Brussels sprouts

What's New and Beneficial About Brussels Sprouts

WHFoods Recommendations

You'll want to include Brussels sprouts as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. At a minimum, we recommend 3/4 cup of cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis. This amount is equivalent to approximately 5 cups per week. A more optimal intake amount would be 1-1/2 cups per day, or about 10 cups per week. You can use our Veggie Advisor for help in figuring out your best cruciferous vegetable options.

It is very important not to overcook Brussels sprouts. Not only do they lose their nutritional value and taste but they will begin to emit the unpleasant sulfur smell associated with overcooked cruciferous vegetables. To help Brussels sprouts cook more quickly and evenly cut each sprout into quarters. Let them sit for at least 5 minutes to bring out the health-promoting qualities and then steam them for 5 minutes. Serve with our Honey Mustard Dressing to add extra tang and flavor to Brussels sprouts.

Brussels Sprouts, cooked
1.00 cup
(156.00 grams)
Calories: 56
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin K243%

 vitamin C129%

 folate23%

 manganese18%

 fiber16%

 vitamin B616%

 choline15%

 vitamin B114%

 copper14%

 potassium14%

 phosphorus12%

 omega-3 fats11%

 iron10%

 vitamin B29%

 pantothenic acid8%

 magnesium8%

 protein8%

 vitamin A7%

 vitamin B36%

 calcium6%

 zinc5%

Health Benefits

You'll find nearly 100 studies in PubMed (the health research database at the National Library of Medicine in Washington, D.C.) that are focused on Brussels sprouts, and over half of those studies involve the health benefits of this cruciferous vegetable in relationship to cancer. This connection between Brussels sprouts and cancer prevention should not be surprising since Brussels sprouts provide special nutrient support for three body systems that are closely connected with cancer development as well as cancer prevention. These three systems are (1) the body's detox system, (2) its antioxidant system, and (3) its inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system. Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase risk of cancer, and when imbalances in all three systems occur simultaneously, the risk of cancer increases significantly. Among all types of cancer, prevention of the following cancer types is most closely associated with intake of Brussels sprouts: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Brussels Sprouts and Detox Support

The detox support provided by Brussels sprouts is both complicated and extensive. First, there is evidence from human studies that enzyme systems in our cells required for detoxification of cancer-causing substances can be activated by compounds made from glucosinolates found in Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts are an outstanding source of glucosinolates. The chart below shows the best studied of the glucosinolates found in Brussels sprouts and the detox-activating substances (called isothiocyanates) made from them.

Glucosinolates in Brussels sprouts and their detox-activating isothiocyanates

GlucosinolateDerived IsothiocyanateIsothiocyanate Abbreviation
glucoraphaninsulforaphaneSFN
glucobrassicinindole-3-carbinol*I3C
sinigrinallyl-isothiocyanateAITC
gluconasturtiian phenethyl-isothiocyanatePEITC

* Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is not an isothiocyanate. It's a benzopyrrole, and it is only formed when isothiocyanates made from glucobrassicin are further broken down into non-sulfur containing compounds.

Second, the body's detox system requires ample supplies of sulfur to work effectively, and Brussels sprouts are rich in sulfur-containing nutrients. Sulfur is connected with both the smell and taste of Brussels sprouts, and too much sulfur aroma is often associated with overcooking of this vegetable. Sulfur-containing nutrients help support what is commonly referred to as Phase 2 of detoxification. Third, our body's detox system needs strong antioxidant support—especially during what is called Phase 1 of detoxification. Brussels sprouts are able to provide that kind of support because they are an excellent source of vitamin C and a very good source of manganese. Brussels sprouts also contain a wide variety of antioxidant phytonutrients, including many antioxidant flavonoids. Finally, there is evidence that the DNA in our cells is protected by naturally occurring substances in Brussels sprouts, and since many environmental toxins can trigger unwanted change in our DNA, Brussels sprouts can help prevent these toxin-triggered DNA changes.

Brussels Sprouts and Antioxidant Support

As mentioned earlier, Brussels sprouts are an important dietary source of many vitamin antioxidants, including vitamins C and A (in the form of beta-carotene). The antioxidant mineral manganese is also provided by Brussels sprouts. Flavonoid antioxidants like isorhamnetin, quercitin, and kaempferol are also found in Brussels sprouts, as are the antioxidants caffeic acid and ferulic acid. In fact, one study examining total intake of antioxidant polyphenols in France found Brussels sprouts to be a more important dietary contributor to these antioxidants than any other cruciferous vegetable, including broccoli. Some of the antioxidant compounds found in Brussels sprouts may be somewhat rare in foods overall. One such compound is a sulfur-containing compound called D3T. (D3T is the abbreviated name for 3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione.) Researchers continue to investigate ways in which D3T is able to optimize responses by our body's antioxidant system.

