What are the benefits of Brussels Sprouts?

brussels-sprouts

What’s New and Beneficial About Brussels Sprouts

 

  • Brussels sprouts can provide you with some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you will use a steaming method when cooking them. The fiber-related components in Brussels sprouts do a better job of binding together with bile acids in your digestive tract when they’ve been steamed. When this binding process takes place, it’s easier for bile acids to be excreted, and the result is a lowering of your cholesterol levels. Raw Brussels sprouts still have cholesterol-lowering ability — just not as much as steamed Brussels sprouts.
  • Brussels sprouts may have unique health benefits in the area of DNA protection. A recent study has shown improved stability of DNA inside of our white blood cells after daily consumption of Brussels sprouts in the amount of 1.25 cups. Interestingly, it’s the ability of certain compounds in Brussels sprouts to block the activity of sulphotransferase enzymes that researchers believe to be responsible for these DNA-protective benefits.
  • For total glucosinolate content, Brussels sprouts are now known to top the list of commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables. Their total glucosinolate content has been shown to be greater than the amount found in mustard greens, turnip greens, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, or broccoli. In Germany, Brussels sprouts account for more glucosinolate intake than any other food except broccoli. Glucosinolates are important phytonutrients for our health because they are the chemical starting points for a variety of cancer-protective substances. All cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates and have great health benefits for this reason. But it’s recent research that’s made us realize how especially valuable Brussels sprouts are in this regard.
  • The cancer protection we get from Brussels sprouts is largely related to four specific glucosinolates found in this cruciferous vegetable: glucoraphanin, glucobrassicin, sinigrin, and gluconasturtiian. Research has shown that Brussels sprouts offer these cancer-preventive components in special combination.
  • Brussels sprouts have been used to determine the potential impact of cruciferous vegetables on thyroid function. In a recent study, 5 ounces of Brussels sprouts were consumed on a daily basis for 4 consecutive weeks by a small group of healthy adults and not found to have an unwanted impact on their thyroid function. Although follow-up studies are needed, this study puts at least one large stamp of approval on Brussels sprouts as a food that can provide fantastic health benefits without putting the thyroid gland at risk.

 

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, include cruciferous vegetables as part of your diet 2-3 times per week, and make the serving size at least 1-1/2 cups. Even better from a health standpoint, enjoy Brussels sprouts and other vegetables from the cruciferous vegetable group 4-5 times per week and increase your serving size to 2 cups.

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.

Nutrients in
Brussels Sprouts
1.00 cup raw (88.00 grams)
Nutrient%Daily Value


 vitamin K194.7%


 vitamin C124.6%


 manganese15%


 folate13.4%


 fiber13.3%


 vitamin A13.2%


 potassium9.7%


 vitamin B69.5%


 tryptophan9.3%


 vitamin B18%


 iron6.8%


 phosphorus6%


 protein5.9%


 molybdenum5.8%


 magnesium5%


 vitamin B24.7%


 choline3.9%


 vitamin E3.8%


 omega-3 fats3.7%


 calcium3.6%


 vitamin B33.3%


Calories (37)2%

This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Brussels sprouts provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Brussels sprouts can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Brussels sprouts, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

  • Health Benefits
  • Description
  • History
  • How to Select and Store
  • Tips for Preparing and Cooking
  • How to Enjoy
  • Individual Concerns
  • Nutritional Profile
  • References

 

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

 

Glucosinolate Derived Isothiocyanate Isothiocyanate Abbreviation
glucoraphanin sulforaphane SFN
glucobrassicin indole-3-carbinol* I3C
sinigrin allyl-isothiocyanate AITC
gluconasturtiian phenethyl-isothiocyanate PEITC

 

* 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, a very good source of beta-carotene and manganese, and a good source of vitamin E. 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, E, 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 430 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:

  • Eating Healthy with Cruciferous Vegetables
  • Feeling Great with Cruciferous Vegetables

 

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.

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

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

 

Tips for Preparing Brussels Sprouts

 

Before washing Brussels sprouts, remove stems and any yellow or discolored leaves. Wash them well under running water to remove any insects that may reside in the inner leaves.

