Love/hate vegetables tops for the heart

Youthful fitness site popsugar.com assures us that broccoli and Brussels sprouts are “popular dishes that have many diners licking their lips” and are “now featured on many a hip menu”.

Past generations who abhorred them may roll their eyes.

What’s not in dispute is that these previously despised cruciferous* vegetables are good for you.

Hipster claims they are ‘superfoods’ are backed by new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

“New research has shown some of our least favourite vegetables could be the most beneficial when it comes to preventing advanced blood vessel disease,” researchers concluded.

“The research has found higher consumption of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, is associated with less extensive blood vessel disease in older women.

“Researchers from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences and the University of Western Australia found those with a diet comprising more cruciferous vegetables had a lower chance of having extensive build-up of calcium on their aorta, a key marker for structural blood vessel disease.”

Blood vessel disease affects arteries and veins and can reduce the flow of blood circulating in the body. This can be caused by fatty calcium deposits on the inner walls of vessels, such as the heart’s aorta. This build-up of deposits is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

Lead researcher Dr Lauren Blekkenhors said researchers knew people with a higher intake of broccoli and Brussels sprouts had a reduced heart attack risk, but not why.

“We have now found that older women consuming higher amounts of cruciferous vegetables every day have lower odds of having extensive calcification on their aorta,” she said.

“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.”

Dr Blekkenhors said women in this study, who consumed more than 45g of cruciferous vegetables every day were 46 per cent less likely to have extensive build-up of calcium on their aorta in comparison to those consuming little to no cruciferous vegetables every day.

“That’s not to say the only vegetables we should be eating are broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts,” she said. “We should be eating a wide variety of vegetables every day for overall good health and wellbeing.”

But it’s a big tick for the cruciferous family. And the Heart Foundation also gives them its famous tick.

Heart Foundation food and nutrition manager Beth Meertens said the findings provided valuable insights.

“Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia and poor diet is responsible for the largest proportion of the burden of heart disease, accounting for 65.5 per cent of the total burden of heart disease.

“The Heart Foundation recommends that Australians try to include at least five serves of vegetables in their daily diets, along with fruit, seafood, lean meats, dairy and healthy oils found in nuts and seeds. Unfortunately, over 90 per cent of Australian adults don’t eat this recommended daily intake of vegetables.”

Here’s popsugar.com’s take: “Both superfoods are low in saturated fat and cholesterol free; they are also both high in dietary fibre, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins A, B6, and C (wow). While broccoli may have a higher count of calories, fat, and carbs, it is richer in calcium, iron, and pantothenic acid (a B vitamin that does wonders for healthy hair) and has a bit more potassium. Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, are lower in sodium.

“All in all, they’re both good for the body, and it’s hard to go wrong with either.”

NDTV Food says: “Cruciferous vegetables, which are a part of the brassica genus of plants like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, are some of the leafy greens that are considered healthier and more beneficial for losing weight than other vegetables.

“Broccoli is a powerful antioxidant, which helps in cholesterol reduction and is also good for heart and bone health. It is also known to manage our blood pressure levels. It is a low-calorie and low-fat vegie, but at the same time, it is high in dietary fibre, which makes for a quite filling meal, so that you don’t feel hungry for a longer time.

“Brussels sprouts are low in fat and calories but are high in protein consistency. Brussels sprouts are high in calcium, potassium and have zero saturated fat. So, load up on these sprouts to lose weight.

Not-for-profit whfoods recommends a minimum of three-quarters of a cup of cruciferous vegetables daily. That’s approximately five cups per week.

But if you’re not a super-fit, 20-year-old trendsetter poured into tights who loves sprouts and broccoli, how do you make these healthy foodstuffs palatable?

Broccoli cooking advice (source: mapleandmarigold.com)
“Lightly sautéed with garlic and a splash of water. It’s that simple. Cooking broccoli in this way retains most of its colour [and] nutritional value along with that crunch that results in a delicious side dish that even my youngest and pickiest eater enjoys. Boiling or over-cooking the broccoli florets turns the texture into mush and draws away much of its cancer-fighting goodness.”

Brussels sprouts cooking advice (source: whfoods.com)
“Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with two inches of water and bring to a rapid boil. If Brussels sprouts are cut into quarters, steam for six minutes. If you have chopped them into smaller pieces, steam for five minutes. Toss with our honey mustard sauce to add extra flavour and nutrition.

“Combine quartered cooked Brussels sprouts with sliced red onions, walnuts, and your favourite mild tasting cheese such as a goat cheese or feta. Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for an exceptionally healthy, delicious side dish or salad.”

Okay, let’s say you hate these vegies but accept their health benefits and want an entry level recipe that is, well, a little less army camp and a bit more, well decadent?

Here’s a couple that caught our eye:

errenskitchen.com: Roasted Fresh Broccoli with Garlic, Lemon and Parmesan.

There’s talk of caramelisation, tenderness, and nuttiness here.

bonappetit.com offers: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Warm Honey Glaze.

This is serious nosh with sherry vinegar, red pepper flakes and lemon zest on the ingredients list. And Brussels sprouts.

* Relating to or denoting plants of the cabbage family.

What superfoods do you love and loathe? Do you have a favourite recipe for Brussels sprouts or broccoli?

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Written by Will Brodie

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