6 health benefits from eating Brussels sprouts
Liz Connor finds reasons to pile more of these nutrient powerhouses onto your dinner plate
There are good reasons why your mum insisted on making you endure a forkful of Brussels sprouts on Christmas Day.
These little vegetables, known as cruciferous, might look mediocre but they're one of the most nutritious side dishes going, thanks to their high antioxidant content, rich cocktail of vitamins and surprising versatility.
Sprouts have a nutty, earthy taste and are a member of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables; their close relations include the cabbage, broccoli and kale. They gained their name after becoming a staple of the Belgian diet in the 16th century, although they're thought to have originally found their way to the UK from Afghanistan.
Sprouts often get a bad reputation for being soggy and slightly pungent, making them fated to be scraped into the bin. But the key to getting the best out of their unusual flavour is often in cooking them correctly.
Now the sprout is experiencing something of a rejuvenation, with chefs stirring them into raw salads or sauteing them with honey and balsamic vinegar. If you're still on the fence about serving them to your dinner guests, we've found good reasons why sprouts are for life, and not just for Christmas...
1. They could protect against cancer
Whilst quitting smoking and exercising will help to reduce your risk of cancer, the NHS also advises eating a vegetable-rich diet to safeguard your health. Studies have suggested that sprouts have particular cancer-fighting potential thanks to their high antioxidant count, which can ward off harmful free radicals that contribute to diseases like cancer.
Research from a 2008 study found that sprouts could protect cells against carcinogens and from oxidative DNA damage, although more research is needed.
2. They're high in fibre
Fibre is not only important for regular bowel movements, it can also improve cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels and help to prevent diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.
A 100g serving of the winter sprout contains 3.5g of fibre. Fibre can also help you to feel fuller for longer, curbing the cravings for seconds of Christmas pudding.
3. Sprouts are rich in vitamins and nutrients
One of the best things about the humble sprout is its portfolio of nutrients, minerals and all-important vitamins. As well as fibre, each sphere packs a punch of vitamin K (which helps blood to clot), vitamin C (necessary for growth and repair) and vitamin A (good for vision and eye health).
They're also high in folic acid - important for producing and maintaining red blood cells - and manganese, an essential nutrient for optimum brain health. That means you're keeping the nervous system in good nick and some of your body's enzyme systems too.
4. They're low in calories
Half a cup (or 78g) of sprouts contains just 28 calories, which is why you'll often find them included in healthy weight loss recipes. Of course, it all depends how you prepare them - frying them with butter and bacon isn't super-healthy - but adding sprouts raw to a salad is a good way of reaping their low-calorie benefits.
5. They contain ALA omega-3 fatty acids
If you are vegan and choose not to eat fatty fish, getting enough omega-3 can be a challenge. These fatty acids are crucial for brain health, helping to slow cognitive decline and fight against depression and anxiety.
Sprouts are a brilliant source of omega-3 fatty acids, with around 135mg of ALA in each 78g serving. However it's worth noting that plant-based omega-3 is used less effectively in your body than that in fish and seafood, because your body needs to convert it to more active forms. For this reason, vegans and vegetarians are encouraged to eat a greater amount of plant-based sources to reach their daily recommended amount.
6. They're good for bone health
Thanks to their high vitamin K content, sprouts are a great way to keep your bones in tip top shape. Studies have found that this essential vitamin is helpful in increasing bone density and limiting fractures in osteoporosis patients, as well as decreasing the risk of bone injury in post-menopausal women.
Most doctors would advise that anyone taking blood-thinning medication should moderate their vitamin K intake, but your GP can advise you on any questions about your diet.
If you're thinking of upping your cruciferous veg intake, you can balance out the flavour with a bit of garlic and olive oil in a hot pan. Or, if all else fails, whizz them up in the blender with banana, mixed berries, oranges and honey, to create a super sprout smoothie with a sweeter kick.