There’s power in the little brussel sprout. I like them steamed. Here’s a lot of info you didn’t know.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.