1. Bok Choy
Bok choy, which is also referred to as Chinese white cabbage, contains vitamins C and K, plus a higher concentration of beta-carotene and vitamin A than any other variety of cabbage.3
It also contains important nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, all wrapped up in an extremely low-calorie package (some classify bok choy as a zero-calorie or negative-calorie food).
One cup of bok choy contains only about 20 calories, but its high levels of dietary fiber will fill you up, making it an excellent food for weight loss. Bok choy is actually the most popular vegetable in China, although in the US it's often overlooked.
This member of the cruciferous family shouldn't be passed by, however, as it contains powerful antioxidants like vitamins A and C and phytonutrients such as thiocyanates, lutein, zeaxanthin, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane, which stimulate detoxifying enzymes and may protect against breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Bok choy also contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients including thiocyanate, an antioxidant that's been found to protect cells from inflammatory substances produced in response to injury or infection in your body. Researchers believe thiocyanate may hold clues to treating serious inflammatory disorders including cystic fibrosis, heart disease and diabetes.4
Sulforaphane in bok choy and other cruciferous vegetables has also been found to significantly improve blood pressure and kidney function.5 Bok choy is also an excellent source of calcium… so good that nutrition experts from The Harvard School of Public Health called out bok choy as being a better source of dietary calcium than dairy products.6
Bok choy can be used in place of red or green cabbage in recipes, as well as eaten raw (such as in salads, coleslaw, or juicing). You can also use bok choy as a side dish (avoid overcooking) or as a base when making fermented vegetables (although, in the US, it tends to be more expensive than green cabbage).
2. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard belongs to the chenopod food family, along with beets and spinach. It's an excellent source of vitamins C, E, and A (in the form of beta-carotene) along with the minerals manganese and zinc.7 When you eat Swiss chard, you get a wealth of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. As reported by the George Mateljan Foundation:8
"The range of phytonutrients in chard is even more extensive than researchers initially suspected, and at this point in time, about three dozen antioxidant phytonutrients have been identified in chard.
[These would] include betalains (both betacyanins and betaxanthins) and epoxyxanthophylls. Many of these antioxidant phytonutrients provide chard with its colorful stems, stalks, and leaf veins."
The betalin pigments in Swiss chard (which are also found in beets) support your body's Phase 2 detoxification process, which is when broken down toxins are bound to other molecules so they can be excreted from your body.
Swiss chard also contains an important mix of nutrients, including high amounts of both magnesium and vitamin K1, to support your bone health.
In addition, Swiss chard contains a flavonoid called syringic acid, which may help regulate blood sugar and provide benefits to those with diabetes, along with kaempferol, a flavonol that may help fight cancer and lower your risk of chronic diseases including heart disease.
Cabbage is inexpensive yet powerful. Cabbage contains potent antioxidants like vitamins A and C and phytonutrients such as thiocyanates, lutein, zeaxanthin, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane, which stimulate detoxifying enzymes and may protect against breast, colon, and prostate cancers.9
Cabbage also contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients to help keep inflammation in check. Among them are anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol that's particularly plentiful in red cabbage, although all types of cabbage contain anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
Glucosinolates are phytochemicals that break down into indoles, sulphoraphane and other cancer-preventive substances. Indole-3-carbinol, for example, halts the cell cycle in breast cancer cells without actually killing the cells.10
The cell cycle is a rigidly prescribed series of steps a cell must go through before it can divide in two, involving the duplication of the cell's contents and a final split.
If you can alter specific components of the cell cycle, you can stop the growth of cancer cells without killing normal cells. Indole-3-carbinol interferes with the cell cycle in a way that turns off a gene for an enzyme important in the cell's growth cycle.
Interestingly, different types of cabbage (red, green, and Savoy) contain different patterns of glucosinolates, which suggests you should try to eat a variety of cabbage for the best health effects.
Further, just one serving of cabbage can provide you with 85 percent of your body's daily requirement of vitamin K. Cabbage also contains healthy amounts of B vitamins, including folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, and vitamin B5. B vitamins are not only important for energy, they may also slow brain shrinkage by as much as seven-fold in brain regions specifically known to be most impacted by Alzheimer's disease.
