Vegetables You Shouldn't Live Without


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you want a meal that packs a nutritional punch, add some cruciferous vegetables to your plate. Not only are they known as anti-cancer powerhouses, but their consumption has been associated with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and increasing longevity. The reason lies in the unique phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables.

The Heart Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

Evidence suggests that cruciferous vegetables have the ability to activate a powerful transcription factor, called Nrf2, within each cell of our body. This protein stimulates the production of our body’s own antioxidant enzymes which offer protection against inflammation. Nrf2 works by binding a specific sequence present in genes called the Antioxidant Response Element (ARE). In the presence of certain phytochemicals, Nrf2 travels to the nucleus of the cell to induce that cell to produce natural antioxidant enzymes and protect against inflammation and reduce oxidative stress, a known cause of cardiovascular disease.

Studies showed that isothiocyanates, derived from cruciferous vegetables, activate Nrf2, which in turn blocks inflammatory gene expression and oxidative stress in endothelial cells, inhibiting aging of the vascular tree.

Once activated by the isothiocyanate sulforaphane, Nrf2 also suppresses the activity of adhesion molecules on the endothelial cell surface to prevent binding of inflammatory cells and therefore retard atherosclerotic plaque development.

The Anti-Cancer and Longevity Rewards

Researchers surveying the diets, lifestyle habits, and medical histories of 134,000 Chinese men and women found an association between a high consumption of cruciferous vegetables and a lowered risk of death from cardiovascular disease and all causes. The 2011 study also noted increased longevity amongst those who ate a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables.

Other observational studies have shown similar benefits in cruciferous vegetables’ ability to offer protection against cancer. For example:

  • Three servings of cruciferous vegetables per week were associated with a 41 percent decrease in prostate cancer risk. 
  • One or more servings of cabbage per week were associated with a 38 percent decrease in risk of pancreatic cancer
  • One serving per day of cruciferous vegetables was linked to a reduction in the risk of breast cancer by more than 50 percent

Eat These Beneficial Vegetables Daily

The following vegetables are important for excellent health and promotion of maximum lifespan:

  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Broccolini
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard greens
  • Radish
  • Red cabbage
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress

Stay Healthy, Eat Cruciferous

The unique antioxidants found in cruciferous vegetables have the ability to modify human hormones, detoxify compounds, and prevent toxic compounds from binding to human DNA, preventing toxins from causing DNA damage that could lead to cancer. Try adding a variety of longevity-promoting cruciferous vegetables, both raw and lightly cooked in your diet daily.

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  1. Zhang X, Shu XO, Xiang YB, et al. Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortalityAm J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(1):240-246. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.009340

Additional Reading
  • Donovan EL, McCord JM, Reuland DJ, et al. Phytochemical activation of Nrf2 protects human coronary artery endothelial cells against an oxidative challenge. Oxid Med Cell Longev 2012, 2012:132931.
  • Han SG, Han SS, Toborek M, Hennig B. EGCG protects endothelial cells against PCB 126-induced inflammation through inhibition of AhR and induction of Nrf2-regulated genes. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2012, 261:181-188.
  • Huang CS, Lin AH, Liu CT, et al. Isothiocyanates protect against oxidized LDL-induced endothelial dysfunction by upregulating Nrf2-dependent antioxidation and suppressing NFkappaB activation. Mol Nutr Food Res 2013, 57:1918-1930.
  • Zakkar M, Van der Heiden K, Luong le A, et al. Activation of Nrf2 in endothelial cells protects arteries from exhibiting a proinflammatory state. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2009, 29:1851-1857.