I have a familiar story for you - when I was a kid I hate Brussels sprouts! They were slimy, bitter, little parcels of hate that reminded me of green single-serve onions and I absolutely refused to eat them. Many tantrums ensued around my family's dinner table due to these little bundles!
If you're thinking, "Me too!" then you're not alone. Brussels sprouts have a terrible reputation at the dinner table, but it's time that changed. Cooked properly, Brussels sprouts are powerhouses of nutrition and flavour, packed with antioxidants and vitamins and just begging to be placed front-and-centre at the head of the dinner table where they belong.
So why should you give Brussels sprouts another chance? There's more than one reason:
1. Think Brussels sprouts are bitter? It may be in your genes
You might want to grab a pen and write this down - it's called the TAS2R38 (1) gene, and it's a protein coding gene that binds to a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide (2) , or PTC, in our mouths. Variations of this chemical gives our tastebuds different impressions of bitterness.(3)
Scientists think that some people may be more sensitive to this chemical reaction because PTC is just not commonly found in the human diet. Around 50% of the population will taste the bitterness associated with Brussels sprouts. Some people won't taste anything at all.
Bottom line: Some people are just super-sensitive to bitterness in food. But never fear! Read on to find out why that not be as big a problem as you think.
2. Brussels sprouts get better with age
Children tend to be more sensitive to bitter tastes, and are actually predisposed to preferring sweet foods.(5) As our bodies develop, so do our taste buds. By the time we're teenagers, we have in increased ability to distinguish flavors, together with a decreased preference for sweet flavors.(6)
But smell, looks and our previous negative and positive experiences with foods also influence our taste preferences,(7) so by the time we're teenagers, it's usually too late to change our minds on what we think tastes disgusting.
Bottom line: You'll probably grow out of your aversion to Brussels sprouts without even realising it. Time to give them a second chance!
3. Brussels sprouts taste great if you cook them correctly
You're probably the most familiar with Brussels sprouts being boiled, but that's not the best way to eat them or to enjoy their amazing nutritional value.
Boiling vegetables will cause their water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin B and vitamin C, to leach out, which is not what we want, so steam or roast them instead! Some people still like to par-boil their Brussels sprouts just to soften them a little and reduce roasting time, which is fine, but never overdo it. A long amount of contact with boiling water will degrade the nutrients that make Brussels sprouts so nutritious.
Steaming will softly reduce the amount of bitterness in the sprouts, and roasting will caramelise the natural sugars inside the sprouts and seal in the flavour. I prefer a combination of the two. (8)(9)(10)
Bottom line: Stop boiling out that flavour; the goodness boils out with it.
4. Brussels sprouts can protect you against cancer
Brussels sprouts contain compounds called glucosinolates. These help your body to make isothiocyanates, which activate cancer-fighting enzyme systems in your body. (11) They promote the elimination of potential carcinogens from the body, suggesting that these compounds in may cause the pre-cancerous cells to literally commit suicide!
For total glucosinolate content, Brussels sprouts now top the list of commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables. Their total glucosinolate content has been shown to be greater than what is found in cabbage,mustard greens, kale, turnip greens, cauliflower or broccoli. Isothiocyanates may also reduce your risk of heart attack.
Brussels sprouts have been linked to the prevention of a number of cancers, including colon cancer (12) and ovarian cancer.(13) In one study, participants who ate 1 and a half cups of Brussels sprouts daily for five weeks had a 28% decrease in DNA damage, which the researchers concluded showed "that consumption of cruciferous vegetables [Brussels sprouts] may result in a decreased cancer risk." (14)
Bottom line: Adding more of this superfood to your diet could be a powerful anti-cancer strategy.
5. Brussels sprouts can provide cardiovascular support
Science hasn’t always linked cardiovascular disease and inflammatory problems,
but they are now learning more about the role of unwanted inflammation in creating problems for our blood vessels and circulation. Of particular interest here has been the isothiocyanate (ITC) sulforaphane, which is made from glucoraphanin (a glucosinolate) found in Brussels sprouts.(15) This ITC triggers an anti-inflammatory response in our cardiovascular system, and may also help prevent - and even help reverse - blood vessel damage.
Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the western world, but not many people are aware that the damage we do to our cardiovascular systems can be reversible! Nutrition is a vital part of this, and a diet full of Brussels sprouts is a great way to start reducing your risk.
Bottom line: Brussels sprouts can keep your heart healthy.
6. Brussels sprouts are a great source of fibre
Most of us know that we aren’t getting enough fibre in our diet. We need 25 to 30 grams of dietary fibre a day to stay healthy, but many people consume far less. Fibre keeps our digestive tract running smoothly, lowers cholesterol, and supports the systems that naturally detox your body.
We can get our fibre from whole foods like vegetables, grains, beans and seeds, and now we know that Brussels sprouts are an excellent source.
