We all know green, leafy vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet and we should be eating them regularly. There is one class of vegetables that gets a lot of attention in the nutrition world because of their incredible health benefits, particularly the ability to fight off cancer. These vegetables are referred to as cruciferous vegetables. They belong to the Brassicaceae family of plants, which contains over 3,700 species of plants. The word “cruciferous” comes from the Latin word for cross because their flowers tend to look like a cross. Mizuna is a lesser-known cruciferous vegetable that has some pretty incredible health benefits of its own.
What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?
Cruciferous vegetables are a class of vegetables that are high in powerful health-promoting vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Here is a list of cruciferous vegetables:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Mustard Greens
The nutrients found in each type may vary slightly, but they are generally high in vitamins A, C, K, folate, and fiber. Upon cooking, they release a sulfur-like smell because they contain compounds called glucosinolates, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol that are high in sulfur, which has a very distinct smell. This stinky smell, which you may be familiar with if you ever cooked broccoli or Brussels sprouts, is where the health benefits come from.
Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables have a huge number of nutritional benefits because of the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and sulfur-containing compounds. Some of these benefits include:
Helps fight off cancer
The sulfur-containing compounds in cruciferous vegetables are powerful cancer fighters. The intake of these vegetables may actually be more protective against cancer than all other types of vegetables (1). One review of 94 studies found that eating cruciferous vegetables consistently lowered risk of rectal, stomach, lung, and colon cancer (2).
Promotes weight loss
Cruciferous vegetables are low in calories, but high in fiber making them an ideal weight loss food. One study found that for every gram of fiber consumed weight decreased by half a pound in women not trying to lose weight, the fiber just naturally promoted weight loss (3). These are not miracle weight loss foods, but they can help you feel more satisfied after meals, leading to an overall lower calorie intake.
Inflammation has been linked to almost every chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease (4). But, cruciferous vegetables can help lower inflammation. A 2014 study found that a high intake of these powerful veggies was able to reduce inflammation markers by 25% (5).
Help control blood sugar and lower risk of diabetes
Cruciferous vegetables are low in carbohydrates, but high in fiber, which may help control blood sugar. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream after meals, preventing spikes. These veggies have also been shown to significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes (6).
May ward off depression
One of the compounds in cruciferous vegetables, called sulforaphane, may improve symptoms of depression. This is likely due to the anti-inflammatory effect of these vegetables, as inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of depression (7).
If you want all these health benefits (and many more!), it is recommended that at least two of your five vegetable servings per day be from the cruciferous family. Even though these are super powerful, it is important to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables to help maximize your nutrition.
Cruciferous Vegetable Side-Effects
A class of vegetables with so many incredible benefits will likely have some side effects as well. The combination of the sulfur compounds and the fiber causes gas in many people. If this is the case for you, the veggies are generally better tolerated if they are cooked and eaten with plenty of water.
Another concern is that digestion of cruciferous vegetables releases compounds called goitrogens that can damage the thyroid (8). But, it would take a large amount of vegetables to have an effect, so a normal quantity would not be harmful.
Some of these vegetables can be high in oxalates, which can cause kidney stones in some people. If this is the case for you, limit your intake to no more than two servings per day.
Lastly, since they are high in vitamin K, they may interfere with the action of blood thinning medications. People in these medications do not need to avoid these vegetables, but instead, maintain a consistent intake of them day to day.
What about Mizuna?
Mizuna is a lesser-known cruciferous vegetable but is also loaded with health benefits. It is common in Japanese cuisine but actually originated in China. It is a bit peppery in flavor, usually compared to mustard greens, and can be eaten raw or cooked. There are sixteen different varieties of mizuna and it can be grown quickly and easily in almost any environment.
As far as nutrition, mizuna is pretty similar to other cruciferous vegetables. It is high in vitamins A, C, K, folate, and fiber. It also has some powerful antioxidants, like kaempferol, that are likely responsible for most of the health benefits associated with this leafy veggie. Like the other cruciferous veggies, the antioxidants in mizuna help block the spread of cancer cells (9).
Other benefits of mizuna include:
- Powerful anti-inflammatory due to the antioxidant content.
- Loaded with vitamin K, meeting 348% of your daily needs, which supports blood clotting and bone health (10).
- Helps boost the immune system with the high vitamin C content (11).
- Supports eye health. Beta-carotene, the plant form of vitamin A, is necessary for healthy vision. Mizuna meets 118% of daily vitamin A needs. It also contains lutein, another antioxidant important for healthy eyes (12).
- Low in calories, with only 15 per cup, but incredibly high in nutrients and fiber. This may help promote weight loss.
Since mizuna is high in vitamin K, people on blood thinners need to be aware it can interact with the medication. It is also high in oxalates, like many other cruciferous vegetables, which may promote the formation of kidney stones in certain people. Overall, mizuna is a great new veggie to add to a healthy diet.
How to Eat Mizuna and Cruciferous Vegetables
It doesn’t matter how you eat these powerful veggies, the important thing is that you eat them regularly. Mizuna may be difficult to find in the United States as it isn’t as common as other cruciferous veggies. You may get lucky and find some at a local Asian grocery store or farmers market. The great thing about it is that it is easy to grow in almost any climate or environment, so you could just grow some yourself if you want to try it. If you do get your hands on some mizuna, it can be eaten like any other leafy veggie.
There are so many ways to add cruciferous vegetables into your diet. Add them to soups or load them up in a salad. Use frozen cauliflower to add more fiber to a smoothie. Top pizza or pasta with mizuna or arugula. Throw a bunch of different cruciferous vegetables into a stir-fry and add in some protein for a super nutritious balanced meal. Most of these veggies also taste incredible roasted with just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. The important thing with cruciferous vegetables is not how you cook them, but that you eat them. So, prepare them in your favorite way and enjoy!