Cabbage juice is one of the most healing nutrients for ulcer repair as it is a huge source of vitamin U (which is actually not a vitamin but an enzyme known as S methylmethionine). Research shows that vitamin U, administered as raw cabbage juice, is effective in promoting the rapid healing of peptic ulcers.11
Cabbage is best prepared as close to raw as possible, sometimes called tender-crisp, to preserve its many nutrients. Cabbage can also be juiced, as mentioned, and fermented, which will provide your body with healthy amounts of beneficial bacteria and, if certain starter cultures are used, vitamin K2. You can find in-depth instructions here for how to make your own fermented cabbage.
4. Collard Greens
Collard greens are a close cousin to kale and they are, nutritionally, very similar. Rich in vitamin K and phytonutrients – caffeic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol – collard greens help lower oxidative stress in your cells while fighting inflammation.
Collard greens contain glucosinolates called glucobrassicin that can convert into an isothiocyanate molecule called indole-3-carbinol, or I3C, a compound with the ability to activate and prevent an inflammatory response at its earliest stage.12
Other phytonutrients in collard greens, specifically diindolylmethane and sulforaphane, have been clinically proven to combat breast, prostate, ovarian, cervical, and colon cancer cells, by helping prevent their growth and even helping prevent them from forming in the first place.13 Also noteworthy, collard greens are especially high in fiber, with more than 7 grams per cup, making it ideal for digestive support. They're also particularly useful for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. According to the George Mateljan Foundation:14
"In a recent study, steamed collard greens outshined steamed kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage in terms of its ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract. When this bile acid binding takes place, it is easier for the bile acids to be excreted from the body. Since bile acids are made from cholesterol, the net impact of this bile acid binding is a lowering of the body's cholesterol level. It's worth noting that steamed collards show much greater bile acid binding ability than raw collards."
For the best collard greens flavor and texture, choose slightly smaller leaves than the toughest outer layer. If you're not sure how to cook them, try this 5-minute collard greens recipe.
If you're in the mood for something other than leafy greens, try cauliflower. One serving of cauliflower contains 77 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. It's also a good source of vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, and manganese. Cauliflower is a good source of choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development, and contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients to help keep inflammation in check, including I3C, which may operate at the genetic level to help prevent the inflammatory responses at its foundational level.15
Adding to cauliflower's appeal is its extreme versatility. You can eat it raw, add it to salads, or use it in your cooking. Cauliflower can even be seasoned and mashed for a healthier version of mashed "potatoes." Compounds in cauliflower also show anti-cancer effects. According to the National Cancer Institute:16
"Indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach."
Cauliflower also helps your body's ability to detoxify in multiple ways. It contains antioxidants that support Phase 1 detoxification along with sulfur-containing nutrients important for Phase 2 detox activities. The glucosinolates in cauliflower also activate detoxification enzymes.17 It's a rich source of fiber, as well, and has significant digestive benefits. According to the George Mateljan Foundation:18
"Researchers have determined that the sulforaphane made from a glucosinolate in cauliflower (glucoraphanin) can help protect the lining of your stomach. Sulforaphane provides you with this health benefit by preventing bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in your stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to your stomach wall."
Beet roots have always been included in my most recommended vegetables list, although they are in the "use sparingly" category because of their high carbohydrate levels. Beets are high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber and essential minerals like potassium (essential for healthy nerve and muscle function) and manganese (which is good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas). Beets also contain the B vitamin folate, which helps reduce the risk of birth defects.
The powerful phytonutrients that give beets their deep crimson color may also help to ward off cancer. Research has shown that beetroot extract reduced multi-organ tumor formations in various animal models when administered in drinking water, for instance, while beetroot extract is also being studied for use in treating human pancreatic, breast and prostate cancers.19 Drinking beet juice, meanwhile, may help to lower blood pressure in a matter of hours. One study found that drinking one glass of beet juice lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4-5 points.20
The benefit likely comes from the naturally occurring nitrates in beets, which are converted into nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide, in turn, helps to relax and dilate your blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. As with Swiss chard, the betalin pigments in beets support your body's Phase 2 detoxification process, and beets are a unique source of betaine, a nutrient that helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress. It's also known to help fight inflammation, protect internal organs, improve vascular risk factors, enhance performance and likely help prevent numerous chronic diseases.21