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Brussels Sprouts Nutrition: Disease-Fighter or Thyroid Disruptor?
January 24, 2019
Small, cabbage-like and often ignored on plates across America, Brussels sprouts deserve a second (and third) look because they’re surprisingly packed with vital nutrition. While many of us may remember them only as a squishy vegetable we were made to eat as children or at holiday time, Brussels sprouts are making a comeback as a crunchy, versatile vegetable.
How good are Brussels sprouts for you? Brussels sprouts nutrition is real because these veggies provide many important health benefits: plenty of antioxidants, help fighting cancer and heart disease, support for digestive health, and much more.
Brussels sprouts also have a surprisingly high amount of protein for a vegetable, similar to their other leafy greens and cruciferous vegetable family members. On top of this, Brussels sprouts can help you to reach a healthy weight, give you more energy, aid in muscle growth, and improve your eyesight and complexion.
What Are Brussels Sprouts?
Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea) are vegetables in the cruciferous family, a group of nutritional powerhouse plants that studies show have chemoprotective properties and are especially important for helping fight cancer. Cruciferous vegetables, sometimes also called Brassica vegetables, includes such foods as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy and collard greens. All of these supply a high level of disease-fighting antioxidants and other nutrients.
Cruciferous vegetables are cool-weather vegetables. This means they’re usually in season late fall through early spring. They have flowers, leaves, buds and sometimes seeds that are eaten for their high nutrient content. Additionally, these types of vegetables don’t burden you with excess calories but are high in fiber and even contain some protein.
Brussels Sprouts Nutrition Facts
A half cup of boiled Brussels sprouts (about 78 grams) provides approximately:
- 28.1 calories
- 5.5 grams carbohydrates
- 2 grams protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 2 grams fiber
- 109 microgram vitamin K (137 percent DV)
- 48.4 milligrams vitamin C (81 percent DV)
- 604 international units vitamin A (12 percent DV)
- 46.8 micrograms folate (12 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram manganese (9 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (7 percent DV)
- 247 milligrams potassium (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (6 percent DV)
- 0.9 milligram iron (5 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (4 percent DV)
- 15.6 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
- 43.7 milligrams phosphorus (4 percent DV)
Brussels sprouts nutrition also contains some vitamin E, niacin, pantothenic acid, choline, betaine, calcium, zinc, copper and selenium.
Related: Mustard Greens Nutrition, Health Benefits & Recipes
1. Help Protect Against Cancer with Antioxidants and Phytochemicals
Researchers report that the sulfur-containing compounds called sulforaphane are what give cruciferous veggies their cancer-fighting abilities, in addition to their distinct smell and sometimes bitter taste. Sulforphanes inhibit the harmful enzyme histone deacetylase, known to be involved in the progression of certain cancer cells, including breast cancer cells. Brussels sprouts nutrition is also protective because it contains compounds called glucosinolates and isothiocyanates that can reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. Studies show that consuming Brussels sprouts specifically can reduce the risk for colon cancer.
One study found that Brussels sprouts’ high levels of glucosinolates, a special kind of compound that fights oxidative stress and helps the body detoxify itself, significantly increases the body’s defense against cancer progression. Researchers have concluded that eating high-antioxidant foods like Brussels sprouts can enhance detoxification due to consuming high amounts of enzymes, which are partly responsible for stopping DNA damage in which cancerous cells mutate and form tumors. This decreases the risk for such cancers as skin cancer (melanoma), esophageal, breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic. Additionally, Brussels sprouts also contain a high amount of chlorophyll, which has been shown to have anti-aging and antioxidant properties and may help block carcinogenic effects of cells.
2. Provide Bone-Building Vitamin K
Brussels sprouts are one of the top vitamin K foods around. Vitamin K is responsible for keeping the skeletal structure healthy and helps prevent conditions related to loss in bone mineral density, like osteoporosis or bone fractures. Vitamin K also helps with blood clotting, bone calcification and turning off inflammation in the body.
3. Boost the Immune System with Vitamin C
Brussels sprouts nutrition supplies a large amount of immune-boosting vitamin C. Vitamin C acts as a protective antioxidant in the body, reducing inflammation and cell damage. Essential for a strong immune system, vitamin C’s antioxidants keep your immunity strong against bacteria, viruses, toxins and other harmful invaders that can cause disease and illness.
