Eat Your Veggies — Okay, But Are They Better Cooked Or Raw?
Everyone knows that vegetables can be a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers—and that fibers are pre-biotics that feed the good bacteria in the colon. The healthiest people (including our children) who have a variety of vegetables on a daily basis are just simply healthier. They have stronger immune systems, more energy, crave less sugar, live longer, better lives and are happier.
Here at Body Ecology, we highly recommend that 80% of your plate include vegetables—from the land, the sea and, of course, fermented. However, vegetables can be problematic when you can’t break them down and absorb their nutrients.
Of all the groups of vegetables, dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables are the most important.
This category of vegetables, the crucifers, includes arugula, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, radishes, rutabagas, and turnips. In a network of controlled studies, researchers show that they significantly reduce the risk of cancers (breast, prostate, colon, lung, mouth and throat). They are powerful detoxifiers, especially of excess estrogen.
But all foods have a “front and a back.” In other words, they can be either beneficial or harmful. And no vegetable is beneficial if you can’t absorb its nutrients, which can be a key issue with raw vegetables, especially raw cruciferous vegetables. The fibers in cruciferous veggies are difficult to digest when eaten raw. If you have SIBO, SIFO, H.pylori and low stomach acid, you’ve probably noticed that raw veggies cause gas and bloating. You might have a favorite coleslaw recipe, but next time you make it, tune in to how well you digest it.
Were you surprised that arugula is a cruciferous vegetable? It’s one of the best!
Here’s The Front & Back Of Cruciferous Vegetables
Crucifers contain glucosinolates. These are sulfur-containing molecules that give the vegetable a bitter taste and a certain odor when cooking. Glucosinolates are also anti-microbial and protect us from bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Crucifers also contain an enzyme called myrosinase that turns the glucosinolate into sulforaphane. You’ve probably heard wonderful things about sulforaphane. It activates a pathway (the NRF2 pathway) that then turns on over 200 antioxidants and anti-inflammatory genes. The sulforaphane is most likely the reason cruciferous vegetables are potent inhibitors of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Sulforaphane is a great NRF2 booster, yet it has a “back.” It creates thiocyanates, which are goitrogens, that inhibit the uptake of iodine into the thyroid and mammary glands. (Think of a goiter in the neck.) Therefore, eating cruciferous veggies raw may suppress your thyroid’s hormone production, potentially creating fatigue, feeling cold, constipation and a slowing of your metabolism.¹
Fortunately, this is only a problem IF you are lacking iodine. Enough iodine in the diet should compensate for that. If you eat your cruciferous vegetables raw, be sure you have plenty of iodine in that meal or in your diet.
Too many raw crucifers can deplete the body of iodine. You may notice dry skin, brain fog, depression, headache, cold hands and feet and fatigue—all signs of hypothyroidism.
How To Safely Eat Cruciferous Vegetables
So, how can you get the benefits of these wonderful cruciferous vegetables without the negative effects of weakening your thyroid and depleting your mammary glands of iodine?
Go for a balance between raw and cooked. Once again, the Universal Principle of Balance provides the answer.
Researchers in one study showed that simmering broccoli for 30 minutes eradicated 90 percent of the iodine-depleting goitrogens that disrupt thyroid hormones in cruciferous vegetables.² While the researchers proved a point, no one wants their broccoli cooked for 30 minutes. Steaming until the broccoli is fork-tender is perfect. You can then sauté in butter or olive oil for added flavor if you want.
For digestibility, the tougher cruciferous vegetables like kale, collard greens, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips and turnip greens and cabbage should ideally be cooked or fermented before eating. The cooking will ensure that you digest them and will destroy the myrosinase and avoid the possible thyroid-suppressing properties of these veggies when eaten raw.
TIP: Overcooking crucifers will cause them to taste bitter. Cooking with onion provides sweetness. Hopefully you’ll be cooking these important veggies often. If so, you’ll quickly learn just the right balance where they are tender enough to eat and not too chewy, yet not overly bitter. Some people find adding a splash of apple cider vinegar is tasty.
And yet we do need sulforaphane. So follow the Principle of Balance to include some raw crucifers, too.
Raw arugula added to your salads, a coleslaw made with raw cabbage, and grated daikon served at your favorite sushi restaurant all provide sulforaphane. When eating, chew them well to release the myrosinase enzyme to create sulforaphane to upregulate your antioxidant and anti-inflammatory genes. When possible, eat an iodine-rich food like seafood or a sea vegetable to provide iodine. Thorough chewing will also make both more digestible.
