Eat your greens – they really are so good for you!

Remember growing up and being told to eat your greens? That they would make you grow big and strong? Well, it’s true! In fact, there’s been some research that shows that cruciferous vegetables contain unique sulphur containing compounds that convert to isothiocyanates (thankfully shortened to ITC!!), phytochemicals that have immune boosting, anti-cancer effects.

Cruciferous vegetables, so called because their flowers have 4 equally spaced petals that form a cross shape, include kale, cabbage, collard or spring greens, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli and watercress. The sulphur containing compounds are kept in the cell walls – this is what gives these veg a slightly pungent, bitter flavour. Clever scientists have discovered a complex chemical process which is triggered when these veg are chopped or chewed; the sulphurous compounds are released and mix with an enzyme forming the wonderfully dynamic ITCs.

So what do ITC’s do? Apparently there are 120, all different with different actions; combined together they have been found to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune boosting and anti-cancer, removing carcinogens and killing cancer cells. Broccoli, for example, can stop cancerous changes that occur within the cell, protecting it from DNA damage. Cruciferous veg fuels the bodies natural protective processes, turning on its internal defences. One study found that a 20% increase in green veg lead to a 40% decrease in cancer rates* – pretty good stuff!

Apart from fighting against cancer, these veg stimulate the immune system to help protect against viruses and bacterial infections, helps the cells to process toxins and waste, help prevent heart disease and generally reduces the general effects of ageing. No wonder we are told they are good for us!!
The enzyme that’s required to form ITCs is destroyed by heat, but ITCs themselves are not, so cruciferous vegetables are best chopped and blended first and either eaten raw (in a juice for example) or added chopped or pureed into stews, soups etc. Alternatively, veg like cabbage or broccoli  can be lightly steamed to keep as many goodies active as possible.

Of course, the veg also contain an array of other nutrients such as vitamin B, C, magnesium, iron, calcium, fibre – the list goes on! So they really are an amazing powerhouse of goodness. All these goodies aid the body to detox and heal, so great for overcoming food intolerances and allergies as well as other chronic diseases. When I was in India I had massive cravings for green vegetables, and even stir fried cauliflower leaves to satisfy them. Eating a minimum of 2 portions of cruciferous veg a day is recommended which is pretty easy if you have access to a wide variety of produce, not so easy if it means eating cabbage every day!! Mind you, there are lots of ways to eat cabbage….. And in the days things that shouldn’t be eaten, isn’t it great to have something we can eat more of!

A bag of Swiss Chard turned up in my veg box last week, one type of cruciferous veg. Chard has a deep, earthy flavour and works well with garlic, tomato and lemon. So I threw together this dish and it tasted rather wonderful – a hearty, warming weekday supper.

Swiss Chard and white bean stew(ish)
300g (or so) swiss chard, wash and roughly chopped
1 onion sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil or veg stock
2-3 cloves garlic chopped
1 tomato sliced
1 400g tin cannelloni or flageolet beans rinsed and drained
lemon juice
salt and pepper
Heat the oil or veg stock (if you’re wanting a fat free dish) in a pan and fry the onion on a low heat until it’s soft. Add the garlic for a minute, stirring so it doesn’t burn. Throw in the swiss chard, adding a little more veg stock if necessary, and cook for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Add the tomato and then the beans, and cook for a couple more minutes. Turn off the heat, add lemon juice and seasoning to taste and serve with mash or warm bread (or toasted flat bread if you’re yeast intolerant). Simple, healthy and delicious, all in one!!

* Michaud, D et al (1999). Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of bladder cancer in a male prospective cohort. J Nat. Cancer Institute 91(7).