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Brussels sprouts

The perfect miniature versions of the cabbage to which they are closely related, Brussels sprouts are available year round. They are, however, at their best from autumn through early spring when they are at the peak of their growing season.

Brussels sprouts are members of the Brassica family and therefore kin to broccoli as well as cabbage. They grow in bunches of 20 to 40 on the stem of a plant that grows from two to three feet tall.


Health Benefits

Cancer-Fighter Phytochemicals

Plant phytochemicals found in Brussels sprouts enhance the activity of the body’s natural defense systems to protect against disease, including cancer. Scientists have found that sulforaphane, a potent phytonutrient found in Brussels sprouts and other Brassica family vegetables, boosts the body's detoxification enzymes, potentially by altering gene expression, thus helping to clear potentially carcinogenic substances more quickly. Additionally, researchers in the Netherlands investigated the effect of a diet high in Brussels sprouts on DNA damage. They compared two groups of healthy male volunteers. Five men ate a diet that included 300 g (about 10 ounces) of cooked Brussels sprouts daily, while the other five men at a diet free of cruciferous vegetables. After three weeks, the group that ate Brussels sprouts had 28% decrease in measured DNA damage. Reduced DNA damage may translate to a reduced risk of cancer since mutations in DNA allow cancer cells to develop.

Sulforaphane, which is formed when cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts are chopped or chewed, is already known to trigger the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals, inhibit chemically-induced breast cancers in animal studies, and induce colon cancer cells to commit suicide. Now, a study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows sulforaphane also helps stop the proliferation of breast cancer cells, even in the later stages of their growth. (October 19, 2004)

New research has greatly advanced scientists’ understanding of just how Brassica family vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts help prevent cancer. When these vegetables are cut, chewed or digested, a sulfur-containing compound called sinigrin is brought into contact with the enzyme myrosinase, resulting in the release of glucose and breakdown products, including highly reactive compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates are not only potent inducers of the liver’s Phase II enzymes, which detoxify carcinogens, but research recently conducted at the Institute for Food Research in the U.K. shows one of these compounds, allyl isothicyanate, also inhibits mitosis (cell division) and stimulates apoptosis (programmed cell death) in human tumor cells.

Cell replication (when the parent cell divides to form two daughter cells) occurs in a four-stage process. After the cell divides (the first stage), pole structures are created called spindles (the second or metaphase). If anything interferes with the construction and deconstruction of these spindles, the cell division process stops, and the damaged cells commit suicide. The IFR team, led by Ian Johnson, has shown that isothiocyanate disrupts the metaphase, thus preventing the cell division of the colon cancer cells. Their research will be published in the July 2004 issue of Carcinogenesis. (June 3, 2004)

For Healthy Skin and Immune Function, Think Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin C, the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin C supports immune function and the manufacture of collagen, a protein that forms the ground substance of body structures including the skin, connective tissue, cartilage, and tendons. A large study conducted on nearly 20,000 men and women in England found that people with the highest vitamin C levels had half the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or cancer. Risk of dying from heart disease was reduced by 71% in men and 59% for women in the group with the highest vitamin C levels.

In addition, a cup of Brussels sprouts contains a whopping 1122 IU of vitamin A plus 669 IU of beta-carotene, both of which play important roles in defending the body against infection and promoting supple, glowing skin.

A Birth Defect Fighter

Especially if you are pregnant, consider learning to love Brussels sprouts. A cup of Brussels sprouts supplies 93.6 mg of folic acid, a B-vitamin essential for proper cellular division because it is necessary in DNA synthesis. Without folic acid, the fetus' nervous system cells do not divide properly. Deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy has been linked to several birth defects, including neural tube defects like spina bifida. Despite folic acid's wide occurence in food (it's name comes from the Latin word folium, meaning "foliage," because it's found in green leafy vegetables), folic acid deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world.

Fiber-rich Brussels Sprouts Support A Healthier Colon

Add Brussels sprouts to your diet, and you’ll increase your fiber intake. A cup of Brussels sprouts contains more than 4 grams of fiber, and both soluble and insoluble fiber are present in roughly equal amounts. Fiber not only fills you up, satisfying your hunger, but nourishes the cells lining the walls of the colon, promoting colon health and helping to prevent diseases such as diverticulosis and colon cancer. In addition, fiber aids elimination by forming a soft, bulky stool that is easily passed.

Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

While one July 2004 study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in guinea pigs, another indicates that vitamin C-rich foods, such as Brussels sprouts, provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis involving two or more joints.

The findings, presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of more than 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free when the study began, and focused on 73 subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and 146 similar subjects who remained arthritis-free during follow-up between 1993 and 2001.

Subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.

Description

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.

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. Since Brussels sprouts grow underground, 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 perforated plastic bag, they can be kept for three to four 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.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Brussels sprouts:

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

Brussels sprouts are usually cooked whole. To allow the heat to permeate throughout all of the leaves and better ensure an even texture, cut an “X” in the bottom of the stem before cooking.