Next time you make coleslaw, take a few more minutes and massage the shredded cabbage with your hands. This will help break down the fibers and make the coleslaw easier to digest. Then add the other veggies and dressing of choice.
Some more ways to get sulforaphane from raw crucifers include:
- Adding arugula to a daily salad is perfect.
- Watercress salads are popular in fancy upscale restaurants but you can make them too.
- Add a tiny spoonful of wasabi or horseradish as a condiment to your next meal.
- Toss broccoli sprouts onto your plate as a side dish or into a smoothie if you don’t mind the bitter taste. Broccoli sprouts are very high in sulforaphane.
Learn more about the incredible health benefits of wasabi.
TIP: Please eat the raw daikon served with your salmon sushi! Most people think it is just decoration. If you order a bowl of miso soup you’ll also be having a nori-based broth and find wakame floating around in the soup as well, which will provide the iodine needed. It’s interesting how the Japanese tend to live a long, healthier life than most Westerners.
Fermenting is Fabulous
If you’re committed to a raw food diet, you’ll want to learn how to ferment cruciferous vegetables. This helps get rid of the goitrogens and also maximizes nutrition.
Health Benefits Of Fermented Vegetables
In addition to giving raw foodists a safe way to eat cruciferous vegetables, fermented veggies have many amazing health benefits:
- The fermentation process helps “pre-digest” the vegetables and makes the nutrients more easily absorbed.
- Fermentation of vegetables provides an amazing diversity of nutrients and also microbes, which is essential for a hardy microbiome and a stronger immune system.
- They are linked to a longer lifespan and healthier aging.
- They provide an abundance of necessary plant-based enzymes that ease digestion and help populate your stomach with good bacteria.
- The fermentation process supports the growth of these good microbes; once in your body, they may help prevent viral and fungal infections, boost immunity, and increase the nutrient value of your food.³⁻⁵
- Eating fermented foods has even been linked to lower levels of social anxiety.⁶
How To Ferment Vegetables At Home
Best of all, raw fermented vegetables are easy to make at home. It’s as simple as mixing chopped veggies with any of our Body Ecology Starters and letting them ferment at room temperature for about a week.
We have step-by-step instructions that explain the whole process. Once you see how easy it is, get creative with your cultured veggie recipes! If you create a great new recipe you want to share with others in our worldwide Body Ecology community, please email us, and we’ll happily post it on our social feeds.
So, if you’ve had trouble digesting raw vegetables in the past, try fermented veggies. Vegetables should be a key staple in your diet — ideally, 80 percent of what you eat overall. Whether you’re a raw foodist, a veggie-lover, or someone who wants to get more benefits from the foods you eat, fermenting vegetables provides a delicious way to help improve your health.
- 1. Bajaj JK, Salwan P, Salwan S. Various Possible Toxicants Involved in Thyroid Dysfunction: A Review. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016;10(1):FE01-FE3. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2016/15195.7092.
- 2. McMillan M, Spinks EA, Fenwick GR. Preliminary observations on the effect of dietary brussels sprouts on thyroid function. Hum Toxicol. 1986 Jan;5(1):15-9. doi: 10.1177/096032718600500104. PMID: 2419242.
- 3. Anna Peters, Petra Krumbholz, Elisabeth Jäger, Anna Heintz-Buschart, Mehmet Volkan Çakir, Sven Rothemund, Alexander Gaudl, Uta Ceglarek, Torsten Schöneberg, Claudia Stäubert. Metabolites of lactic acid bacteria present in fermented foods are highly potent agonists of human hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 3. PLOS Genetics, 2019; 15 (5): e1008145 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008145.
- 4. Scheers N, Rossander-Hulthen L, Torsdottir I, Sandberg AS. Increased iron bioavailability from lactic-fermented vegetables is likely an effect of promoting the formation of ferric iron (Fe(3+)). Eur J Nutr. 2016;55(1):373-382. doi:10.1007/s00394-015-0857-6.
- 5. Melini F, Melini V, Luziatelli F, Ficca AG, Ruzzi M. Health-Promoting Components in Fermented Foods: An Up-to-Date Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1189. Published 2019 May 27. doi:10.3390/nu11051189.
- 6. Matthew R. Hilimire, Jordan E. DeVylder, Catherine A. Forestell. Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model. Psychiatry Research, 2015; 228 (2): 203 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.04.023.