Brussels sprouts have a bad reputation, but even if you've had a bad experience with them in the past, they're worth giving another shot. They are low in calories and high in nutrients.
Oven-roasting Brussels sprouts brings out their sweet, almost nutty flavor and keeps them crisp while diminishing the harsh, sulfurous odor and taste that many find offensive.
Brussels sprouts are surprisingly high in protein for a green vegetable, and just one serving would meet your vitamin C and vitamin K needs for the day.
Brussels sprouts are a part of the cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes the nutritional powerhouses kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and collard greens, all of which supply loads of nutrients for a small amount calories. If you are trying to improve your diet, cruciferous vegetables should be at the very top of your grocery list.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of Brussels sprouts, an in-depth look at their possible health benefits, how to incorporate more Brussels sprouts into your diet, and any potential health risks of consuming Brussels sprouts.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on Brussels sprouts
Here are some key points about Brussels sprouts. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Brussels sprouts are particularly high in protein compared with other green vegetables
- There is a range of potential health benefits associated with Brussels sprouts
- These benefits may include protecting eye and bone health
- Brussels sprouts should not be overcooked as this reduces levels of nutrients
Nutritional breakdown of Brussels sprouts
Just one serving of Brussels sprouts would meet your needs for vitamin C and vitamin K for the day.
Brussels sprouts are among the top 20 most nutritious foods in regards to ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which measures vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content.
To earn a high rank, a food must provide a high amount of nutrients for few calories.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of raw Brussels sprouts (about 88 grams) provides only 38 calories, 0 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrate (including 3 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber) and 3 grams of protein.
Consuming one cup of Brussels sprouts will provide 195 percent of vitamin K, 125 percent of vitamin C, and 10 percent or more of vitamin A, vitamin B-6, folate, potassium, and manganese needs for the day.
Possible health benefits of consuming Brussels sprouts
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like Brussels sprouts decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Since the 1980s, consuming high amounts of cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts has been associated with a lower risk of cancer. More recently, researchers have been able to pinpoint that the sulfur-containing compounds (namely sulforaphane) that give cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite are also what give them their cancer-fighting power.
Researchers have discovered that sulforaphane has the power to inhibit the harmful enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make sulforaphane-containing foods a potentially powerful part of cancer treatment in the future.
Brussels sprouts also contain a high amount of chlorophyll, which can block the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines generated when grilling meats at a high temperature. If you tend to like your grilled foods charred, make sure to pair them with green vegetables to decrease your risk.
Improving bone health
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk of bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption (which just ¾ cup of Brussels sprouts provides) improves bone health by acting as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improving calcium absorption, and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
Brussels sprouts also contribute to your daily need for calcium, providing 37 milligrams in one cup.
Many green vegetables contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid that has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.
Of note, most studies have used intravenous (injected) alpha-lipoic acid and it is unclear whether oral supplementation would give the same benefits.
Vitamin C has been shown to help keep eyes healthy by providing increased protection against UV light damage.
Eating just one serving of Brussels sprouts per day provides enough of this important nutrient. Another antioxidant in Brussels sprouts - zeaxanthin - filters out harmful blue light rays and is thought to play a protective role in eye health and possibly ward off damage from macular degeneration.
A higher intake of all fruits and vegetables (3 or more servings per day) has also been shown to decrease the risk of and progression of age-related macular degeneration.
The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form (in fresh produce as opposed to supplement form) or applied topically, can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles, and improve overall skin texture. Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the main support system of skin.
You may automatically reach for citrus fruits when you think of vitamin C, but Brussels sprouts provide a whopping 75 milligrams per cup, over 100 percent of your daily need.
Vitamin A is also crucial for healthy looking skin, which Brussels sprouts also provide.
How to incorporate more Brussels sprouts into your diet
Try to find sprouts still on the stalk for superior freshness and look for sprouts that are smaller in size, which tend to be sweeter, more tender, and have a less woody or fibrous taste than larger sprouts.
Make sure the leaves are tight and firm; loose leaves indicate older sprouts. Store the sprouts in a bag in the refrigerator. The fresher the sprouts, the better they will taste. Overcooking them tends to give them a bitter flavor and diminish their nutritional value. Roasting Brussels sprouts in the oven will help bring out their best flavor and retain their bright green color.
Roast Brussels sprouts and add grapes, nuts, and balsamic vinegar.
Quick tips to enjoy Brussels sprouts:
- Keep it simple and drizzle the roasted sprouts with olive oil, cracked black pepper, and minced garlic
- Slice them thin and mix in raw with salad greens
- Add candied walnuts and dried cranberries to roasted sprouts for a festive holiday side dish
- Pan fry sliced Brussels sprouts to get a crunchier texture
Or try these healthy and simple recipes:Roasted Brussels sprouts with toasted pecans and avocado
Maple balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts
Curried Brussels sprout salad
Roasted rainbow potatoes.
Potential health risks of consuming Brussels sprouts
Individuals taking blood-thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin), should not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K because it plays an important role in blood clotting.
Please note that it is the total diet and overall eating pattern that is most important in preventing disease and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to a healthy life.