One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides 4 grams of dietary fiber, (16) which keeps your digestive system running smoothly, encouraging regular bowel movements, preventing constipation or diarrhea and detoxifying the body by pulling toxins and waste out of the digestive tract. (17)
Bottom line: Brussels sprouts are nature’s detox.
7. Brussels sprouts are high in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is proven to help keep eyes healthy by increasing our natural protection against UV light damage.(17) It’s literally like wearing sunglasses inside your eyes, and just one serve of Brussels sprouts per day provides enough vitamin C to have this effect.
Vitamin C is a form of antioxidant, and we’ll talk about the antioxidant properties of Brussels sprouts more soon, but it’s important to single out Vitamin C for its many specific properties.
When eaten fresh, vitamin C can help to fight skin damage, reduce wrinkles, and improve your skin texture overall. It also plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the main support system of skin.
Vitamin C is also essential for building a strong and healthy immune system, protecting you from harmful bacteria, viruses and other harmful invaders that cause disease. It directly protect your cells from free radical damage, reducing your risk of heart disease and cancer.
Brussels sprouts provide an amazing 75 milligrams of vitamin C per cup, more than 100% of your daily need.
Bottom line: You need vitamin C for healthy bones, skin and immunity. Eat Brussels sprouts for a delicious dose.
8. Brussels sprouts are super high in Vitamin K
Vitamin K is not often talked about because it’s not given as a supplement, except in extreme cases, but it’s actually vitally important for bone health and blood-clotting, working in tandem with vitamin D and calcium.
Low intake of vitamin K can be associated with a higher risk of bone fracture. (18) Just three quarters of a cup of Brussels sprouts provides enough daily intake of vitamin K for the whole day, thereby helping to improve bone structure, help vitamin D work more efficiently, and reducing the amount of calcium we excrete.
Why is this important? You’re helping to improve the mineral density in your bones, preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures. Vitamin K also has the role of helping with blood clotting, bone calcification and turning off inflammation in the body.
Even though vitamin K is not often found as a supplement, poor diet and lifestyle choices - or even unavoidable things in life like taking antibiotics - can still lead to vitamin K deficiencies.
Brussels sprouts provide a high dose of Vitamin K that can offset these problems.
Bottom line: Don’t ignore your vitamin K levels! This superhero vitamin is just as important for bone health as calcium, and Brussels sprouts give you all the vitamin K you need.
9. Brussels sprouts are detoxing
We spoke about glucosinolates earlier, in relation to their amazing cancer-preventing properties, but the glucosinolates found in Brussels sprouts also help protect the vulnerable lining of your stomach, reducing the chances of developing digestive problems like leaky gut syndrome, (19) a debilitating - and increasingly common - syndrome that slows down your metabolism and can prevent your digestive system from absorbing nutrients.
Another detoxer found in Brussels sprouts is sulforaphane.(20) Similar to the curcumin found in turmeric, sulforaphane is a powerful antioxidant that facilitates the body’s important detoxification process. It helps with digestion by preventing bacterial overgrowth from occurring in the gut microflora.
You might think that all you need for a detox is a green smoothie, but the body’s real detoxing abilities occur at a cellular level. Phytochemicals like sulforaphane clean carcinogens out of the system before they can damage cells.
Bottom line: Brussels sprouts detox the gut and speed up your metabolism!
10. Brussels sprouts contain high levels of antioxidants
One of the antioxidants found in Brussels sprouts is known known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels,(21) by helping to turn glucose into energy. They attack ‘free radicals’, or oxidants - waste products created when the body turns food into energy that can damage cells. So, by managing blood glucose levels, alpha-lipoic acid can help reduce complications for people with diabetes.
Bottom line: Antioxidants clean the blood and destroy waste products in the body, cleaning you out from the inside!
9. Brussels sprouts help maintain a healthy pregnancy
Brussels sprouts contain a high amount of folate, sometimes also called folic acid, which is one of the B vitamins. It contains 47 micrograms per serve, to be precise. The daily suggested intake levels of folate for a pregnant woman is 400-600 micrograms. Folate is incredibly important for healthy pregnancies. By helping the body to produce new cells, it’s part of how our bodies copy and synthesize DNA. (21) This is vital in forming an unborn fetus’s neural tube. Getting enough folate in your diet is the best way to prevent birth defects like spina bifida and Brussels sprouts is full of it.
Bottom line: Folate is the magic word for mums-to-be, and Brussels sprouts is an excellent source.
11. Brussels sprouts can act as an anti-inflammatory
The glucosinolate we’ve spoken about in Brussels sprouts is a potent anti-inflammatory that can help prevent inflammatory responses at a very early initial stage. Why is this important? Well, chronic inflammation is the source of many diseases, including cancer, obesity, and heart disease.
