This easy, tasty, one pot dish has both veggie and meat options, so will delight anyone. A rainbow of colors goes into the dish, and a full spectrum of nutritional benefits comes out, including anti-cancer effects from cruciferous vegetables.
The other day, a client with prostate cancer asked what I think is the number one anti-cancer vegetable that he should be eating. I sort of dodged the question a little by saying my number one type of anti-cancer vegetable is cruciferous vegetables, also called Brassicas. This family of vegetables includes: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, turnips, cauliflower, arugula/rocket, radish, horseradish, cress, bok choy, and kohlrabi. Swiss chard contains a very similar nutrient profile to cruciferous vegetables as it contains glycosinolates (see below), but is actually a member of the beet family.
All of these vegetables support many different body systems and have lots of health benefits due to their content of fiber, carotenoids, vitamins, and minerals. But what really makes these vegetables shine in terms of cancer prevention and anti-cancer effects is their phytonutrients called glycosinolates.
Interestingly, it’s what the glycosinolates become, rather than what they are, that makes them so mighty. It gets a bit technical, but try to read on – it’s fascinating! The plants contain an enzyme called myrosinase that transforms these glycosinolates into indoles and isothiocyanates, and it is these that seem to have the greatest anti-cancer effects.
But what is intriguing is that we have to help the vegetables make this transformation. For instance, if you were to cook whole broccoli stems, the enzyme would be destroyed by the heat and the indoles and isothiocyanates couldn’t be produced. But if you were to chop the broccoli stems (instead of using them whole) and let the pieces sit for a few minutes before cooking, the enzyme is released from the cell walls and can do its magic chemistry on the glycosinolates. When you cook the broccoli a few minutes later, the indoles and isothiocyanates are already formed and ready to share their many health benefits.
Similarly, the action of you chewing raw cruciferous vegetables allows that enzyme to get to work and make the anti-cancer compounds.
The take-away from all the technicalities is that before you cook cruciferous vegetables – like the broccoli and kale in this recipe – chop them up and leave them for a few minutes before you add any heat, because the heat will destroy the enzyme. And if you eat any of these vegetables raw, make sure you chew them well.
The anti-cancer actions of indoles and isothiocyanates come primarily from three key mechanisms:
- They support the body’s natural detox system by regulating both the Phase I and Phase II stages of detoxification. This means that they eliminate toxins in our body before the toxins can cause damage.
- They have antioxidant properties.
- They are anti-inflammatory.
Additionally, they can “sensitize” cancer cells that have become resistant to chemotherapy, and can help make chemo treatments more effective again.
So how much of these foods do we need to eat to get all this great action?
Studies show that eating 4-5 servings per week might be optimal – and when you consider all the different types of cruciferous vegetables there are, it shouldn’t be very difficult. Because each vegetable produces a different range of indoles and isothiocyanates, it’s good to eat a variety. Even if you aren’t keen on vegetables, having 2-3 servings per week should still bring you some benefit.
Obviously, more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Having some everyday is fine – but don’t be like the 88-year old who reportedly ate 2-3 POUNDS of raw bok choy every day for several months and ended up in a coma!
Variety and balance is a good thing.
Although the cruficerous vegetables are the stars in this dish, every other ingredient will work hard for you too.
I use tamari rather than salt in this recipe for three reasons: flavor, nutritional benefits, and appearance. Tamari gives a nice salt-like tang to the sauce. Tamari has antioxidant qualities and, because it’s made from fermented soy, it supports the digestive process. Lastly, because of its rich brown-ness, it lends an appealing depth of color to the sauce. None of which can be said for salt!
Now go and cook this yummy one pot wonder of a meal and think of all the good things you are doing for your body.