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

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Braise Brussels sprouts in liquid infused with your favorite herbs and spices.

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.

Safety

Brussels Sprouts and Goitrogens

Brussels sprouts contains goitrogens, naturally-occurring substances in certain foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems may want to avoid Brussels sprouts for this reason. Cooking may help to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in food. However, it is not clear from the research exactly what percent of goitrogenic compounds get inactivated by cooking, or exactly how much risk is involved with the consumption of Brussels sprouts by individuals with pre-existing and untreated thyroid problems.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System.

Brussels Sprouts, Boiled
1.00 cup
60.84 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K 965.64 mcg 1207.0 357.1 excellent
vitamin C 96.72 mg 161.2 47.7 excellent
folate 93.60 mcg 23.4 6.9 very good
vitamin A 1121.64 IU 22.4 6.6 very good
manganese 0.35 mg 17.5 5.2 very good
dietary fiber 4.06 g 16.2 4.8 very good
potassium 494.52 mg 14.1 4.2 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.28 mg 14.0 4.1 very good
tryptophan 0.04 g 12.5 3.7 very good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.17 mg 11.3 3.4 very good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.26 g 10.4 3.1 good
iron 1.87 mg 10.4 3.1 good
phosphorus 87.36 mg 8.7 2.6 good
protein 3.98 g 8.0 2.4 good
magnesium 31.20 mg 7.8 2.3 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.12 mg 7.1 2.1 good
vitamin E 1.33 mg 6.7 2.0 good
copper 0.13 mg 6.5 1.9 good
calcium 56.16 mg 5.6 1.7 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%

In Depth Nutritional Profile for Brussels sprouts

References

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  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Jackson SJ, Singletary KW. Sulforaphane inhibits human mcf-7 mammary cancer cell mitotic progression and tubulin polymerization. J Nutr. 2004 Sep;134(9):2229-36.
  • Johnson IT. Glucosinolates: bioavailability and importance to health. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2002 Jan;72(1):26-31.
  • Johnson IT. Vegetables yield anticancer chemical. Institute of Food Research, News Release, May 10, 2004. http://www.ifr.ac.uk .
  • Kawamori T, Tanaka T, Ohnishi M, et al. Chemoprevention of azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis by dietary feeding of S-methyl methane thiosulfonate in male F344 rats. Cancer Res 1995 Sep 15;55(18):4053-8.
  • Khaw KT, Bingham S, Welch A, et al. Relation between plasma ascorbic acid and mortality in men and women in EPIC-Norfolk prospective study: a prospective population study. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Lancet. 2001 Mar 3;357(9257):657-63.
  • Kurilich AC, Tsau GJ, Brown A, et al. Carotene, tocopherol, and ascorbate contents in subspecies of Brassica oleracea. J Agric Food Chem 1999 Apr;47(4):1576-81.
  • Kushad MM, Brown AF, Kurilich AC, et al. Variation of glucosinolates in vegetable crops of Brassica oleracea. J Agric Food Chem 1999 Apr;47(4):1541-8.
  • Murray M. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Prima Publishing 1996.
  • Murray M, Pizzorno J. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. 2nd Revised Ed. Prima Publishing 1997.
  • Pattison DJ, Silman AJ, Goodson NJ, Lunt M, Bunn D, Luben R, Welch A, Bingham S, Khaw KT, Day N, Symmons DP. Vitamin C and the risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis: prospective nested case-control study. Ann Rheum Dis. 2004 Jul;63(7):843-7.
  • Siddiqi M, Tricker AR, Preussmann R. Formation of N-nitroso compounds under simulated gastric conditions from Kashmir foodstuffs. Cancer Lett 1988 Apr;39(3):259-65.
  • Stoewsand GS. Bioactive organosulfur phytochemicals in Brassica oleracea vegetables-- a review. Food Chem Toxicol 1995 Jun;33(6):537-43.
  • Stoewsand GS, Anderson JL, Munson L. Protective effect of dietary brussels sprouts against mammary carcinogenesis in Sprague-Dawley rats. Cancer Lett 1988 Mar;39(2):199-207.
  • Stoewsand GS, Anderson JL, Munson L, Lisk DJ. Effect of dietary brussels sprouts with increased selenium content on mammary carcinogenesis in the rat. Cancer Lett 1989 Apr;45(1):43-8.
  • Thimmulappa RK, Mai KH, Srisuma S et al. Identification of Nrf2-regulated genes induced by the chemopreventive agent sulforaphane by oligonucleotide microarray. Cancer Res 2002 Sep 15;62(18):5196-5203.
  • Verhagen H, Poulsen HE, Loft S, et al. Reduction of oxidative DNA-damage in humans by Brussels sprouts. Carcinogenesis 1995 Apr;16(4):969-70.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.
  • Yurtsever E, Yardimci KT. The in vivo effect of a Brassica oleracea var. capitata extract on Ehrlich ascites tumors of MUS musculus BALB/C mice. Drug Metabol Drug Interact 1999;15(2-3):215-22.

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