Because of the protective effects of vitamin C, Brussels sprouts help maintain the health of your digestive tract, skin, eyes, teeth and gums. Vitamin C foods also protect your cells from free radical damage — and thereby reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, autoimmune responses and more. The protective properties of Brussels sprouts may help stop the immune system from operating on overdrive in which autoimmune reactions lead to further damage.
4. Fight Inflammation and Heart Disease
According to research, cruciferous vegetables can significantly reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease-related mortality. The studies show high levels of inflammation are directly correlated with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders. Brussels sprouts’ anti-inflammatory abilities are found in its supply of vitamin K, vitamin C, various antioxidants and even small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These vitamins, antioxidants and omega-3s work together to keep arteries clear of dangerous plaque buildup, lower cholesterol levels, fight high blood pressure, increase blood flow and maintain healthy, strong blood vessels. Such significant benefits reduce the chance of heart attack and other cardiovascular complications that affect millions of people every year.
Brussels sprouts nutrition is also powerful because they contain many special phytonutrients, antioxidants and compounds — including sulforaphane, glucobrassicin, glucoraphanin and gluconasturtiian — that are all effective at reducing oxidative stress, dangerous inflammation and heart disease. These phytonutrients, antioxidants and compounds help detoxify the body, support liver function, slow down free radical damage and prevent the formation of many common diseases, including heart disease.
5. Restore Digestive Health
Glucosinolates found in Brussels sprouts can help protect the vulnerable lining of the digestive tract and stomach. This helps reduce the chances of developing leaky gut syndrome or other digestive disorders. At the same time, sulforaphane found in Brussels sprouts facilitates in the body’s important detoxification process. These veggies can help with digestion by preventing bacterial overgrowth from occurring in the gut microflora.
Just one cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides four grams of dietary fiber, which numerous studies show is important for maintaining digestive health. Unfortunately, today the person’s average diet contains far less than the recommended 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber needed from whole foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds. Fiber keeps your digestive system running smoothly, encourages regular bowel movements, prevents constipation or diarrhea, and detoxifies the body by pulling toxins and waste out of the digestive tract.
6. Protect Eye and Skin Health
Brussels sprouts nutrition contains the important antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin A. Vitamin C helps fight UV light damage that can lead to skin cancer or aged skin, while vitamin A offers protection against damage to the skin as well as the eyes. Consuming both vitamins serves to naturally slow aging, increase eye health, boost skin’s immunity and foster new cell growth.
Studies indicate that those who eat high amounts of antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables lower their risk for age-related macular degeneration. Brussels sprouts nutrition includes the antioxidant zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin works to filter out harmful light rays from entering the cornea. This helps protect the eyes from damage and disorders like macular degeneration. Meanwhile, Brussels sprouts’ sulforophane compounds also help to reduce oxidative stress damage to the eyes — protecting against blindness, cataracts and other complications — and skin, warding off cancer and inflammation.
7. Provide a Source of Potassium for Proper Nerve Function
One cup of Brussels sprouts provides approximately 14 percent of your daily potassium needs. Potassium is an electrolyte that’s needed to maintain nerve function, muscle contraction, bone density, and all our nerve and muscle-related systems.
Involved in proper cell function, potassium is crucial for almost every part of the body. It helps maintain the membrane structure of cells and the transmission of nerve impulses, which making it vital for healthy heartbeat rhythms. It also plays a role in enzyme functions that are involved in carbohydrate metabolism.
8. Improve Brain Health
More and more studies show that dietary factors play a big part in neuronal function and synaptic plasticity of the brain because the gut and the brain have the ability to directly communicate with each other. Translation: Consuming high amounts of nutrients can protect brain health and improve mental function.
What kinds of nutrients? Recent studies show that vegetables with sulforaphane offer protection against acute brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases. Brussels sprout’s powerful antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin A, in addition to other nutrients shown above, help stop oxidative stress and inflammation that are capable of damaging brain cells.