Treated as a group, the antioxidant nutrients described above provide support not only for Phase 1 of the body's detoxification process but also for all of the body's cells that are at risk of oxidative damage from overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules. Chronic oxidative stress—meaning chronic presence of overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and cumulative damage to tissue by these molecules — is a risk factor for the development of most cancer types.

Brussels Sprouts and Inflammatory/Anti-inflammatory Support

Like chronic oxidative stress, chronic unwanted inflammation is also a risk factor for many types of cancer. Exposure to environmental toxins, chronic overuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications, chronic excessive stress, chronic lack of exercise, chronic lack of sleep, and a low quality diet can all contribute to our risk of unwanted inflammation.

Brussels sprouts can help us avoid chronic, excessive inflammation through a variety of nutrient benefits. First is their rich glucosinolate content. In addition to the detox-supportive properties mentioned earlier, glucosinolates found in Brussels sprouts help to regulate the body's inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system and prevent unwanted inflammation. Particularly well-studied in this context is the glucosinolate called glucobrassicin. The glucobrassicin found in Brussels sprouts can get converted into an isothiocyanate molecule called ITC, or indole-3-carbinol. I3C is an anti-inflammatory compound that can actually operate at the genetic level, and by doing so, prevent the initiation of inflammatory responses at a very early stage.

A second important anti-inflammatory nutrient found in Brussels sprouts is vitamin K. Vitamin K is a direct regulator of inflammatory responses, and we need optimal intake of this vitamin in order to avoid chronic, excessive inflammation.

A third important anti-inflammatory component in Brussels sprouts is not one that you might expect. It's their omega-3 fatty acids. We don't tend to think about vegetables in general as important sources of omega-3s, and certainly no vegetables that are as low in total fat as Brussels sprouts. But 100 calories' worth of Brussels sprouts (about 1.5 cups) provide about 480 milligrams of the most basic omega-3 fatty acid (called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA). That amount is more than one-third of the daily ALA amount recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in the Dietary Reference Intake recommendations, and it's about half of the ALA contained in one teaspoon of whole flaxseeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks for the one of the body's most effective families of anti-inflammatory messaging molecules.

Brussels Sprouts and Cardiovascular Support

Researchers have looked at a variety of cardiovascular problems — including heart attack, ischemic heart disease, and atherosclerosis — and found preliminary evidence of an ability on the part of cruciferous vegetables to lower our risk of these health problems. Yet regardless of the specific cardiovascular problem, it is one particular type of cardiovascular benefit that has most interested researchers, and that benefit is the anti-inflammatory nature of Brussels sprouts and their fellow cruciferous vegetables. Scientists have not always viewed cardiovascular problems as having a central inflammatory component, but the role of unwanted inflammation in creating problems for our blood vessels and circulation has become increasingly fundamental to an understanding of cardiovascular diseases. Of particular interest here has been the isothiocyanate (ITC) sulforaphane, which is made from glucoraphanin (a glucosinolate) found in Brussels sprouts. Not only does this ITC trigger anti-inflammatory activity in our cardiovascular system — it may also be able to help prevent and even possibly help reverse blood vessel damage.

A second area you can count on Brussels sprouts for cardiovascular support involves their cholesterol-lowering ability. Our liver uses cholesterol as a basic building block to product bile acids. Bile acids are specialized molecules that aid in the digestion and absorption of fat through a process called emulsification. These molecules are typically stored in fluid form in our gall bladder, and when we eat a fat-containing meal, they get released into the intestine where they help ready the fat for interaction with enzymes and eventual absorption up into the body. When we eat Brussels sprouts, fiber-related nutrients in this cruciferous vegetable bind together with some of the bile acids in the intestine in such a way that they simply stay inside the intestine and pass out of our body in a bowel movement rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, our liver needs to replace the lost bile acids by drawing upon our existing supply of cholesterol, and, as a result, our cholesterol level drops down. Brussels sprouts provide us with this cholesterol-lowering benefit whether they are raw or cooked. However, a recent study has shown that the cholesterol-lowering ability of raw Brussels sprouts improves significantly when they are steamed. In fact, when the cholesterol-lowering ability of steamed Brussels sprouts was compared with the cholesterol-lowering ability of the prescription drug cholestyramine (a medication that is taken for the purpose of lowering cholesterol), Brussels sprouts bound 27% as many bile acids (on a total dietary fiber basis).

