Most people would tell you that Brussels sprouts are healthy. But if you ask them exactly how the cruciferous vegetable is good for the body, they may respond with an indifferent shrug. All vegetables are healthy, but what makes Brussels sprouts special—different from, say, garlic or cauliflower?
In a word: abundance. There’s a reason registered dietitians, nutritionists and other health experts want more people to cook Brussels sprouts beyond just a holiday side dish. If you’re skeptical that Brussels sprouts are really worth the hype, the health benefits our pros share here might change your mind. And if taste is what’s holding you back—you’re just not sure how to make them flavorful and delicious—check out the cooking tips, too.
What are Brussels sprouts and how do I buy them?
Before we get into the health benefits of Brussels sprouts, it’s helpful to know what they are (besides a vegetable)—and what to look for when buying them. “The larger ‘umbrella’ family that Brussels sprouts fall under is the cruciferous vegetables, and the more specific family within the cruciferous category is Brassica oleracea,” explains registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, RD. Other types of Brassica oleracea vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.
“Although Brussels sprouts are named after they became popular in Belgium, they actually originated in the Mediterranean,” says Stephanie Sassos, associate director of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Nutrition Lab, MS, RDN, CDN.
Sassos says that here in the U.S., Brussels sprouts are in season during the fall and winter months. This is the time when they are most available in grocery stores and farmers markets. When shopping for fresh Brussels sprouts, Sassos recommends you look for ones that are firm, compact and bright green. If you don’t see them stocked in the produce section in the spring or summer, head over to the frozen food section where you’ll likely find them there. Frozen Brussels sprouts contain just as much, if not more, nutrients as fresh because they are frozen when they are at their highest nutritional value.
(per serving 1 cup raw Brussels sprouts)
- 38 calories
- 3 g of protein
- 0 g total fat
- 8 g of carbohydrates
- 3 g of fiber
- 37 mg of calcium
- 75 mg of vitamin C
- 55 µg folate
- 664 IU vitamin A
- 156 µg vitamin K
Health benefits of Brussels sprouts
1. They are good for the intestines.
“Brussels sprouts are high in fiber, which can promote regular digestion,” says Rifkin. She explains that eating high-fiber foods like Brussels sprouts is important because it increases bowel frequency and relieves constipation. As many as 95 percent of people in the U.S. do not eat enough fiber. (You want to aim for between 19 and 38 grams per day, depending on your age and gender.) High-fiber foods like this vegetable can help close that gap.
2. They can reduce the risk of digestive disorders.
In addition to helping keep your bowel movements regular, eating fibrous foods is linked to a reduced risk of digestive problems, Rifkin says. A scientific article published in Pharmaceuticals says that regular eating Brassica oleracea foods (the vegetable family of which Brussels sprouts are a part) has been linked to a reduced risk of gastrointestinal cancers.
3. They can support the immune system.
While citrus fruits often get the spotlight when it comes to immune-supporting foods, Brussels sprouts also help the body in this way because they’re high in vitamin C, Sassos says. In fact, one cup of raw Brussels sprouts contains 75 milligrams of vitamin C, the full recommended daily amount for women.
4. They’re good for your heart.
Here’s a sobering fact: heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US for both men and women. The good news is that it’s a health condition that is largely preventable through diet and lifestyle habits — including eating Brussels sprouts regularly. “Adequate fiber intake has been shown to improve blood lipids, such as cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Rifkin. She adds that fiber intake has also been shown to improve blood sugar control, which can also reduce the risk of heart disease.
5. They’re good for your eyes.
If you were asked to name foods that support eye health, you would most likely name carrots first. And carrots do help with eye health, but Sassos says Brussels sprouts also deserve a mention. “Vitamin A in Brussels sprouts can promote healthy vision and cell growth,” she says. In addition to vitamin A, vegetables also provide lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that are critical for eye health.
6. They may help protect against certain types of cancer.
Certain foods are associated with a lower risk, and Sassos says Brussels sprouts are one of them. “There is promising research showing a link between consumption of cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention,” she says. “According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, compounds in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts have the potential to prevent cancer cells by strengthening antioxidant and DNA defenses and promoting healthy cell signaling.”
7. They’re good for your bones.
When most people think of calcium, they think of foods like yogurt and milk. Although they are good sources of nutrients, you can add Brussels sprouts to the list of foods that are good for your bones. Brussels sprouts have not one, but two nutrients that can help with bone health: calcium and vitamin K. “Vitamin K activates proteins needed for bone formation and mineralization processes,” says Rifkin.
8. They can reduce the risk of birth defects.
If you’re pregnant, you’ve probably heard about the importance of getting enough folic acid, a nutrient that Brussels sprouts contain in spades. “Folate deficiency in a pregnant woman can lead to birth defects, including in the brain and spine,” says Rifkin. But she stresses that it’s important for everyone to consume folic acid regularly, whether pregnant or not. “Folate plays many roles in the body, including the formation, health and function of red blood cells,” she says. She adds that some forms of anemia can be caused by folate deficiency.
9. They support brain health.
Scientific research shows that glucosinolates (a natural compound) in Brussels sprouts support brain health, helping to protect against brain diseases. Researchers say this is because glucosinolates protect against inflammation, which can lead to chronic disease and tumor growth. This means that eating Brussels sprouts regularly—along with other glucosinolate-containing foods like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower—is good for your brain.
10. They can help maintain healthy weight loss.
Brussels sprouts are packed with nutrients but not calories. If one of your health goals is to lose weight, adding Brussels sprouts to your meals can help because they are low in calories but filling.
With all these benefits, you might be wondering if it’s okay to eat Brussels sprouts every day. Rifkin’s expert opinion is that it’s safe to do so, but you also want to make sure you’re eating other nutrient-dense foods. “Variety is an important aspect of a well-rounded diet, and eating the same food every day may not result in the widest range of nutrient intake,” she says.
If you’re not used to eating a lot of high-fiber foods, Rifkin recommends slowly increasing your intake of Brussels sprouts: Overloading the digestive system when it’s not used to fiber can lead to gas, bloating, and digestive issues . Also keep in mind that cooking your Brussels sprouts makes them easier to digest than eating them raw. “However, there is no downside to eating Brussels sprouts daily as long as you include variety elsewhere in your diet and don’t experience digestive discomfort with frequent intake,” she says.
How to cook Brussels sprouts
Even if you know all their nutritional benefits, if you don’t know how to make brussels sprouts taste good, you’re unlikely to include them in your diet. “Brussels sprouts can be very strong tasting and smelly when overcooked, so don’t overdo it,” says Sassos.
If you don’t like the taste of steamed Brussels sprouts, Sassos recommends preparing it another way, such as in a deep fryer or by roasting. She also says the leaves cook faster than the core, so she recommends cutting them in half or quarters when roasting, or cutting an “X” at the bottom of the stem if you’re blanching them whole. Don’t forget to add your favorite spices; as with any food, seasoning is key.
Looking for brussels sprout recipes to try? Check out this recipe for Mushroom Brussels Sprouts Pizza or this one for Roasted Cherry Chicken with Parmesan Brussels Sprouts. Both will have everyone around your table licking their plates clean.
Not every food that takes over the wellness world is worth the hype, but Brussels sprouts are worth adding to your regular vegetable rotation. However you include it in your diet, you’ll benefit your entire body: including your brain, heart and gut.
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