kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Roughly 1.8 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. And, more than 600,000 people in the US die from it annually.

Studies show that a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a reduced risk for cancers.                                           What are cruciferous vegetables?

  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Watercress
  • Wasabi

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients, including several carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin); vitamins C, E, and K; folate; and minerals. They also are a good fiber source.

In addition, cruciferous vegetables contain a group of substances known as glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals. These chemicals are responsible for the strong smell and bitter flavor of cruciferous vegetables.

During food preparation, chewing, and digestion, the glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables are broken down to form biologically active cancer-fighting compounds (indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates). Indole-3-carbinol (an indole) and sulforaphane (an isothiocyanate) have been most frequently researched for their anticancer effects.

1994 study from Johns Hopkins, rats were split into two groups. One was treated with sulforaphane, and one was not. All the animals were then exposed to a powerful cancer-inducing chemical (poor little creatures!). The sulforaphane-treated rats developed 39% fewer tumors than the untreated group. And the tumors that did develop progressed at a slower rate.

Other studies have produced similar findings, showing that sulforaphane kills cancer stem cells, slows the growth of tumors, and promotes the death of cancer cells in breast, bladder, lung, larynx, prostate, rectum, cervix, blood (leukemia), and mouth. Sulforaphane suppresses signals and enzymes that spur on the growth of tumors and reduces the formation of blood vessels that feed them.

Indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice. Studies in animals and experiments with cells grown in the laboratory have identified several potential ways in which these compounds may help prevent cancer:

  • They help protect cells from DNA damage by stopping carcinogens before they have a chance to alter DNA.
  • They help inactivate carcinogens.
  • They have antiviral and antibacterial effects.
  • They have anti-inflammatory effects.
  • They induce cell death (apoptosis).
  • They inhibit tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) and tumor cell migration (needed for metastasis).

DIM (Diindolylmethane) is an active compound in broccoli which has the ability to slow or even stop cancer cells from growing. In one study, women with a cervical cancer precursor, were treated with DIM. After three to six months, 100% of women receiving 200 mg of DIM daily had their neoplasia completely resolved, compared to 61% of women taking a placebo. These cancer-eradicating compounds showed these effects on cancer in every tissue studied.

DIM has also been shown to reduce new blood vessel formations in tumors and to inhibit the spread of cancer.

Cancer can be caused by epigenetic changes. This is the ability to turn genes on and off. Epigenetic changes can be described as changing gene expression via one’s behavior or inadvertent exposure to outside toxins like air pollution. An example is a smoker who causes epigenetic changes that make the smoker more vulnerable to certain cancers.

Vitamin D has been shown to induce beneficial epigenetic changes. This does not mean that the changes alter the DNA, but that they change the expression patterns of genes. Research shows that sulforaphane and DIM can reverse some of these cancer-associated changes.

Chronic inflammation contributes to practically every age-related disease – including cancer. Our bodies have a “master switch” that regulates the signaling molecules that drive inflammation. It’s called nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB). Studies show that sulforaphane blocks NF-kB, which reduces inflammation throughout the body. While doing this, sulforaphane kills cancer stem cells that can trigger tumor recurrence.

Sulforaphane also combats the potential DNA-damaging effects of estrogen, preventing the early DNA damage that leads to cancers. Sulforaphane accelerates the process that the body uses to deactivate and dispose of the type of estrogen that can promote beast cancer. DIM helps shift the balance between two different forms of estrogen metabolites, away from the one that promotes cancer and towards one that inhibits it.

In men, higher estrogen levels are associated with prostate enlargement and cancers. Studies show DIM can prevent estrogen-induced prostate cancer. In women who have had breast cancer, DIM shifts estrogen metabolism to the healthier form.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, adult women should eat 2.5 cups of vegetables per day, and adult men should have 3 cups. One cup of cooked or raw broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower counts as 1 cup of vegetables. Two cups of leafy vegetables, like kale or arugula, count as 1 cup from the vegetable group.

Which cruciferous vegetables have the most vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid?

  1. Kale (vitamin A)
  2. Broccoli (vitamin C)
  3. Brussels sprouts and broccoli (tied for folic acid)

Brussels sprouts have the most vitamin E (about 9% of the Daily Value) and vitamin B-1 (15% Daily Value). And it’s broccoli and Brussels sprouts that have the most healthy plant omega-3s:  A cup of broccoli contributes about 200 milligrams, and a cup of Brussels sprouts about 260 milligrams.

