Before turning your nose up at the inevitable serving of Brussels sprouts dished up alongside the turkey, take a moment to consider them as the nutritional super heroes of the Christmas dinner platter. Indeed, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the humble sprout has an array of rather spectacular nutritional benefits that include:
1. A source of antioxidants
Our super hero sprout provides us with a rich source of antioxidants; (secret) agents which act as direct scavengers of free radicals (molecules responsible for ageing and tissue damage).1 It is this ‘mopping-up’ of free radicals that protect us from DNA damage that, if not corrected, can lead to or increase the risk of developing cancer. Furthermore, the Brussels sprout antioxidant profile is rather unique. For example, they are a rare source of the sulphur-containing compound 3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione (3DT), known to positively influence the body’s antioxidant system by increasing levels of the highly important detox enzyme glutathione.2
2. Cancer protectants
Brussels sprouts are a rich source of glucosinolate, substances which are the precursors to detox-activating substances called isothiocyanates. The mechanism of protection against the initiation of carcinogenesis by isothiocyanates includes modulation of phase I and II xenobiotic-metabolising enzymes (enzyme systems within cells required for detoxification of cancer-causing substances), as well as direct blocking of specific binding sites of carcinogens with the DNA molecule.3-5
3. Anti-inflammatory agents
One of the isothiocyanate products derived from sprouts is the molecule indole-3-carbinol (I3C). As an anti-inflammatory compound, I3C suppresses inflammation and decreases the production of inflammatory cytokines known to be involved in initiating the inflammatory cascade.6,7 Furthermore, I3C has been shown to prevent the initiation of inflammatory responses at a very early stage by acting directly at the molecular level.8
4. Cardiovascular health
In addition to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, Brussels sprouts also offer cardiovascular support. By binding bile acid (which aids in the digestion and absorption of fat), the components within sprouts have direct cholesterol-lowering potential. As the cooking process influences the bile acid-binding potential of the (not so) humble sprout, ensuring yours are steamed, not boiled, is key to retaining their nutritional qualities.9
Given the benefits listed above, it’s not surprising that increasing numbers of studies are investigating the benefits of Brussels sprouts in relation to inflammatory-related conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, obesity and, of course, the most documented of illnesses, cancer.
So this Christmas day, raise a toast to this unassuming little hero and salute the humble sprout. Then smear it in gravy and down it in one!
1. Plumb, G.W. et al. Are whole extracts and purified glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables antioxidants? Free radical research 25, 75-86 (1996).
2. Jia, Z., Zhu, H., Li, Y. & Misra, H.P. Cruciferous nutraceutical 3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione protects human primary astrocytes against neurocytotoxicity elicited by MPTP, MPP(+), 6-OHDA, HNE and acrolein. Neurochemical research 34, 1924-34 (2009).
3. Hoelzl, C. et al. Consumption of Brussels sprouts protects peripheral human lymphocytes against 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP) and oxidative DNA-damage: results of a controlled human intervention trial. Molecular nutrition & food research 52, 330-41 (2008).
4. Zhu, C., Poulsen, H.E. & Loft, S. Inhibition of oxidative DNA damage in vitro by extracts of brussels sprouts. Free radical research 33, 187-96 (2000).
5. Zhu, C.Y. & Loft, S. Effects of Brussels sprouts extracts on hydrogen peroxide-induced DNA strand breaks in human lymphocytes. Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association 39, 1191-7 (2001).
6. Chang, H.P. et al. Suppression of inflammation-associated factors by indole-3-carbinol in mice fed high-fat diets and in isolated, co-cultured macrophages and adipocytes. International journal of obesity 35, 1530-8 (2011).
7. Choi, Y., Kim, Y., Park, S., Lee, K.W. & Park, T. Indole-3-carbinol prevents diet-induced obesity through modulation of multiple genes related to adipogenesis, thermogenesis or inflammation in the visceral adipose tissue of mice. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 23, 1732-9 (2012).
8. Kunimasa, K., Kobayashi, T., Kaji, K. & Ohta, T. Antiangiogenic effects of indole-3-carbinol and 3,3′-diindolylmethane are associated with their differential regulation of ERK1/2 and Akt in tube-forming HUVEC. The Journal of nutrition 140, 1-6 (2010).
9. Kahlon, T.S., Chiu, M.C. & Chapman, M.H. Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage. Nutrition research 28, 351-7 (2008).