Brussles sprouts cook quickly and taste the best when they are cut into small pieces. We recommend either cutting them into quarters or chopping them into smaller pieces and then letting them sit for 5 minutes before cooking to enhance their nutritional benefits.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Brussels Sprouts

 

We recommend Healthy Steaming Brussels sprouts for maximum nutrition and flavor. Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. While waiting for the water to come to a rapid boil. If Brussels Sprouts are cut into quarters, steam for 6 minutes. If you have chopped them into smaller pieces, steam for 5 minutes. Toss with our Honey Mustard sauce to add extra flavor and nutrition. For details see 5-Minute Brussels Sprouts.

While Brussels sprouts are usually served as a side dish, they also make a nice addition to cold salads.

How to Enjoy

 

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

 

  • Since cooked Brussels sprouts are small and compact, they make a great snack food that can be simply eaten as is or seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Combine quartered cooked Brussels sprouts with sliced red onions, walnuts, and your favorite mild tasting cheese such as a goat cheese or feta. Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for an exceptionally healthy, delicious side dish or salad.

 

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Brussels Sprouts

 

  • 5-Minute Brussels Sprouts

 

Individual Concerns

 

Brussels Sprouts as a “Goitrogenic” Food

 

Brussels sprouts are sometimes referred to as a “goitrogenic” food. Yet, contrary to popular belief, according to the latest studies, foods themselves—Brussel sprouts included — are not “goitrogenic” in the sense of causing goiter whenever they are consumed, or even when they are consumed in excess. In fact, most foods that are commonly called “goitrogenic”—such as the cruciferous vegetables (including Brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower) and soyfoods—do not interfere with thyroid function in healthy persons even when they are consumed on a daily basis. Nor is it scientifically correct to say that foods “contain goitrogens,” at least not if you are thinking about goitrogens as a category of substances like proteins, carbohydrates, or vitamins. With respect to the health of our thyroid gland, all that can be contained in a food are nutrients that provide us with a variety of health benefits but which, under certain circumstances, can also interfere with thyroid function. The term “goitrogenic food” makes it sound as if something is wrong with the food, but that is simply not the case. What causes problems for certain individuals is not the food itself but the mismatched nature of certain substances within the food to their unique health circumstances. For more, see An Up-to-Date Look at Goitrogenic Substances in Food.

Nutritional Profile

 

Brussels sprouts are rich in many valuable nutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K. They are a very good source of numerous nutrients including folate, vitamin A, manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B6 and thiamin (vitamin B1) and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, phosphorus, protein, molybdenum, magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin E, calcium, and niacin. In addition to these nutrients, Brussels sprouts contain numerous disease-fighting phytochemicals including sulforaphane, indoles, glucosinolates, isothiocynates, coumarins, dithiolthiones, and phenols.

For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Brussels sprouts.

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Brussels sprouts is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.

Brussels Sprouts
1.00 cup raw
88.00 grams
37.84 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K 155.76 mcg 194.7 92.6 excellent
vitamin C 74.80 mg 124.7 59.3 excellent
manganese 0.30 mg 15.0 7.1 very good
folate 53.68 mcg 13.4 6.4 very good
fiber 3.34 g 13.4 6.4 very good
vitamin A 663.52 IU 13.3 6.3 very good
potassium 342.32 mg 9.8 4.7 very good
vitamin B6 0.19 mg 9.5 4.5 very good
tryptophan 0.03 g 9.4 4.5 very good
vitamin B1 0.12 mg 8.0 3.8 very good
iron 1.23 mg 6.8 3.3 good
phosphorus 60.72 mg 6.1 2.9 good
protein 2.97 g 5.9 2.8 good
molybdenum 4.40 mcg 5.9 2.8 good
magnesium 20.24 mg 5.1 2.4 good
vitamin B2 0.08 mg 4.7 2.2 good
choline 16.81 mg 4.0 1.9 good
vitamin E 0.77 mg 3.9 1.8 good
omega-3 fats 0.09 g 3.8 1.8 good
calcium 36.96 mg 3.7 1.8 good
vitamin B3 0.66 mg 3.3 1.6 good

 

World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%
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