What are Brussels sprouts?
Brussels sprouts are small, green edible buds which look like mini cabbages, measuring around 2.5cm-4cm in diameter. They’re native to Belgium, around the city of Brussels, hence the name. They belong to the brassica family, along with broccoli, kale and cabbage, and are typically in season during the winter, although you may start to see them as early as October. Brussels sprouts enjoy a long season, being available in the UK until March.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides and find out more about the health credentials of other green vegetables. Or, check out some of our best brussels sprout recipes, from sensational sizzled sprouts, pistachio and pomegranate to our chicken tagine, spiced brussels and feta.
Nutritional benefits of Brussels sprouts
An 80g portion (boiled) provides:
- 28 kcals/122KJ
- 2.3g protein
- 1.0g fat
- 2.8g carbohydrates
- 3.3g fibre
- 256mcg carotene
- 88mcg folate
- 48mg vitamin C
An 80g portion (about eight Brussels sprouts) counts as one of your five-a-day. Check our printable infographic to find out what portions of fruit and veg count towards your five-a-day.
Top 5 health benefits of Brussels sprouts
1. Rich in protective antioxidants
Antioxidants are protective compounds that reduce oxidative stress in your cells, and as a result may help lower your risk of chronic disease. A study looking at the effect of eating 300 grams of cooked Brussels sprouts each day showed as much as a 28 per cent reduction in oxidative damage. A study examining the effects of inflammatory processes suggests brassica vegetables are especially helpful and appear to reduce inflammatory markers in the blood.
2. Contains cancer protective compounds
While there are no single ‘superfoods’ that can prevent cancer, there is evidence that eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk. Antioxidant-rich Brussels sprouts contain beneficial anti-cancer compounds, which appear to prevent oxidative damage and protect against cancer-causing agents.
3. May support heart health
Brussels sprouts are especially rich in a plant compound, called kaempferol. This antioxidant has been studied for its many health-promoting properties, including the benefits it has for heart health. Another study in the US found increasing vegetables in the diet, especially those of the brassica family, like Brussels sprouts, may reduce the risk of heart disease.
4. May support gut health
Being rich in sulphur, brassica vegetables like Brussels sprouts may support gut health, and as a result improve your defence against infection, as well as conditions like colorectal cancer. This is because sulphur supports the production of glutathione, which is important for maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, as well as supporting its repair. As a powerful antioxidant, glutathione works throughout the body, protecting cells from inflammatory damage and improving the body’s detoxification processes.
5. May reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
A number of studies have linked the consumption of brassica vegetables with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. This may be because brassicas, like Brussels sprouts, are rich in fibre, which helps stabilise blood sugar levels. In addition, Brussels sprouts also provide an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid which has been linked with improvements in insulin sensitivity.
Are Brussels sprouts safe for everyone?
For most of us, Brussels sprouts are a healthy option. However, if you have a thyroid issue you may be advised to minimise the amount of brassica vegetables you eat. This is because these vegetables may interfere with the absorption of iodine which is needed for the production of thyroid hormones. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you would need to eat a reasonable amount and on a consistent basis for this to be an issue.
Brussels sprouts are a high-fibre food, which for most of us is highly beneficial – it supports the digestive process and provides a fuel source for the healthy bacteria which reside in our gut. However, for some people, high-fibre foods may cause bloating and gas, this is especially relevant for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
If you are on blood thinning medication such as warfarin, your GP or registered dietitian may suggest you monitor the vitamin K foods, like Brussels sprouts, in your diet to ensure you eat similar amounts consistently. If in doubt, consult your GP before making any significant changes to what and how much you eat.
Healthy Brussels sprouts recipes
Chilli-charred Brussels sprouts
Sprouts with sesame & spring onions
Mashed parsnip & sprout colcannon
Sprouts with sticky shallots
Chicken, kale & sprout stir-fry
Toasted sesame sprouts
Roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon & chestnuts
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This article was reviewed on 13 September by Kerry Torrens.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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