For many people, Christmas dinner isn’t complete without a serving of Brussels sprouts. In fact, they are Britain’s favorite Christmas vegetable. But if you’re not a convert, maybe these health benefits will convince you to give them a second chance.
Sprouts belong to the healthy family of cruciferous or brassica vegetables, including cabbage, kale, and broccoli. Like all Brussels sprouts, Brussels sprouts are high in fiber which is good for retaining the goodness bacteria in your happy gut.
Pound for pound you will get more vitamin C when eaten raw only oranges. Cooked Brussels sprouts still contain vitamin C, however – about the same pound for pound you’d get from orange juice and raw oranges.
The bitterer the better
More importantly, Brussels sprouts are rich in a wide range of natural chemicals, such as carotenoids and polyphenols, which have been linked to good health. They are particularly abundant in sulfur compounds called glucosinolates.
Think back to the last time you cooked Brussels sprouts, cabbage, or cauliflower. Have you stopped and wondered what that pungent smell is? It is the sulfur compounds in the germs that are broken down. This is also what gives Brussels sprouts their characteristic bitter taste. So to top up on these beneficial chemicals, the more bitter the better.
You might be wondering why these chemicals are so special. Several scientific studies have shown that these sulfur compounds are powerful antioxidants which may promote health by preventing cell damage.
Several studies have also shown that consuming more of these glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and cabbage, is associated with a reduced risk of developing a wide range of cancers. Research continues to gather more and more evidence of their benefits, but the best advice to keep in mind is to try to eat around five servings of Brassica vegetables per week and vary the options.
Bitter sulfur compounds are part of Brussels sprouts’ sophisticated defense system, known as the mustard oil bomb, which prevents insects from biting them but attracts insects that enable pollination.
And because plants are smart, there are about 200 different glucosinolates in crucifers, and each of these vegetables has different combinations, giving them their characteristic flavor. This is why the following vegetables, which belong to the brassica family, have different tastes: broccoli, cabbage, kale, rutabaga, wasabi, horseradish, turnip, arugula, watercress, cauliflower and mustard.
How to cook them
For convenience, Brussels sprouts are often boiled. But if you boil them for too long, not only will they lose their nutritional value (some of the glucosinolates will be destroyed by the heat and lost to the water), but it will also give the sprouts an unpleasant smell and taste.
So what are the other options?
You can simply fry the sprouts in a pan with olive oil or butter and a little garlic and herbs. An alternative would be to steam or microwave them. But make sure they keep their crunch.
Or why not try to be adventurous and try something new by having them raw, cut into small pieces and adding sprouts to a salad?
Next time you’re in the produce section of the supermarket, don’t forget to try Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Crucifers like Brussels sprouts are for life, not just for Christmas.