Cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli, are vegetables belonging to the Brassicaceae plant family.
Cruciferous vegetables contain protective plant compounds, including sulfur-containing chemicals, flavonoids, and carotenoids, which can benefit your health in many ways.
Diets high in cruciferous vegetables have been associated with a lower risk of several health conditions, including heart disease and certain cancers.
Other studies have shown that cruciferous vegetable-rich diets reduce the risk of death related to heart disease, cancer, and cerebrovascular disease, or diseases that affect blood flow to the brain.
Read on to learn more about cruciferous vegetables, including their nutrition, health benefits, and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Broccoli is one of the most popular cruciferous vegetables and for good reason. This mild-tasting vegetable is rich in essential nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, B6, vitamin C, and folate, all of which play important roles in the body.
Here’s the nutritional breakdown for one cup of cooked broccoli:
- Calories: 54.6
- Protein: 3.72 grams (g)
- Carbohydrates: 11.2 g
- Fiber: 5.14 g
- Magnesium: 32.8 milligrams (mg) or 8% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Potassium: 458 mg or 10% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 120 mg or 13% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: .312 mg or 18% of the DV
- Folate: 168.4 micrograms (mcg) or 42% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 101.2 mg or 112% of the DV
Broccoli is a good source of several vitamins and minerals. It’s particularly rich in vitamin C, which functions as a powerful antioxidant in the body, and folate, a B vitamin involved in DNA synthesis, cellular division, and the maturation of red blood cells. It’s also rich in potassium, a nutrient needed for blood pressure regulation, nervous system function, and more. Most Americans don’t get enough potassium in their diets, which is why it’s considered a “nutrient of public health concern” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, broccoli is a source of sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate that’s created through a reaction between compounds found in broccoli called glucoraphanin and the enzyme myrosinase that takes place when broccoli is chopped or chewed.
Sulforaphane has been shown to offer significant anticancer benefits and studies show that broccoli-rich diets may help protect against several types of cancer, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
Interestingly, studies show that adding active sources of myrosinase, like mustard seed powder, to cooked broccoli helps enhance the bioavailability of sulforaphane. To reap this additional benefit, try sprinkling mustard seed powder onto roasted or sautéed broccoli.
Brussels sprouts contain an impressive amount of nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and B vitamins.
One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides:
- Calories: 56.2
- Protein: 3.98 g
- Carbohydrates: 11.08 g
- Fiber: 4.06 g
- Iron: 1.87 mg or 10% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Potassium: 494 mg or 11% of the DV
- Manganese: .354 mg or 15% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 120 mcg or 13% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 96.8 mg or 108% of the DV
- Folate: 93.6 mcg or 23% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 109 mcg or 91% of the DV
Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of several nutrients, including vitamin K and vitamin C. Vitamin K is needed for bone and heart health and is important for brain function. This nutrient is needed for the function of proteins necessary for bone health, blood clotting, and the decalcification of arteries.
Vitamin C helps protect against oxidative damage and is necessary for immune function and the synthesis of collagen and certain neurotransmitters.
Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts contain sulforaphane, which has anticancer effects in the body. Studies show that diets high in sulforaphane-rich cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli may help protect against several cancers, including pancreatic cancer.
A 2021 study that included 915 people found that people who consumed more than 1.5 servings of raw cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts per week had a 40% lower odds of developing pancreatic cancer compared to those consuming less than 0.5 servings per week.
Try making a Brussels sprout salad by shredding raw Brussels sprouts and topping them with dried cranberries, walnuts, manchego cheese, and a homemade honey mustard vinaigrette.
Both green and red cabbage are nutritious, but red cabbage offers the additional benefit of anthocyanins, which are plant pigments that give red cabbage its vibrant color.
Here’s the nutrition breakdown for one cup of cooked red cabbage:
- Calories: 85.2
- Protein: 2.25 g
- Carbohydrates: 11.25 g
- Vitamin A: 101 mcg or 11% of the Daily Value (DV)
- B6: .321 mg or 19% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 75.8 mg or 84% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 63.2 mcg or 53% of the DV
- Potassium: 380 mg or 8% of the DV
Just one cup of cooked red cabbage contains 84% of the recommended intake for vitamin C and more than half of your daily vitamin K needs.
It is also a good source of B6 and vitamin A, a nutrient needed for critical processes like immune function, cellular communication, growth and development.