You do need some level of inflammation in your body to stay healthy, but it is becoming increasingly common for the inflammatory response to get out of control.
If your immune system mistakenly starts an inflammatory response when there isn’t really a threat, it leads to excess inflammation in your body. This is linked to asthma, autoimmune disease, allergies, and more, depending on which organs the inflammation is impacting. Unfortunately, chronic inflammation typically doesn’t produce symptoms until an actual loss of function occurs in the body, making it incredibly difficult to catch and treat before damage is done.
That’s where natural anti-inflammatories come in. It's due to Brussels sprouts' anti-inflammatory properties, for example, that they may also offer important benefits for heart problems, including for heart attacks.
As the George Mateljan Foundation noted:
"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." (22)
Bottom line: Brussels sprouts can help reduce inflammation in the body, keeping you healthy from the inside out.
12. Brussels sprouts can reduce your cholesterol levels
Another way that we can trust Brussels sprouts to improve cardiovascular support involves their cholesterol-lowering ability. Our liver uses cholesterol as a basic building block to product bile acids. Bile acids are specialized molecules that aid in the digestion and absorption of fat through a process called emulsification. These molecules are typically stored in fluid form in our gall bladder, and when we eat a fat-containing meal, they get released into the intestine where they help ready the fat for interaction with enzymes and eventual absorption up into the body.
When we eat Brussels sprouts, fiber-related nutrients bind together with some of the bile acids in the intestine in such a way that they simply stay inside the intestine and pass out of our body in a bowel movement rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, our liver needs to replace the lost bile acids by drawing upon our existing supply of cholesterol, and, as a result, our cholesterol level drops down.
The fiber in Brussels sprouts can also help to reduce cholesterol levels (23) by slowing down the absorption of glucose into the blood, which helps to protect you from diabetes and heart disease.
A recent study has shown that the cholesterol-lowering ability of raw Brussels sprouts improves significantly when they are steamed, which may help inform your choices when cooking them. In fact, Brussels sprouts have been proven to be even better at reducing cholesterol than leading cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs. (24)
Bottom line: Brussels sprouts are the natural way to reduce your cholesterol and get healthy!
14. Brussels sprouts can help you lose weight
Brussels sprouts weigh in at at 25 calories per 1/2 cup, cooked. That’s a tiny amount for such a filling meal. And not only are Brussels sprouts low in calories, they’re also free from fat, so eating them definitely won’t ruin your weight loss efforts.
Research also suggests that eating them can raise your adiponectin levels, which is a hormone that has been shown to naturally burn fat. (24) High adiponectin levels are also believed to promote muscle growth, which will aid your metabolism, because more muscle leads to more calories being burnt by the body.
Adiponectin can be your secret weight-loss weapon. Why? This protein-based hormone boosts your metabolism, enhances the ability of your muscle to use carbs for energy and increases the rate in which the body breaks down fat. Adiponectin is really efficient in preventing weight gain. Working in tandem with leptin, adiponectin helps to regulate your body weight in a good way. The function of these two hormones enhances ‘communication’ to and from your brain, allowing you to know when the right amount of food has been consumed.
Bottom line: Break down fat and boost your metabolism - naturally - with Brussels sprouts.
Brussels sprouts recipes even kids will love
My opinion on Brussels sprouts changed a few years ago when an American friend brought around a big bowl of cooked sprouts for a Christmas dinner I was hosting. My stomach immediately sunk and I dreaded even placing them on the table. I assumed they'd sit there forlornly in between the English-style stuffing and the roasted potatoes for the whole night, going cold needing to be thrown out at the end of the night. I could not have been more wrong!
So what was the difference between those delectable morsels and the mushy green blobs I remember from my childhood? These Brussels sprouts were roasted in a hot skillet with butter and a little bacon. Their outer leaves were crunchy and brown like a potato chip, the insides soft and gooey, with a sweet, nutty cabbage flavour bursting in my mouth. I was hooked - and so was everyone else at my Christmas dinner. The bowl of Brussels sprouts was devoured like it was dessert, and I didn't let my friend leave the house until I have the recipe.
Let’s start simply. At the beginning of this article we talked about steaming Brussels sprouts instead of boiling them to lock in flavour and prevent vitamins from leaching out. If you’re not confident about cooking with Brussels sprouts yet, this is the place to start.
Steamed Brussels sprouts
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, rinsed
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Cut off the stem of the Brussels sprouts and remove the tougher outer leaves. Cut each sprout in half from top to bottom, through the stem. Season the sprouts with the salt and place them in a steamer over the top of the boiling water.Place over high heat and cook for 5-10 minutes, until just tender. Remove and serve immediately.
You can also steam the Brussels sprouts in a sauté pan or in the microwave - just use less water so that the Brussels sprouts aren’t submerged.