9. Help Maintain a Healthy Pregnancy with Folate
Brussels sprouts nutrition contains a high supply of folate, which is often called folic acid. Folate is a naturally occurring B vitamin that’s critical for a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Helping the body to effectively produce new cells, folate plays a role in copying and synthesizing DNA and helps protect against birth defects.
Folate also helps the body utilize other B vitamins in addition to protein, protects against anemia, boosts immune function and can assist poor digestion. Present in large doses in many leafy green vegetables, folate is important for the healthy formation of the fetus’s neural tube. Acquiring enough folate can help prevent such birth defects as spina bifida.
10. Balance Blood Sugar and Fight Diabetes
Certain green vegetables like Brussels sprouts contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels. These compounds can increase insulin sensitivity and prevent prediabetes from turning into diabetes. They can also help reduce complications for those with existing diabetes by managing blood glucose and preventing further oxidative stress or inflammation.
Uses in Traditional Medicine
Long popular in Brussels, Belgium — which is where this veggie gets its name from — it’s believed that Brussels sprouts have been eaten regularly in Belgium since the 13th century, although it’s likely they go all the way back to Ancient Rome.
It’s believed that Brussels sprouts first originated from cabbage species that were found in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. First written about in 1587 in texts originating in the Netherlands, Brussels sprouts were found to grow well in cool climates and became popular across the Netherlands, eventually spreading throughout the cooler parts of Northern Europe. Commercial production of Brussels sprouts began in the U.S. during the 18th century, when French explorers and settlers brought them to the Southern states, especially to Louisiana.
During the 1940s, with many more thousands of acres of land becoming dedicated to growing Brussels sprouts, they especially grew in terms of popularity and availability. Today, Brussels sprouts are enjoyed across Europe and North America, where they are harvested almost year-round. Several thousands of acres are planted in coastal areas of California, the U.S. state that produces the highest yield of Brussels sprouts due to its coastal fog and cool temperatures year-round. They can usually be found for sale at most farmers markets in the fall and early winter months, when they’re at their best.
How were Brussels sprouts used in traditional systems of medicine? In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Brussels sprouts are used to improve digestive health. Due to their high fiber content, they can ease issues like constipation and also help control hunger. According to TCM, Brussels sprouts have a warm temperature, sweet and pungent flavor, and ability to balance coolness in the body. It’s recommended that cruciferous veggies be cooked to enhance digestion and to nourish the spleen, which can become taxed if bombarded with too many raw or cooling foods. In TCM, it’s said that the spleen is weakened by cold and damp foods. Therefore the best choices for someone with a spleen qi deficiency are warming and drying foods that are cooked with mild seasonings and spices.
Brussels Sprouts vs. Cabbage vs. Broccoli
Are Brussels sprouts just small cabbages? They look just like miniature cabbages, and that’s because Brussels sprouts are closely related to large types of cabbages and technically considered a form of cabbage themselves. Both are in the same plant family, however they differ because we eat the heads of cabbages that grow out of the ground, while we eat the smaller buds of Brussels sprouts that grow along the plant’s thick stalk.
Did you know there are over 100 different types of cabbages grown around the world? In terms of nutrition, Brussels sprouts are packed with fiber, protein, potassium, and vitamins A, C and K. Cabbage contains similar nutrients but has more calcium and less potassium and vitamin C. Both have a similar smell and taste when cooked. Red cabbage in particular has high antioxidant potential due to its supply of anthocyanins, flavonoid pigments that give plants a blue, red or violet hue and help protect against DNA damage.
When we compare broccoli vs. Brussels sprouts, we find that Brussels have a bit more calories, carbs, fiber, calcium, iron and potassium. Broccoli is higher in folate, vitamin C and vitamin A, although the two veggies are related and provide similar nutrients.
How to Store and Purchase
Purchasing Brussel Sprouts
When purchasing Brussels sprouts, look for those that are tightly packed with the pieces pressed firmly together and not splayed open. You want to look for a uniform texture and color across the sprouts, with no noticeable dark patches or wilting.
Storing Brussel Sprouts
In order to ensure the nutrients are all still intact, it’s best to use Brussels sprouts within three to seven days after purchasing them if possible. Uncooked sprouts will remain fresh in your refrigerator longer than when they are cooked. Either way, you can extend their shelf life by storing them in a sealed dry container or plastic bag if possible, along with a paper towel to absorb moisture.
