Environmental Nutrition: Shout-out to Brussels sprouts

Environmental Nutrition: Shout-out to Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts can get a bad rap, especially from kids. But there’s more to these little veggies than meets the eye.

The folklore

Preceded by a less than delicious reputation, Brussels sprouts have been famously refused by children and labeled as smelling of sulphur. Even ancient folklore says the very first sprouts grew from bitter tears. Brussels sprouts were first cultivated near Brussels, Belgium in the thirteenth century. Belgian folklore has it that eating them at the beginning of a meal will ward off drunkenness. Despite their storied past, Brussels sprouts are unsung heroes among vegetables. Properly prepared, these tiny green globes pack as much sweet (yes, sweet!), intense flavor as they do health benefits.

The facts

Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera) are clearly related to cabbage, but they’re also kin to other cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. They grow in groups of 20 to 40 along a stalk that stretches about three feet tall. Each sprout is a one- to two-inch diameter replica of a green cabbage. There are many hybrid varieties, such as Jade Cross, Confidant, and Ruby Crunch, which is purple. Brussels sprouts are packed with powerful antioxidants. A half-cup serving delivers 12 percent Daily Value (DV) of vitamin A and 81 percent DV of vitamin C. Combined with 137 percent DV of vitamin K and a plentiful dose of glucosinolates — important, health-promoting plant chemicals — Brussels sprouts are known for potential cancer prevention properties.

The findings

Brussels sprouts are rich in glucosinolates, which have been shown to attack cancer cells. Individuals who consume a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, have lower risk of developing cancer, according to a 2015 review of studies published in Current Pharmacology Reports. Brussels sprouts also may play a promising role in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, according to emerging evidence in a 2015 BioMed Research International. Brussels sprouts contain sulforaphane, a compound derived from glucosinolates, which may work in combination with other plant chemicals, including anthocyanins and carotenoids, to help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart risk factors.

The finer points

Late September through February is the season for Brussels sprouts. Picked after the first frost, they will be at peak flavor. Smaller sprouts are sweeter than larger (which may taste more like cabbage). Purchase them on or off the stalk, but select tight, firm sprouts with healthy green (not yellowed) leaves. Refrigerate them unwashed and uncut in a sealed plastic bag up to two weeks. Trim the stems, remove loose outer leaves, and leave them whole, cut in half or shredded. Enjoy shredded in a salad, or give sprouts a quick steam, boil or roast with a little salt, pepper and olive oil.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)