Easy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Now we’ll start enhancing the flavour of the Brussels sprouts and adding some new ingredients. Roasting Brussels sprouts is just as easy as steaming them. It takes a little longer, but the reward is a healthy bowl of deliciously sweet, nutty parcels of goodness. If you’re a fan of butter, try substituting the oil for melted, unsalted butter, and cook the same way.
- 500g Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F.
Place Brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal tightly and shake to coat. Tip out into a baking tray and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, shaking pan every 5 to 7 minutes for even browning. Reduce heat when necessary to prevent burning. Brussels sprouts should be dark brown but not black when cooked. Serve immediately.
Squashed Brussels, roasted with chorizo sausage and chestnuts
Now we’re going to get creative. This recipe is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe - this is a man who loves his Brussels sprouts and really knows how to make them sing. Jamie originally calls for vacuum-packed chestnuts in this recipe, but I’ve never seen them for sale in my neck of the woods, so I make mine with any nuts I have in the house. You’ll find this recipe is very adaptable!
- 1 kg Brussels sprouts
- 150 g raw quality chorizo
- olive oil
- 100 g nuts of your choice (almonds or walnuts are my favourite)
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts. Cook for 8 minutes using the steaming method, then drain well. Squeeze the chorizo out of its skin, crumbling it into a roasting tray with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Fry it over a medium heat for 6 minutes, until the oil turns a lovely red colour, then add your choice of nuts, crushed a little if you like.Strip the rosemary leaves from their stems and add them. Tip in the sprouts and stir in the vinegar. Squash and flatten the sprouts a little with a fork so they suck up the flavour. Roast in the oven until starting to go golden, about 25-30 minutes.Season and serve.
Kale and Brussels sprouts salad with bacon
Brussels sprouts LOVE bacon. They soak up the salty flavours like a match made in heaven. This is one meal that will never make you feel guilty about indulging in bacon, because it’s balanced so perfectly with healthy kale and Brussels sprouts. The best thing about this recipe is that it can be made a day ahead, and the flavours will only get better while they’re sitting in the fridge.
- 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbs dijon mustard
- 1 tsp shallot, finely minced
- 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/8 tsp salt
- Pinch black pepper
- 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 c thinly sliced kale (approx 1/2 a bunch)
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts, finely shredded using a mandolin or sharp knife
- 3-4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
- 1/4 c roasted almonds, chopped
- 1/2 c pecorino or other hard cheese, finely grated
Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and mix or whiz up in a food processor. Add in olive oil, whisking (or processing) until combined.
Mix sliced kale and shaved Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Throw in bacon, almonds, and cheese. Pour dressing over the top and toss salad until all ingredients are distributed throughout.
Balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots
This is a great way to add extra oomph to roasted Brussels sprouts because the balsamic vinegar caramelizes so nicely when it roasts. If you want to incorporate more vegetables to this dish, try adding large cubes of sweet potato or parsnips to the mix.
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved
- 6 carrots, cut diagonally in 1 1/2-inch-thick slices
- salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray.
In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, garlic and thyme; set aside.
Place Brussels sprouts and carrots in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Stir in balsamic vinegar mixture; season with salt and pepper.
Place into oven and bake until browned and tender, about 25 minutes.
Serve immediately with cranberries and garnish with parsley.
Honey Sriracha roasted Brussels sprouts
If you haven’t heard of Sriracha, it’s a fabulously unique hot sauce made with chili, vinegar and garlic. It’s becoming more and more common to find in supermarket now, so keep your eye out for it’s bright-red bottle and rooster label. Once you try it, you’ll find that it goes well with everything - even Brussels sprouts.
- 1½ pounds Brussels sprouts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha chilli sauce
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 lime, juiced
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F.
Cut off the stem end of the sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Cut large sprouts in half.
Place sprouts in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and season generously with Kosher salt. Toss to coat. Place in a single layer on an aluminum-foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 35-40 minutes, shaking the pan a few times throughout the cooking process, until crisp and golden brown on the outside and tender on the inside.
Meanwhile, combine Sriracha, honey, and lime in a small bowl. Season with Kosher salt.
Remove sprouts from oven, transfer to large bowl, and drizzle with sauce. Toss lightly to coat and serve immediately.
Brussels Sprouts Chips
This last recipe is a particular favourite of mine, and a great way to get small children to overcome any adversity the might have around trying Brussels sprouts. You can eat them like potato chips and I guarantee you’ll love them.
- 2 cups of Brussels sprout leaves, cut away individually from the stem
- 2 tablespoons of melted butter
- Salt to taste
- Lemon zest (optional)
Mix the leaves, butter and salt together in a large bowl.
Line two large baking trays with parchment. Divide the leaves evenly in a single layer on each tray.
Bake each tray for 8-10 minutes or until crispy and brown around the edges.
Finely grate some lemon zest over the chips.