Brussels sprouts exist in some form or another on many modern restaurant menus. They may be shaved in a salad, steamed as a side, or fried with bacon and dressed with balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately, many of these dishes are often unhealthy. Overcooking Brussels sprouts is a sin and cancels out their vast nutritional profile. Plus, mixing them with fattening ingredients detracts from their health benefits as well.
Now, Brussels sprouts are inherently healthy vegetables that belong to the cruciferous vegetable family. Nutritional powerhouses like kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, box choy, collard greens and more all fall under this vegetable category. Brussels sprouts are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins C & K, protein, folate, manganese, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids. Regular consumption of Brussels sprouts has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Some researchers attribute this to the glucosinolates, but an underlying mechanism may still be at play.
Many studies exist in regards to cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts reducing the risk of cancer. The sulfur-containing compounds break down into other active compounds during the digestive process. The active compounds may inhibit cancer growth in certain organs. According to a 2008 study on pancreatic cancer cells, the chlorophyll in Brussels sprouts may act against cancer compounds that increase the spread of the disease. While preliminary research on Brussels sprouts’ involvement in cancer prevention exists, more research is still necessary.
Enzyme systems within the body need compounds that are made from glucosinolates during digestion. These systems use those compounds to promote detoxification of cancer-causing substances. Brussels sprouts are excellent sources of glucosinolates, including sinigrin, glucoraphanin, glucobrassicin, and gluconasturtiian. These are the best studied glucosinolates, and their compounds made from them offer detoxifying properties.
Brussels sprouts contain anti-inflammatory properties that work to protect cells from DNA damage. This may work to protect against early signs of aging and other inflammatory conditions like arthritis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. One study found that women who ate more cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts had lower markers of inflammation in blood and urine samples. Some health experts theorize that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. The glucobrassicin in Brussels sprouts converts to isothiocyanate in the body. This is an anti-inflammatory compound that operates at a genetic level to prevent the onset of inflammation.
Both vitamins A & C are antioxidants, and both exist in Brussels sprouts. Flavonoid antioxidants like kaempferol, quercetin, and isorhamnetin are also readily found in Brussels sprouts. One study found that Brussels sprouts exhibit more powerful antioxidant polyphenols than any other cruciferous vegetable. In fact, some of these antioxidants are very rare in the food world. For example, D3T is a sulfur-containing compounds that helps optimize responses made by the body’s antioxidant system. These antioxidants aid with chronic oxidative stress reduction, improving cellular health and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
The high fiber content works to support digestive health by feeding it beneficial bacteria. There are four grams of fiber in every cup of Brussels sprouts. While the fiber content supports the digestive system, the sulforaphane made from glucoraphanin adds another layer of support. According to several research studies, glucoraphanin works to protect the stomach lining by inhibiting bacterial overgrowth of H. pylori in the stomach or stomach’s wall.
Unfortunately, Brussels sprouts do not cure diabetes, but they do help with blood sugar regulation. Brussels sprouts contain alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), which exhibits the ability to lower blood glucose levels. A 2019 review found that it also prevented oxidative stress-induced changes and insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. Many green vegetables contain ALA, but Brussels sprouts are excellent sources of it. One study found that taking ALA supplements reduced nerve damage in people with diabetes. More studies are necessary to determine if dietary supplementation offers the same benefits.