Night of the Living Veggies

The mild-mannered broccoli, cancer-fighting kale, and flavorful cauliflower. All are part of the healthy-sounding group known as Cruciferous Veggies. They sit in many fridge crispers and are the staple of many holiday veggie trays. You may even be about to dip one in ranch as you read this newsletter. Yes, they are in almost every household waiting… FOR REVENGE!!!

When we make diet and food recommendations in the clinic, one of the most surprising suggestions to people is to avoid raw plant-based foods. Recently, I was talking to a patient about veggies and they asked why “no raw” and my reply was “Because they are out to kill you!” Was I exaggerating? Well, maybe a bit. It was a Friday afternoon and I can get a bit melodramatic on Fridays.

In the spirit of the spooky Halloween season, we offer an attack of the killer veggies…. And now, a bit of backstory. Come with me, back to the early days of our primordial past, where plants and animals were locked in vicious a struggle for survival, to the start of the journey that led to the tender and tasty versions of the animals and plants we have today. In those days, a plant’s best strategy was to be so scary or thorny (or both) that no sensible forager would bother dealing with them. The next best tactic was to make the veggie muncher regret the day they ate the food by making the veggie muncher sick (kinda like me eating at TMac, but that is an entirely different story). Through the practice of agriculture, we the human victors, conquered and subjugated our vegetable foes making them weaker and weaker. The thorns became smaller and the amounts of toxic substances reduced. Today these toxins are generically known as anti-nutrients.

We now live in kinder, gentler times, having had thousands upon thousands of years to tame these brutal killers, selectively breeding out the nasties that acted as the plant’s defense mechanisms. Or do we?

Under the surface still lurk many of these prehistoric anti-nutrients, the seamy shadows of our ancient struggle to survive. What are those remnants lurking at the heart of many tempting veggies? There are two that exist - oxalates, or oxalic acid, and goitrogens. Sound ominous? Well, only to the unprepared (vegetables and those who consume them). Oxalates are highly stable and naturally occur in many veggies. Oxalates are a major cause of kidney stones as well as several chronic health issues. contains a searchable database on oxalic acid contents, in case you are curious about a particular food and want to know if you need to purge this particular nutrient from your diet. For information on the connection between high oxalic intake and disease, from the sages of the Weston Price Foundation, click here. It even has a picture of a scary Halloween mummy, in case you want a Halloween costume idea.

Goitrogens, or goitrogenic compounds, have been shown to disrupt thyroid function by interfering with the iodine absorption of the thyroid gland.

If all of these veggies are out to kill us, why should anybody eat them? Even though veggies contain oxalates and certain goitrogenic compounds, the fact is that the nutritional profile of family Cruciferae is truly impressive. Cruciferous veggies have a wide range of vitamins, including generous amounts of Vitamin K (a nutrient largely eliminated in modern industrialized diets), minerals, and other phytochemicals, including one isothiocyanate, which is known to “stop cancer dead in its tracks.”

Fortunately for us, our ancestors discovered how to defeat oxalates through the use of fire and water. Boiling removes most of the oxalates from the plant. However, oxalates are not easily destroyed and will stay in the water. So, toss the water once you are done with your fire, after cooking, and before consuming. If you are making soups with a high oxalate food, blanch it and discard the water before adding it to the soup. Cooking these guys also renders the goitrogenic nasties inert and unable to mess up your thyroid.

Even we at the clinic are not immune to the charms of these vegetables and have found that, in small amounts, used as a condiment (think watercress) these foods won’t create a problematic oxalate load. Thus, we heartily encourage people to cook cruciferous foods, including arugula, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, collards, bok choy, brussel sprouts, radish, and watercress. We will be posting an easy, fun traditional Japanese vinegared cabbage recipe in the next few days to the blog, complete with pictures. Notice how even with the application of the vinegar as the pickling agent, blanching the cabbage first is called for.

At Red Earth, we have found that, when in doubt, traditional cooking and food practices provide the best health results. So, eat and, most importantly, prepare your foods like your ancestors.

For more information about veggies and how to prepare them, and a cornucopia of interesting and fun-filled facts, trivia, apocrypha and sage advice, consult our blog/newsletter archive — also hailed in song and story as the Encyclopedia Redearthia. In particular, the posts on veggies and juicing.

In case any of our readers want additional motivation to prepare veggies, or evidence of the evil veggie plot against humanity, we offer a few Halloween-themed vegetable movies for your consideration:

Day of the Triffids (1962), also available in the original literary format.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Tickets for a Halloween one night showing of the original Directors Cut, with deleted ending are available at

And no discussion of Plant Horror would be complete without mention of the 1978 classic, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

In the next installment of our Monthly Newsletter, we may explore the wisdom of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Posted in Nutrition, Seasonal