In addition to being a good source of some vitamins and minerals, red cabbage provides a number of protective plant compounds, including anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds that have been linked with many health benefits. For example, studies show that including anthocyanin-rich foods in your diet may help protect heart health.
A 2023 study that included 15,869 participants found that people with the highest anthocyanin intake had the lowest prevalence of heart failure. Anthocyanins may benefit heart health by improving blood vessel function, reducing blood pressure, and protecting against atherosclerosis or the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries.
Cabbage can be enjoyed fresh or cooked. Try using cabbage as a simple side dish by sautéing chopped cabbage with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable that’s commonly used as a low-carb alternative to carb-rich foods like rice and pizza crusts. This mild-tasting vegetable is high in several nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.
One cup of cooked cauliflower provides:
- Calories: 83.2
- Protein: 3.1 g
- Carbohydrates: 8.2 g
- Fiber: 3.2 g
- Potassium: 483 mg or 10% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 66.1. mg or 73% of the DV
- Folate: 78.4 mcg or 20% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 30.2 mcg or 25% of the DV
In addition to being low in carbohydrates and high in several vitamins and minerals, cauliflower provides protective plant compounds such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and glucosinolates.
A 2019 study found that the health-promoting compounds found in cauliflower, like polyphenols and flavonoids, were significantly decreased by boiling and steaming and that uncooked cauliflower had the highest antioxidant activity, meaning raw cauliflower dishes might offer additional health benefits over cooked cauliflower.
Try adding raw cauliflower to your diet by combining chopped fresh cauliflower florets with chopped red onion, chickpeas, fresh herbs, and a homemade lemon vinaigrette to create a refreshing salad.
Arugula is a leafy green cruciferous vegetable that’s commonly enjoyed in salads.
Here’s the nutrition breakdown for a two-cup serving of raw arugula, which equates to a one-cup serving of cooked arugula:
- Protein: 1 g
- Carbohydrates: 1.46 g
- Fiber: .64 g
- Vitamin C: 6 mg or 7% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Folate: 38.8 mcg or 10% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 43.6 mcg or 36% of the DV
Arugula is a good source of essential vitamins and minerals such as folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. It also provides glucosinolates and flavanol antioxidants like kaempferol, quercetin, and isorhamnetin glycoside.
Adding more green leafy vegetables to your diet may help protect against several chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. What’s more, arugula and other green leafy vegetables provide nutrients and plant compounds, such as nitrates, flavonol antioxidants, and folate, that may protect against cognitive decline.
A 2018 study that included data on 960 older adults found that the rate of cognitive decline among participants who consumed one to two servings of green leafy vegetables per day was the equivalent of being 11 years younger compared to the rate of cognitive decline in those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables.
Kale is often described as a superfood because of its impressive nutrient profile. It’s high in many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. It’s also a good source of fiber.
One cup of cooked kale provides:
- Calories: 59.8
- Protein: 4.07 g
- Carbohydrates: 1.46 g
- Fiber: 5.72 g
- Calcium: 354 mg or 27% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Iron: 2.24 mg or 12% of the DV
- Magnesium: 45.5 mg or 11% of the DV
- Potassium: 485 mg or 10% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 318 mcg or 35%
- Folate: 65 mcg or 16% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 91.1 mg or 101% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 543 mcg or 453% of the DV
Eating just one cup of cooked kale will cover your daily needs for vitamins C and K and provide over a quarter of your daily needs for calcium and vitamin A. It’s also a good source of iron, potassium, folate, and magnesium.
Kale contains a number of plant compounds that have significant antioxidant activity, such as carotenoids, flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, and glucosinolates.
Additionally, kale is loaded with fiber, a nutrient that promotes digestive health. Fiber helps keep your bowel movements regular and provides fuel for beneficial bacteria that reside in your digestive tract. Studies show that adding more fiber to your diet can help protect against colon cancer and other digestive conditions.
What’s more, adding kale and other green leafy vegetables into your diet can help support heart health and may significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Kale is a versatile green that can be added to dishes like soups, pastas, and salads. You can also try using fresh kale in smoothies for an extra dose of nutrients.
Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are rich in vitamins, minerals, and protective plant compounds.
Diets high in cruciferous vegetables have been linked to a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of health conditions like heart disease and several types of cancer.
Not only are cruciferous vegetables nutritious, but they’re versatile. Most can be enjoyed raw or cooked and easily added to dishes like salads or roasted as a simple side dish. Try including the cruciferous vegetables on this list in your diet for a simple and delicious way to improve your overall health.