Think you hate the taste of vegetables?iStock/OlgaMiltsova
You're not alone: Our taste buds are wired to detect minute amounts of bitterness in food, a trait that protected cave dwellers from dining on poisonous wild plants. On top of that, one in four adults has a genetic quirk that makes her a “super-taster,” with up to six times more concentrated taste buds and a particular sensitivity to bitter chemicals. Unfortunately, many of the healthiest vegetables taste unappetizingly bitter because of natural chemicals that give them their healing oomph, and too many of us frequently skip the following heart-protecting, cancer-fighting foods. Next: What to pick, how to cook it, and why it's essential.
Try it: Mix grated beets with lemon juice, golden raisins, and celery. Or roast with balsamic vinegar. Health perks: In animal studies, the pigment responsible for the beet’s purplish-red hue, called betacyanin, disarmed cancer-triggering toxins. The earthy taste of beets comes from geosmin, a type of chemical that also has cancer fighting powers. Here are more surprising benefits of beets (plus a few risks).
Try it: Mash steamed florets with potatoes or shred peeled broccoli stems and sauté with garlic and a dash of olive oil. Health perks: One antioxidant that makes broccoli bitter, called sulforaphane, whisks cancer-promoting substances out of the body. Another, dubbed indole-3 by scientists, discouraged tumor growth in lab studies and reversed suspicious precancerous changes inside cervical cells in women.
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Try it: Roast ’em with onion chunks, then toss with rice vinegar. Health perks: These broccoli cousins have plenty of bitter sulforaphane as well as compounds called isothiocyanates, which detoxify cancer-causing substances in the body before they can do their dirty work. In one Dutch study, guys who ate Brussels sprouts daily for three weeks had 28 percent less genetic damage (gene damage is a root cause of cancer) than those who didn’t eat sprouts.
Try it: Cook red cabbage, chopped apples (leave the skin on for more antioxidant power), and raisins in apple juice; season with ground cloves. Health perks: Eating cabbage a few times a week can cut your risk of cancer of the breast, prostate, lungs, and colon. In one study of 300 Chinese women, those with the highest blood levels of cancer-fighting isothiocyanates (found in cabbage) had a 45 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels.
Try it: Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano, and grill or broil. Health perks: All types of eggplant are rich in bitter chlorogenic acid, which protects against the buildup of heart-threatening plaque in artery walls (and fights cancer, too!), say USDA scientists in Beltsville, Maryland. In lab studies, eggplant lowered cholesterol and helped artery walls relax, which can cut your risk of high blood pressure.
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Try it: Braise in cider to offset bitterness. Health perks: Kale has compounds called glucosinolates that seem to fight cancer by activating liver enzymes that help disarm carcinogens. These superfoods could be the next kale.
Try it: Eat it fresh and raw. Create a salad dressing with pureed raspberries, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of canola or olive oil. Health perks: Possibly the healthiest veggie in the world—thanks to high levels of vitamins A, B6, C, and K and riboflavin, plus generous amounts of manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, and calcium—spinach also contains the antioxidant lutein, which protects the retinas in your eyes from damage or vision loss. Here are more tips to keep your eyes healthy.