Broccoli is healthy, but broccoli sprouts may be even healthier. They have between 10 to 100 times more cancer-fighting compounds than the more mature florets. The sprouts of cruciferous vegetables are powerhouses of valuable nutrients.  The biological effects of eating broccoli sprouts influence many of the genes that govern cellular function, ‘turning up’ the ones whose expression is beneficial in maintaining health, and ‘turning down’ the ones that result in problems.

Sprouts begin as seeds that, when exposed to the right temperature and moisture, germinate into very young plants.

Unfortunately, sprouts can also cause food poisoning when consumed raw or even lightly cooked. This is because bacteria can thrive in a warm, humid environment and sprouts are grown in these conditions. In fact, many outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with various types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts have occurred in recent years, mainly by E. coli and Salmonella. Diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps are common symptoms that occur 12 to 72 hours after ingestion.

While there are approved plant treatments to reduce contamination, there is no way to guarantee all harmful bacteria are destroyed in raw sprouts. Unfortunately, you can’t smell or see if a food is harboring bacteria. For people at “high risk” for food poisoning, severe and life-threatening illness may result from consuming raw or lightly cooked sprouts. People with weakened immune systems, including children, older adults and pregnant women, should not eat any variety of raw or lightly-cooked sprouts. If you’re a high-risk individual, thoroughly cook sprouts if you choose to eat them.

Unfortunately, boiling or cooking the sprouts does kill some of the nutrients and vitamins they contain, but not so much that they do not still hold some great health benefits.

Follow these key tips when buying, storing and eating fresh sprouts:

  • Buy only fresh sprouts that have been properly refrigerated.
  • Do not buy sprouts that have a musty smell or slimy appearance.
  • At home, refrigerate sprouts right away in a clean refrigerator at 40° F or below.
  • Wash your hands properly before and after handling raw sprouts.
  • Rinse sprouts thoroughly under running water before use.
  • If you decide to cook sprouts, it can help reduce the risk of food poisoning. Toss them into soups, stews or stir fries near the end of the cooking process — or oven roast until crisp and browned.


Watermelon is native to Africa. It was a valuable and portable source of water for life in the desert and when natural water supplies were contaminated. Ancient hieroglyphics show that watermelons were cultivated in Egypt and India as far back as 2500 B.C..

Watermelon contains only 46 calories per cup, which is lower than low-sugar fruits like berries.  It is high in vitamin C, vitamin A and many healthy plant compounds. One cup of watermelon has many other nutrients as well:

  • Vitamin C: 21% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin A: 18% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 5% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 4% of the RDI
  • Vitamins B1, B5 and B6: 3% of the RDI

Watermelon is also high in carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopene. Plus, it has citrulline, an important amino acid.

The citrulline may increase nitric oxide levels in the body. Nitric oxide helps your blood vessels expand, which lowers blood pressure.

Watermelon also contains antioxidants. Antioxidants help remove molecules known as free radicals, or reactive species, from the body. The body produces free radicals during natural processes like metabolism. They can also develop through smoking, air pollution, stress, and other environmental pressures.  If too many free radicals stay in the body, oxidative stress will happen. This can result in cell damage and may lead to a range of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. The body can remove some free radicals naturally, but dietary antioxidants support this process.


The vitamin C in watermelon helps the body to produce collagen. Collagen is essential for cell structure and immune function. Vitamin C also promotes wound healing. Studies suggest that vitamin C may help promote healthy skin, including reducing the risk of age-related damage.


In a 2012 study, researchers found that watermelon extract reduced blood pressure in and around the ankles of middle-aged people with obesity and early hypertension. L-citrulline and L-arginine are two of the antioxidants in watermelon and the authors suggest these may improve the function of the arteries.

Studies suggest that lycopene may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It can also help prevent oxidative damage.  According to studies in obese, postmenopausal women and Finnish men, lycopene may also reduce the stiffness and thickness of artery walls.


Lycopene may also help protect against heart disease. A 2017 review suggested that it might do this by reducing inflammation linked with high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.

Lycopene is found in several parts of the eye where it helps protect against oxidative damage and inflammation. It may also prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Some studies have also linked lycopene intake with a lower risk of prostate cancer.

Some people use diuretic drugs to help their body remove excess water and salt. A 2014 mouse study concluded that watermelon’s diuretic action might be as effective as that of furosemide, which is a well-known diuretic. This could make it a natural option for people with excess fluid, although never stop taking a prescription diuretic without talking to your healthcare provider.

