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Monthly Motivator: Eat your vegetables to help fight cancer

By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.

If you're looking for foods that may help fight cancer, look to a group of vegetables called cruciferous.

These vegetables intrigue me because at first I had a hard time learning how to pronounce their name: "kroo-sifərəs." Then I watched as we learned more about their potential cancer-fighting properties.

Cruciferous vegetables are a part of the Brassica genus of plants. They include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, Brussel sprouts and radishes. Kale and arugula, which have become more popular, are also in the group along with rutabagas, turnips, kohlrabi and collard greens.

When President George H.W. Bush declared to America that he did not like broccoli, it made it easier for many of us to proclaim that if the president didn't have to eat broccoli then neither did we. So I understand it may be a challenge to get your family to incorporate these healthy vegetables into your meals.

But these vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They also have glucosinolates, the sulfur-containing chemicals that give them the pungent aroma that some people don't like.

When these vegetables are chopped, chewed and digested, the glucosinolates are broken down to form compounds such as indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates and isothiocyanates. While this might sound like a lot of chemistry, it is important to know that the National Cancer Institute says these compounds may have an anti-cancer effect.

Indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach. Studies in animals and experiments with cells grown in the laboratory have identified several potential ways they may help prevent cancer:

· They help protect cells from DNA damage.

· They help inactivate carcinogens.

· They have antiviral and antibacterial effects.

· They induce cancer cell death.

· They inhibit tumor blood vessel formation and tumor cell migration.

Studies in humans have shown more mixed results because it is more difficult to control all the variables, including our individual genetics and taste preferences.

Cruciferous vegetables are a great source of fiber as well as vitamin A, Vitamin C, folic acid, omega 3 fatty acids and phytonutrients. Studies shown regularly eating these vegetables can decrease the oxidative stress, or free radicals, in our body. This is important for more than just cancer prevention. The decrease in inflammation helps to keep our heart and brain healthy and lessens the risk of infection. One study found a 22 percent decrease in the level of free radicals among participants who ate these vegetables while there was only a 0.2 percent decrease in participants who took a multivitamin instead.

Fresh cruciferous vegetables are available year-round and store well. Most grow well in our cooler climate, so consider adding some arugula, kale, radishes, turnips and rutabagas to your garden this year in addition to cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower.


Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli

Starting with frozen cauliflower and broccoli makes this recipe quick and easy.

5 cups of bite-size cauliflower and broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place cauliflower and broccoli in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Drizzle oil over vegetables and sprinkle with pepper. Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese. Roast until tender-crisp, about 15-20 minutes.

Nutrition facts:

Serving size: 1 cup

Calories, 80; total fat, 3 grams; saturated fat, 0.5 grams; cholesterol, 2 milligrams; sodium, 90 milligrams; potassium, 450 milligrams; carbohydrates, 8 grams; fiber, 3 grams; protein, 2 grams; and calcium, 95 milligrams.

Celery Seed Coleslaw

This recipe is lower in sodium than coleslaw made with bottled dressing.

14-ounce package of classic coleslaw mix or 4 1/2 cups shredded fresh cabbage plus 1 cup shredded carrots

¾ cup diced celery

¾ cup chopped green pepper (optional)

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons white vinegar

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon celery seed

⅓ cup salad dressing made with olive oil

Combine all vegetables in a large bowl. In small bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, olive oil, celery seed and salad dressing. Mix well with a wire whip. Add dressing to vegetables and mix well.

Nutrition Facts

Serving size: ½ cup

Calories, 55; total fat, 3.5 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 65 milligrams; potassium, 110 milligrams; carbohydrates, 5 grams; fiber, 2 grams; and protein, 1 gram.

Roasted Rosemary Brussels and Rutabaga

2 cups Brussel sprouts, cut in half

1 cup rutabaga, peeled and diced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/8 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place vegetables in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Drizzle oil over vegetables and mix well. Season with spices. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Nutrition Facts

Serving size: ¾ cup

Calories, 60; total fat, 4 grams; saturated fat, 0.5 grams; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 90 milligrams; potassium, 280 milligrams; carbohydrates, 7 grams; fiber, 2 grams; and protein, 2 grams.