresh and crispy. But once again, just don’t steam them too long.
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