What Are Glucosinolates and Why Are They Good for Me?

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that contains glucosinolates.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that contains glucosinolates. J. Blarer

Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables. They give those vegetables their characteristic bitter flavor and pungent aroma that you probably love. Or maybe you hate them. A lot of people aren't fans of that flavor. 

But if you don't eat foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale, you're missing out on some seriously good nutrition. I mean beyond the vitamins, minerals and fiber, there's natural plant chemicals like the glucosinolates.

 

Why are they so good? Because they might have some pretty impressive health benefits. Glucosinolates are broken down into active compounds called indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates. These chemicals have been studied for a variety of potential benefits.

Epidemiological studies show that eating a diet high in cruciferous vegetables is associated with having a lower risk of certain types of cancer. This may be due to the isothiocyanates and indoles, which are the compounds formed from glucosinolates.

But it's important to understand there may be other lifestyle and dietary factors involved since people who eat more cruciferous vegetables tend to eat healthier diets in general.

Isothiocyanates and indoles have shown anti-cancer properties in several laboratory studies, but clinical research on humans is needed to know for sure.

Where Are Glucosinolates?

If you're eating a variety of dark green leafy vegetables, you're probably already getting some glucosinolates.

Look for these cruciferous veggies:

  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • kale
  • bok choy
  • rutabaga
  • collard greens
  • radishes

Maybe you aren't currently a fan of this veggie family. Perhaps it's time to give them another try. With the right recipe, you're bound to find something you like. Most of these veggies can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here are some of my favorite ways to serve them:

  • Add fresh broccoli to your salad or steam it lightly and serve with a little lemon and butter. 
  • Use kale as your salad green. It's tougher to chew than lettuce greens or spinach, so prepare your kale salad and let it sit for awhile to tenderize the leaves. 
  • Or use arugula as a salad green. It's more tender than kale and it has a peppery flavor.
  • Make a creamy cauliflower soup. But don't worry, no heavy cream here, just a little bit of milk.
  • Saute collard greens with chiles and garlic. 
  • Add bok choy to a stir-fry.

Sources:

American Institutes for Cancer Research. "Broccoli and Cruciferous Vegetables." 

National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. "Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention." 

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