How to Cook
What is the best way to cook Brussel sprouts? For example, if you’re normally not a big fan of green veggies, how do you make Brussel sprouts taste good?
Sprouts can be sautéed, steamed, roasted, boiled and braised, but Brussels sprouts are usually most loved when roasted or sautéed, which highlights their flavor. Oven-roasting Brussels sprouts helps bring out their sweet, almost nutty taste and disguises some of their bitterness. This method also keeps them crispy and reduces the unpleasant, sulfurous odor that cruciferous vegetables can have.
Brussels sprouts tend to become stinky when overcooked or boiled, due to compounds called glucosinolate sinigrin that contain sulfur and give off an unpleasant odor. They may not always smell great, but these same compounds give cruciferous veggies their cancer-fighting properties.
How do you caramelize Brussels sprouts? How do you get the bitterness out of Brussels sprouts?
Cook Brussels sprouts with oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil, and other flavor-enhancing ingredients — just be sure not to overdo the cooking. They only need to be baked in the oven for 15–20 minutes or until they are slightly brown. Brussels sprouts have a distinct flavor that goes well with garlic, sea salt, mustards, spices, orange, lemon, vinegars, nuts, dried fruit and maple syrup. Simply serving sautéed Brussels sprouts with some cooked onions and garlic makes a nutritious side dish — one that pairs well with a grass-fed steak, wild-caught salmon or many other types of meals.
Brussel sprouts can also be enhanced when cooked with aromatics and cheese, so experiment with combinations like Brussels sprouts and balsamic, roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic, and roasted Brussels sprouts with parmesan. Don’t forget that sprouts themselves contain a decent amount of protein, with four grams per cup of cooked Brussels sprouts. This means that when combined with whole grains or beans, Brussels sprouts can make a complete protein.
Although they may taste best when cooked thoroughly, lightly cooking cruciferous veggies is the best way to keep their nutrients intact since their special compounds are often delicate and cannot withstand high heats. Steaming Brussels sprouts just until they are tender is a good way to make them taste good without killing their beneficial nutrients. The same can be done by lightly cooking them on the stovetop with a drizzle of olive oil or coconut oil.
Although roasting them is the most popular cooking method, you can also chop raw or cooked Brussels sprouts to add to a salad, pasta sauces, soups and so much more.
Try adding these nutritional gems to your diet using one of these healthy Brussels sprout recipes:
- Turkey Bacon Brussels Sprouts Recipe
- Roasted Brussel Sprouts Recipe with apples and pecans
- Baked Brussels Sprouts Recipe walnuts and red onion
- Warm Autumn Salad Recipe with roasted Brussels sprouts
- Sautéed Brussel Sprout Recipe with “aromatics” like garlic, sliced onion, thyme sprigs, dried chiles and lemon juice
Risks and Side Effects
There is some concern over preliminary observations that cruciferous vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, can have a negative effect on thyroid function.
Cruciferous vegetables are the major source of glucosinolates in the human diet, and certain glucosinolates are converted into goitrogenic species, which may have an impact on thyroid function. However, studies now show that the benefits of cruciferous veggies outweigh the bad.
According to one study, when 10 volunteer subjects included Brussels sprouts in their normal diet every day for a period of time, the sprouts had no effect on thyroid function. Researchers believe that even though the sprouts contain high concentrations of glucosinolates, these molecules become inactive when cooked and don’t affect the thyroid negatively.
For this reason, experts still strongly recommend consuming cruciferous veggies and Brussel sprouts to the general public for their many proven health benefits.
- Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea) are vegetables in the cruciferous family, which also includes broccoli, cabbage, kale and other high-nutrient veggies.
- Cruciferous veggies are valued for their antioxidants that help fight cancer, fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, vitamin C and vitamin K.
- Benefits of Brussels sprouts include helping build bones, supporting the immune system, improving digestion, improving brain and metabolic health, fighting diabetes, and providing folate for a healthy pregnancy.
- Brussels sprouts can be cooked in many ways, or even eaten raw, but most people appreciate their taste most when they roasted, which highlights their flavor and reduces their stinky sulfur odor.