The glucosinolates in crucifers need the enzyme myrosinase to form sulforaphane and other health-promoting compounds. That magic happens when the raw veggies are chopped.
But cooking crucifers can destroy the myrosinase, which means the glucosinolates don’t get converted. So while this makes the vegetables easier to digest, it can reduce their nutritional potency.
For those with strong digestion, eating crucifers raw or lightly cooked offers the greatest benefits, says integrative dietitian Mary Purdy, MS, RDN. “The best thing you can do is make sure you’re chewing the heck out of them,” she adds. “You have important enzymes in your saliva that help with their breakdown.”
It can also help digestion to combine raw or lightly cooked crucifers with gas-dispelling herbs, such as parsley or mint, or sautéed ginger, she notes. “Add some natural digestive fire with herbs and spices.”
For those who find raw crucifers tough to digest, there are ways to bolster the formation of sulforaphane in cooked crucifers. Adding powdered brown mustard, for instance, can enhance sulforaphane’s bioavailability, because mustard seeds contain myrosinase and can facilitate the conversion process, says functional-nutrition researcher Deanna Minich, PhD, author of Whole Detox and The Rainbow Diet.
Adding grated horseradish, sliced cabbage, or other cruciferous garnishes can produce a similar effect.
The easiest approach for digestibility and nutrition may simply be to prep crucifers ahead of time, a technique Michael Greger, MD, describes in his book How Not to Die: “If you chop the broccoli (or Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, cauliflower, or any other cruciferous vegetable) and then wait 40 minutes, you can cook it as much as you want. At that point, the sulforaphane has already been made, so the enzyme is no longer needed to achieve maximum benefit.”
Fermenting crucifers can also aid digestion and improve the bioavailability of the nutrients in these veggies, as can mixing them with apple-cider vinegar, miso, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, garlic, cumin, or seaweed, since these ingredients either contain enzymes that help break down the food or compounds that aid digestion in other ways, says Haas.
“Fermentation makes the vitamins and minerals more available to the body,” says Purdy. “It also provides food sources that can help feed and support gut health. Fermentation is a good way to both preserve the glucosinolates and help with digestibility.”
The bottom line: Prepare crucifers in whatever way you’ll enjoy eating them — preferably often, and with gusto.
This was excerpted from “Power Vegetables” which was published in the June 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.