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Meet the Stars of the Vegetable World

Cruciferous Veggies Offer Big Health Benefits
Meet the Stars of the Vegetable World: Main Image
Eating more vegetables lowers risk of death due to all causes and due to heart disease in particular
We've heard it time and again: "Eat your vegetables." This is sound advice for good health, but does it matter which vegetables and how much? According to the latest research, it may, with cruciferous veggies--such as broccoli and cauliflower--offering the biggest benefit.

Counting cruciferous

Cruciferous vegetables get their name from the Latin word cruciferae, which means "cross-bearing," because the flowers of cruciferous plants are said to resemble a cross. You may hear these plants referred to as brassica vegetables, too.

To study the connection between food and health, researchers collected diet and lifestyle information from 134,796 healthy adults, who were 40 to 74 years old at the start of the study. The 73,360 women in the study were followed for approximately ten years, while the 61,436 men were followed for an average of four years.

After taking into consideration other factors that can affect health and risk of death, such as cigarette and alcohol use, weight, exercise habits, and a history of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, or diabetes, the researchers found:

  • People who ate the most vegetables were 16% less likely to die of any cause compared with people eating the fewest
  • People who ate the most cruciferous vegetables were 22% less likely to die of any cause compared with people eating the fewest
  • Total vegetable and cruciferous vegetable intake both appeared to effectively lower the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease

In this study, the women who ate the most vegetables averaged 166 grams of cruciferous and 506 grams of total vegetables per day. The men who ate the most vegetables averaged 208 grams of cruciferous and 583 grams of total vegetables per day.

A cup of chopped broccoli weighs approximately 150 grams, which means the people eating the most vegetables overall--which includes all types of vegetables, cruciferous and others--averaged one to two servings of cruciferous vegetables and three to four servings of total vegetables each day. This is an achievable goal for most of us.

Beyond broccoli

This study agrees with much of what we already suspect about nutrition and health, especially that eating more total and cruciferous vegetables, lowers risk of death due to all causes and due to heart disease in particular. Below are tips on making veggies a part of your daily eating plan.

  • Most people know that broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, but there are more than two dozen vegetables in the category, and they all have nutrition to offer. Try cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, chard, bok choy, rutabaga, radishes, kohlrabi, turnips, mustard greens, and daikon root; eat more of what you like best
  • For maximum nutritional benefit, mix it up. Try raw veggies one day, vegetables sauteed in olive oil the next, and add them to soups, stews, pasta, and other dishes every chance you get
  • People in the study who ate the most vegetables were less likely to smoke, were thinner and more physically active, and ate less saturated fat and calories than those eating few vegetables. While these factors were controlled for in the study analysis, all of these things contribute to good health, and we'd be wise to adopt these habits ourselves.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 94:240-6)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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