There are many differences between the Japanese and American diets that may explain why cancer rates in Japan are far lower than in the U.S. One major difference is that the Japanese consume about five times the amount of cruciferous vegetables as Americans. Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, kale, watercress, radish, parsnip, turnip, rutabaga and kohlrabi.
How cruciferous vegetables fight cancer
Cruciferous vegetables make a unique contribution to good health. They contain natural substances that break down in the body to form indoles, a compound that fights cancer development in several different ways.
Indoles and other anti-cancer compounds from cruciferous vegetables work by slowing down proteins in the body that activate carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). They also work to speed up proteins that stop or slow down the growth of cells developing into cancer.
Population studies link increased eating of cruciferous vegetables with a lower risk for a variety of cancers - breast cancer being one of them, as well as colon, lung and ovarian cancers. Some studies also show eating these vegetables provide a protective influence during the early stages of prostate cancer development.
Preparing cruciferous vegetables
Don't let memories of overcooked, slightly bitter dishes stop you from eating cruciferous vegetables. All you need is the desire to eat well, along with some preparation pointers:
- Cook these vegetables only until tender. Overcooking produces bitterness.
- Avoid boiling them in lots of water which leaches nutrients out of the vegetables.
- Briefly steaming or stir-frying these vegetables produces much better flavor and texture.
- Try roasting them. Parsnips and brussels sprouts are especially delicious when roasted.
- If salad greens are not in season, switch to fresher and less expensive salads based on raw broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
- Smooth out the strong flavors of these vegetables with equally assertive flavorings, like a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
For more helpful tips and some easy, healthy recipes, go to the American Institute for Cancer Research's Web site, www.aicr.org. It offers a searchable database of healthy, delicious recipes in the "Recipe Corner," a weekly recipe e-mail you can sign up for. You also can visit the Web site www.5aday.com. This Web site has a searchable database, so you can look for recipes that call for a particular vegetable like broccoli.
Gayle Baingo, R.D., is a registered dietitian at Flagstaff Medical Center. The information in this article was provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC's Web site at www.FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.