How to Buy

Watermelon season runs from May to September, but its peak is mid-June to late August. Common types of watermelon include seedless, picnic, icebox, and yellow/orange-fleshed. Each type also has multiple varieties. Seedless watermelons won’t have dark black seeds but will have small white underdeveloped seeds that are fine to eat. Picnic watermelons are large, round or oblong, with green rind and red flesh. The icebox is like a personal-size watermelon, small and round and perfect for one person or a small family. The yellow/orange watermelons have yellow-orange flesh and can have seeds, but not always.

When buying a watermelon,  look for one that is firm, heavy, and symmetrical without soft spots or bruising. Some experts believe that making sure the underside where it lies on the ground is a pale yellow color, not white or light green, is a sure sign of ripeness. But others use the “thumping method” with great success.

Flick your middle finger off your thumb and against the melon, listening for a deep, rich thud. This indicates that your melon is ripe.


How to Store

Watermelons are picked when they are ripe so they will not continue to ripen and soften much at room temperature; melons picked before their prime will never develop full flavor. A whole watermelon can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week or at room temperature for a week or two. Cut watermelon should be placed with the cut against a plate, refrigerated and used within three to five days. You can also freeze cut watermelon, but the texture will be soft when thawed (which is fine for cold soups and smoothies).

How to Cook

Tips for serving watermelon include:

Juice: Place diced watermelon and a few ice cubes in a blender for a cold, refreshing, electrolyte drink.

Salad: Add watermelon and mint to a bed of spinach leaves. Drizzle with balsamic dressing.

Smoothies: Make a watermelon smoothie or combine with orange juice. Remember that juicing breaks down the fiber, making the sugar easier to absorb. People with diabetes should consider eating fresh, whole watermelon rather than drinking juice.

Roasted seeds: Roast the watermelon seeds in an oven for 15-20 minutes. One ounce of seeds can provide around 8 g of protein, or 14% – 17% of a person’s daily protein needs.

Spicy Watermelon Salad With Pineapple and Lime

Alexa Weibel New York Times/ Photo Credit: Christopher Testani for The New York Times/Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne

6-8 Servings


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime zest, plus 2 tablespoons juice
  • 1 tablespoon rice syrup
  • 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 ¼ pounds fresh watermelon, chilled
  • 1 ¼ pounds fresh pineapple, chilled
  • 4 ounces  non-dairy feta, crumbled (about 2/3 cup) – Just Like Feta from Violife
  • 1 packed cup small cilantro sprigs, or 1/3 packed cup torn fresh mint
  • Tajín, for sprinkling (optional)


  1. In a large bowl, stir together oil, vinegar, lime zest and juice, rice syrup and jalapeño. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the red onion and toss to coat. Let marinate, 10 minutes.
  2. While the onions marinate, chop the watermelon and the pineapple into 1-inch cubes, discarding any seeds. Add watermelon and pineapple to the vinaigrette and toss to coat; season to taste. Refrigerate until serving.
  3. When ready to serve, add non-dairy feta and herbs to salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle with Tajin, if using, and serve immediately.

Enjoy it as soon as it’s assembled, as the salty dressing draws the juice out of the fruit quickly and the salad can lose its crunch. A sprinkle of Tajín, a chile-lime Mexican spice blend, is optional, but adds a touch of smoke.


Resources statistics
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Dinkova-Kostova AT, Fahey JW, Kostov RV, et al. KEAP1 and Done? Targeting the NRF2 Pathway with Sulforaphane. Trends Food Sci Technol. 2017 Nov;69(Pt B):257-69.
Verhoeven DT, Goldbohm RA, van Poppel G, et al. Epidemiological studies on brassica vegetables and cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1996 Sep;5(9):733-48.
Ashrafian L, Sukhikh G, Kiselev V, et al. Double-blind randomized placebo-controlled multicenter clinical trial (phase IIa) on diindolyl- methane’s efficacy and safety in the treatment of CIN: implications for cervical cancer prevention. EPMA J. 2015;6:25.
Kyung SY, Kim DY, Yoon JY, et al. Sulforaphane attenuates pul- monary fibrosis by inhibiting the epithelial-mesenchymal transition. BMC Pharmacol Toxicol. 2018 Apr 2;19(1):13.
Su X, Jiang X, Meng L, et al. Anticancer Activity of Sulforaphane: The Epigenetic Mechanisms and the Nrf2 Signaling Pathway. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018;2018:5438179.


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