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What Are Glucosinolates?

Collard greens are a good source of glucosinolates.
Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are examples of cruciferous vegetables.
Many salad greens are high in glucosinolates.
Kale contains a high amount of glucosinolates.
Arugula leaves are rich in glucosinolate.
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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2014
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Glucosinolates are nutrients, or organic sulfur compounds, that are often found in several plants in the Brassica genus. The organic compounds found in glucosinolates reportedly detoxify the human body of potential carcinogens. Most humans are able to consume the compound by eating cruciferous vegetables in their normal diet. Derivatives such as isothiocyanates, goitrin, and sinalbin also provide added health benefits when consumed by humans. Research has noted, however, that glucosinolates sometimes interfere with animal health.

Scientists generally describe glucosinolates as thioethers, a term in organic chemistry that refers to organic sulfur compounds. Properties often comprise a foul sulfuric odor and a hot, bitter taste similar to that of horseradish or mustard. They also consist of a sugar substance known as thioglucose, according to the Cornell University Department of Animal Science.

According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the glucosinolates contain enzymes and antioxidants that help the body to fight off breast, lung, and colon cancer, as well as esophageal, stomach, and prostate cancer. Glucosinolates work with chemicals such as folate, flavonoids, and vitamin C to cleanse the body of free radicals and other toxins. Recommended servings of cruciferous, glucosinolate-rich vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts remain unknown, but experts suggest eating up to five servings per week in addition to other fruits and vegetables. Other glucosinolate-rich vegetables include leafy greens, such as kale, cabbage, and collard and mustard greens, as well as arugula, bok choy, and turnips.

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Derivatives of glucosinolates include isothiocyanates, sinalbin, and goitrin. Isothiocynates provide additional health benefits through Brassica vegetables, while sinalbins offer a glucosinolate derivate found mostly in mustard seeds. Goitrin also contains sulfur-based compounds and can be found in Brussel sprouts or cabbage. Most derivatives and enzymes of these organic compounds break down whenever people cut or chew the vegetables.

The glucosinolate compounds tend to benefit humans because of their availability in cruciferous plants, but animals reportedly suffer adverse effects. Research notes that high levels of the organic compounds interfere with normal thyroid function. Farm animals like swine and poultry, for example, may be subjected to glucosinolate poisoning, according to Cornell. Symptoms of adverse reactions include goiters, liver damage, and stunted growth, as well as poor egg production in poultry. Efforts to prevent poisoning include adding iodine to animal feed to prevent antithyroid effects.

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