What's New and Beneficial About Brussels Sprouts?

Health Benefits of Brussels Sprouts

Story at-a-glance -

  • Brussels sprouts help activate cancer-fighting enzyme systems in your body
  • Brussels sprouts help support both Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification
  • Eating more Brussels sprouts may support your heart health and lower your risk of cancer and chronic inflammation
  • Brussels sprouts still attached to the stalk may be fresher and often cost less

By Dr. Mercola

Brussels sprouts have been voted as the most-hated vegetable in both the US and Britain,1 perhaps because they can be notoriously smelly. But the offensive odor only occurs when these nutritional powerhouses are overcooked – something you definitely want to avoid to preserve both their flavor and nutrients.

Further, that odor comes from a type of glucosinolate, a sulfur-containing compound that is responsible for some pretty impressive health benefits, including fighting cancer. So the next time you're thinking of turning your nose up at these much-maligned veggies, you might want to give them a chance instead.

Low in Calories and Packed with Nutrition

Brussels sprouts are an ideal food if you're looking for something that's hearty yet low in calories. One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts contains just 56 calories but is packed with more than 240 percent of the recommended daily amount (RDA) for vitamin K1, and nearly 130 percent of the RDA for vitamin C.

Plus, Brussels sprouts are a good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, choline, and B vitamins. They even contain protein. But not only do Brussels sprouts contain well-known antioxidants like vitamin C…

They also contain others that are much less known – but equally as important, like kaempferol, isorhamnetin, caffeic, and ferulic acids, and the relatively rare sulfur-containing compound called D3T (3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione).

This means that when you eat Brussels sprouts, you're helping your body to ward off chronic oxidative stress, which is a risk factor for many types of cancer and other chronic diseases.  

You can steam Brussels sprouts and toss them with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, or butter. You can roast them and quarter them, then toss them like a salad with onions, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar. You can even keep a bowl in the fridge, seasoned with salt and pepper, to snack on throughout the day – their small bite-sized package makes them perfect for popping in your mouth.

Remember, if your Brussels sprouts become overly "smelly," mushy, or turn a muted green, they're probably overcooked. Ideally, they should be bright green with a slightly crisp texture and pleasant, nutty/sweet flavor, even after they're cooked.

Trying to Detoxify? Eat More Brussels Sprouts

Juice cleanses and store-bought detoxes are popular now, but detoxification is really a process your body needs to be doing on a daily basis. And it can only do this if you provide it with the proper foods, Brussels sprouts (or other cruciferous veggies) being one of them.

Here again, those potentially offensive sulfur-containing compounds prove to be invaluable, as they help to activate enzyme systems in your cells that are required for detoxification of cancer-causing substances.

These sulfur compounds also support your body's Phase 2 detoxification process, which broken down toxins are shuttled out of your system. Even better, they're also a rich source of antioxidants, which are necessary for Phase 1 detoxification, which is when toxins are broken down into smaller particles (that are later eliminated during phase 2).

Foods that support both Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification are key to supporting your body's daily removal of harmful substances from your body. For example, if you eat foods that support Phase 1, but not Phase 2, the broken-down toxins may begin to accumulate in your body.

Eating foods like Brussels sprouts helps to ensure that not only are toxins being broken down, they're also being safely removed from your body.

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Brussels Sprouts May Work Better Than Broccoli to Help Lower Your Risk of Cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of death in the US, and eating Brussels sprouts is a simple way to lower your risk of this disease. Your body uses the glucosinolates in Brussels sprouts to make isothiocyanates, which activate cancer-fighting enzyme systems in your body. As reported in the journal Carcinogenesis:2

"Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing glycosides found in the Brassica vegetables. Their breakdown products include isothiocyanates, which are produced following exposure to the endogenous plant enzyme myrosinase. Isothiocyanates are pungent, biologically active compounds that suppress carcinogenesis in vivo, and induce apoptosis in vitro."

Indole-3-carbinol, for example, is one glucosinolate breakdown product that halts the cell cycle in breast cancer cells without actually killing the cells.3 The cell cycle is a rigidly controlled series of steps a cell must go through before it can divide in two, involving the duplication of the cell's contents and a final split.

If you can alter specific components of the cell cycle, you can stop the growth of cancer cells without killing normal cells. Indole-3-carbinol interferes with the cell cycle in a way that turns off a gene for an enzyme important in the cell's growth cycle.

Brussels sprouts have been linked to the prevention of a number of cancers, including colon cancer,4 ovarian cancer,5 and others. One study even found that compounds in Brussels sprouts may trigger pre-cancerous cells to commit suicide, which suggests adding more of this superfood to your diet could be a powerful anti-cancer strategy.6

In fact, in one study men who ate about 1.5 cups of Brussels sprouts daily for five weeks had a 28 percent decrease in DNA damage, which the researchers concluded showed "that consumption of cruciferous vegetables [Brussels sprouts] may result in a decreased cancer risk."7

While all of the cruciferous veggies are known for their cancer-fighting powers, Brussels sprouts have been shown to contain even greater amounts of glucosinolates than cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli.8

Eat Brussels Sprouts for Your Heart Health, Too

The glucosinolate indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is a potent anti-inflammatory and it operates on a genetic level, helping to prevent inflammatory responses at the very early, initial stages.9 This is important, because chronic inflammation is the source of many diseases, including cancer, obesity, and heart disease.

You actually need some level of inflammation in your body to stay healthy, however it's also possible, and increasingly common, for the inflammatory response to get out of hand.

If your immune system mistakenly triggers an inflammatory response when no threat is present, it can lead to excess inflammation in your body, a condition linked to asthma, allergies, autoimmune disease, and much more, depending on which organs the inflammation is impacting. Unfortunately, chronic inflammation typically will not produce symptoms until actual loss of function occurs somewhere.

This is because chronic inflammation is low-grade and systemic, often silently damaging your tissues over an extended period of time. This process can go on for years without you noticing, until a disease suddenly sets in. Diet accounts for about 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from leading a healthy lifestyle, and keeping inflammation in check is a major part of these benefits.

It's due to Brussels sprouts' anti-inflammatory properties, for example, that they may also offer important benefits for heart problems, including heart attack and atherosclerosis. As the George Mateljan Foundation noted:10

"Of particular interest here has been the isothiocyanate (ITC) sulforaphane, which is made from glucoraphanin (a glucosinolate) found in Brussels sprouts. Not only does this ITC trigger anti-inflammatory activity in our cardiovascular system — it may also be able to help prevent and even possibly help reverse blood vessel damage."

Look for Locally Grown Brussels Sprouts Still on the Stalk

In the US, most Brussels sprouts are grown in California… but because they can be grown in cold weather (and actually taste best after the first frost), they're widely available at farmer's markets across the US, even during the colder months.

For the best Brussels sprouts you've ever tasted, try your hand at growing them yourself. Otherwise, look for those sold still attached to the stalk. They stay much fresher this way and, because they don't have to be plucked from the stalk, there's less labor involved so they often cost less as well.11