They might be small, but Brussels sprouts are incredible powerhouses of nutrition

Organic Brussels sprouts on the stalk
CC BY 2.0 Nick Saltmarsh

Brussels sprouts deserve to be featured on dinner plates more often than they usually are. The unfortunate fate of many Brussels sprouts is overcooking, which is why so many people have unpleasant childhood memories of a nasty, sulfurous odour emanating from the stove. That smell is glucosinolate sinigrin, an organic compound containing sulfur that is released when Brussels sprouts become too soft. (You’ve got to respect a vegetable that has built-in protection against overcooking.)

Once you figure out a tastier way of cooking them -- such as roasting with olive oil, or catching them in the steamer before they turn to mush -- Brussels sprouts are a wonderful vegetable to add to your diet. Here are some interesting facts to inspire you to add them to your shopping cart immediately:

1. Brussels sprouts grow well in cool climates, making them ideal for locavores across North America.

They are hardy plants, able to survive frost and continue growing until a hard freeze hits. Some northern farmers bury their stalks of Brussels sprouts under hay and pick off the sprouts as needed throughout the winter. Where I live, Brussels sprouts are one of the few Ontario-grown vegetables available at supermarkets during the cold months.

2. Brussels sprouts are part of the Brassica family, also known as Cruciferous vegetables.

This includes vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and cress, among others. Cruciferous vegetables contain cancer-fighting glucosinolates, but Brussels sprouts top them all when it comes to total content.

3. Brussels sprouts are known to have health benefits.

In Chinese medicine, they are prescribed to help with digestion. There have been many U.S. studies done on the relationship between this vegetable and cancer prevention. Brussels sprouts are able to provide special nutrient support for the body’s detox system, antioxidant system, and inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system, all of which are important for fighting cancer. Ironically, the benefits come from those same stinky glucosinolates that may have turned you off sprouts.

4. When combined with whole grains, Brussels sprouts make a complete protein.

That means they’re a great option for vegetarian meals. Like all fresh vegetables, they’re naturally low in sodium and fat, but they have a ton of vitamins A, K, C (more than an orange), B6, folate, potassium, fibre, iron, selenium, and calcium, plus all those antioxidant, cancer-fighting compounds mentioned above. Brussels sprouts are also said to increase male virility.

5. Brussels sprouts can help lower cholesterol.

The fibre-related nutrients in Brussels sprouts bind with intestinal bile acids, helping them to pass out of the body. This forces the body to replenish lost bile acids by tapping into the existing supply of cholesterol, which reduces it. One study showed that steamed Brussels sprouts bound 27 percent as many bile acids as a cholesterol-lowering prescription drug called ‘cholestyramine.’

6. Brussels sprouts have mysterious origins.

Food Republic says they were bred originally from wild cabbages found in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, though their name suggests otherwise. Brussels sprouts were cultivated in Belgium from the 16th century onwards, though other earlier versions were reported in ancient Rome. Another source says they’re native to Belgium, and were cultivated exclusively in a region near Brussels until World War I, when consumption spread across Europe.

Tags: Diet | Fruits & Vegetables | Health