Love them or hate them, brussels sprouts are not just for Christmas! In season from September through to February1, they are the edible buds of a plant known as Brassica oleracea var gemmifera and sit beside kale, broccoli and cauliflower as humble members of the cabbage family. Brussels sprouts are traditionally served alone as a side dish but more creative recipes are increasingly available. These little green sprouts can be oven-roasted to produce a sweet and nutty flavour, or can even be freshly chopped into crunchy salads.
A typical portion of 8 brussels sprouts is 80g, and this counts as one of your five a day. After cooking in the traditional manner of boiling, they contain a relatively high amount of protein for a vegetable, at 2.3g, with only 1g of fat, 2.8g of total carbohydrates, and 28kcals of energy2. Roasting or microwaving, as with most vegetables, can help to preserve nutrients. If you are serving them raw, you will be getting 2.8g protein, 1.1g fat, 3.3g carbohydrate, and 34kcals of energy. Whichever way you like to consume them, a diet rich in this green vegetable will provide an abundance of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Brussels sprouts are a great addition to any diet due to their high levels of folate, an essential B vitamin necessary for cell division and growth within the human body. Folate is particularly important for women during pregnancy to ensure proper foetal growth and protect against infant neural tube defects3. Adults over 19 years need 200µg of the vitamin daily and with 88µg in just one portion with your meal, you will already be 44% closer to meeting your daily recommended intake (RNI). Children under 3 should consume 50µg of folate, and children 4-6 years need 70µg, so even with just a few of these bite-size buds, you can be sure that the little ones are meeting their nutritional needs.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that needs to be consumed daily. As it is a water-soluble vitamin, it cannot be stored by the body. Vitamin C is vital in the prevention of diseases such as scurvy, protection from cell damage through oxidation, and to support tissue repair after injury. Diets rich in anti-oxidant containing foods could also help to protect against cardiovascular disease including heart disease and stroke, inflammatory diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, and may even slow the aging process4. In addition, vitamin C supports non-haem iron absorption; the form of iron found in plant-based foods such as vegetables, cereals and pulses. Adults need 40mg of vitamin C each day to stay healthy and a typical portion of brussels sprouts provides a whopping 48mg, and therefore over 100% of an adults daily recommended intake, even after boiling! Luckily, you are unlikely to experience any negative effects of high vitamin C intake, unless the dose is over 1000mg which may cause bloating, diarrhoea and flatulence5. Brussels sprouts are also high in vitamin K (phylloquinone), a vitamin needed for functions including blood clotting and wound healing. Recommended intakes of this vitamin are based on body weight, with 1µg needed for each kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 72kg, you would require 72µg, or 0.072mg per day6. With 101µg of vitamin K in each portion of Brussels sprouts, you can be sure you are getting your daily dose in just one meal.
Brussels sprouts are low in fat and calories making them a good addition to the diet of anyone wanting to manage their weight. Energy requirements vary greatly depending on factors including physical activity, age, sex and lifestyle. In general, men require more calories than women, with an estimated average requirement (EAR) of 2550kcals for men and 1940kcals for women3. At just 28kcals per portion and with 1g of fat, it makes up just 1% and 1.4% of daily recommended energy intake for men and women respectively. Before you chow down on your next pile, remember that cooking the vegetables in fat or butter will increase the calorie content significantly, depending on the amount added and type of cooking method used.
It is a great source of fibre, containing 2.5g per portion. Fibre is important for digestive motility and gut health due to its action of bulking stools, decreasing gastro-intestinal transit time as well as making stools softer and easier to pass. There are also certain types of fibre that provide nourishment for gut flora. These types of fibre promote the numbers of healthy gut bacteria; an area that is being increasingly studied due to its potentially significant impact on health and disease. Fibre is also important for weight management, promoting a feeling of ‘fullness’, as well as reducing risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers7. Recommended intake for adults over 16 years is 30g, with 25g recommended for 11-16s, 20g for 5-11s and 15g for 2-5 year olds7.
And it doesn’t end there! Brussels sprouts also contain small amounts of minerals such as phosphate, potassium and iron which all play crucial roles in the functioning and health of our bodies. So, there you have it, whether you love or hate it, why not try some new and creative recipes and start reaping the benefits of these nutrient-dense little green buds?
- Vegetarian Society (2016), Seasonal UK Grown Produce. Available from [https://www.vegsoc.org/page.aspx?pid=525. Accessed on 10/02/2017
- McCance, R.A., Widdowson, E.M., 2015. Royal Society of Chemistry. Information Services, Public Health England, Institute of Food Research & Great Britain. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,McCance and Widdowson’s the composition of foods, 7th summary edn, Royal Society of Chemistry
- COMA (Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy).1991. Dietary Reference values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom. Report of the Panel on Dietary Reference Values of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. Department of Health, Report on Health and Social Subjects, No. 41. London: HMSO.
- Quassinto, L., Gianfranceschi, G., Lupidi, G., Miano, A., Bramucci M. 2016. Antioxidant and Pro-Oxidant Activities of Savoy Cabbage (Brassica Oleracea L. Var. Sabaudi) Sprout Extracts. Journal of Food Biochemistry. 40. Pp. 542-549.
- NHS Choices (2017) Vitamins and Minerals – Vitamin C. Available from: [http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-C.aspx]. Accessed on 10/02/2017.
- NHS Choices (2017) Vitamin and Mineral – vitamin K. Available from [http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-K.aspx]. Accessed on 11/02/2017.
- British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). 2016. Dietary Fibre. Available from [https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/basics/fibre]. Accessed on 11/02/2017.