Last year, broccoli became the fifth most popular vegetable purchased in the U.S.
This marks its first appearance in the top five of the annual surveys conducted by The Packer, a magazine covering the fresh produce industry.
Much less popular, but still in the top 20, are cauliflower and cabbage.
What’s so special about these vegetables?
As we’ve reported in this newsletter before, they can help your body fight off many of the diseases of aging. And now, Australian scientists just published new research that reveals why eating these vegetables and others from the cruciferous vegetable family can dramatically reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Lowers Risk of Death by 22 Percent
Cruciferous vegetables, part of the Brassica genus of plants, are rich in compounds linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
At least eight population studies show that the more of these vegetables you consume, the lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
One, for instance, looked at the consumption of total fruits and vegetables among 135,000 Chinese men and women. The researchers found “a dose-response pattern was particularly evident for cruciferous vegetable intake.”
Those eating the most had a 22 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those eating the least.
At the University of Western Australia, scientists have been exploring the benefits of this family of vegetables for some years and have published a number of studies.
In their 2018 study, they wanted to see whether the consumption of cruciferous vegetables would protect against thickening of the carotid arteries on each side of the neck.
Lowers Risk of Blood Vessel Disease
They discovered that women aged 70 and older who ate the most had less build-up of fatty, calcium deposits compared to those eating the least.
This plaque narrows the arteries, reduces blood flow, and leads to atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease. It’s also strongly related to ischemic stroke, in which blood supply to the brain is cut off or reduced.
Each increase in intake of just a third of an ounce a day was linked to a reduction in the thickness of the carotid artery wall by 0.8 percent. Non brassica vegetables did not show this association.
Lead researcher Lauren Blekkenhorst commented, “This is one of only a few studies that have explored the potential impact of different types of vegetables on measures of subclinical atherosclerosis.
“After adjusting for lifestyle, cardiovascular disease risk factors (including medication use) as well as other vegetable types and dietary factors, our results continued to show a protective association between cruciferous vegetables and carotid artery wall thickness.”
Reduces Calcification Risk by Almost Half
The Australian group’s latest study has just been published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Dr. Blekkenhorst and her team used data on 684 women with an average age of 75 who were enrolled in 1998. The intention was to test whether their previous findings applied not just to the carotid artery, but to the aorta, the large vessel that delivers blood to the abdominal organs.
They measured aortic calcification with imaging and categorized it as either ‘not extensive’ or ‘extensive’.
They found that women who consumed more than 1½ ounces of cruciferous vegetables each day reduced the odds of extensive calcification by 46 percent compared to those who ate just half an ounce daily. This is a dramatic health benefit!
The authors concluded that their study “strengthens the hypothesis that higher intake of cruciferous vegetables may protect against vascular calcification.”
Vitamin K Could be The Key Factor
In their previous studies it wasn’t clear what factor or factors are responsible for the protective effect of cruciferous vegetables. But “this new study,” said Dr. Blekkenhorst, “provides insight into the potential mechanisms involved.
“One particular constituent found abundantly in cruciferous vegetables is vitamin K which may be involved in inhibiting the calcification process that occurs in our blood vessels.”
Although vitamin K may be the significant factor, it’s too early to say for sure, and even if it is, other nutrients and plant chemicals in these vegetables may be needed for full effectiveness, so eating the vegetables themselves is the preferred option rather than relying on a supplement alone.
Even though taking the right supplements is important, so is eating a healthy diet. If you’re not keen on broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage, other cruciferous vegetables are arugula, bokchoy, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, maca, mizuna, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip and watercress.