Brussels Sprouts and Digestive Support

The fiber content of Brussels sprouts — 4 grams in every cup — makes this cruciferous vegetable a natural choice for digestive system support. You're going to get half of your Daily Value for fiber from only 200 calories' worth of Brussels sprouts. Yet the fiber content of Brussels sprouts is only one of their digestive support mechanisms. Researchers have determined that the sulforaphane made from Brussels sprouts' glucoraphanin helps protect the health of our stomach lining by preventing bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in our stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to our stomach wall.

Other Health Benefits from Brussels Sprouts

The anti-inflammatory nature of glucosinolates/isothiocyanates and other nutrients found in Brussels sprouts has been the basis for new research on inflammation-related health problems and the potential role of Brussels sprouts in their prevention. Current and potentially promising research is underway to examine the benefits of Brussels sprouts in relationship to our risk of the following inflammation-related conditions: Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.

Description

All cruciferous vegetables provide integrated nourishment across a wide variety of nutritional categories and provide broad support across a wide variety of body systems as well. For more on cruciferous vegetables see:

Brussels sprouts are members of the Brassica family and therefore kin to broccoli and cabbage. They resemble miniature cabbages, with diameters of about 1 inch. They grow in bunches of 20 to 40 on the stem of a plant that grows as high as three feet tall. Brussels sprouts are typically sage green in color, although some varieties feature a red hue. They are oftentimes sold separately but can sometimes be found in stores still attached to the stem. Perfectly cooked Brussels sprouts have a crisp, dense texture and a slightly sweet, bright, and "green" taste.

It's no surprise that Brussels sprouts look like perfect miniature versions of cabbage since they are closely related, both belong to the Brassica family of vegetables. Brussels sprouts are available year round; however, they are at their best from autumn through early spring when they are at the peak of their growing season.

History

While the origins of Brussels sprouts are unknown, the first mention of them can be traced to the late 16th century. They are thought to be native to Belgium, specifically to a region near its capital, Brussels, after which they are named. They remained a local crop in this area until their use spread across Europe during World War I. Brussels sprouts are now cultivated throughout Europe and the United States. In the U.S., almost all Brussels sprouts are grown in California.

How to Select and Store

Good quality Brussels sprouts are firm, compact, and vivid green. They should be free of yellowed or wilted leaves and should not be puffy or soft in texture. Avoid those that have perforations in their leaves as this may indicate that they have aphids residing within. If Brussels sprouts are sold individually, choose those of equal size to ensure that they will cook evenly. Brussels sprouts are available year round, but their peak growing period is from autumn until early spring.

At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and Brussels sprouts are no exception. Repeated research studies show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchase of certified organic Brussels sprouts. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells Brussels sprouts but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, and Vermont and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown Brussels sprouts is very likely to be Brussels sprouts that display the USDA organic logo.

Keep unwashed and untrimmed Brussels sprouts in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. Stored in a plastic bag, they can be kept for 10 days.

Here is the reason why we recommend refrigerating broccoli. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.

If you want to freeze Brussels sprouts, steam them first for between three to five minutes. They will keep in the freezer for up to one year.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Brussels Sprouts

If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare beet greens the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Safety

Brussels Sprouts and Goitrogens

You may sometimes hear Brussels sprouts being described as a food that contains "goitrogens," or as a food that is "goitrogenic." For helpful information in this area—including our WHFoods Recommendations—please see our article What is meant by the term "goitrogen" and what is the connection between goitrogens, food, and health?.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Brussels Sprouts, cooked
1.00 cup
156.00 grams
Calories: 56
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K218.87 mcg24377.9excellent
vitamin C96.72 mg12941.3excellent
folate93.60 mcg237.5very good
manganese0.35 mg185.6very good
vitamin B60.28 mg165.3very good
fiber4.06 g165.2very good
choline63.34 mg154.8very good
copper0.13 mg144.6very good
vitamin B10.17 mg144.5very good
potassium494.52 mg144.5very good
phosphorus87.36 mg124.0very good
omega-3 fats0.27 g113.6very good
iron1.87 mg103.3good
vitamin B20.12 mg93.0good
protein3.98 g82.6good
pantothenic acid0.39 mg82.5good
magnesium31.20 mg82.5good
vitamin A60.45 mcg RAE72.2good
vitamin B30.95 mg61.9good
calcium56.16 mg61.8good
zinc0.51 mg51.5good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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