The countdown to Christmas has started – and with just 10 weeks to go, it means that many people will also be counting down to their only Brussels sprout of the year! Sadly this super-veg is shunned by many, but like other brassicas (cauliflowers, kale, cabbage, broccoli) it packs a serious punch that shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone wanting to improve their health.

Nutritionally, Brussels sprouts are rich in potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. Potassium helps to stabilize our blood pressure, while phosphorus and magnesium help build and maintain strong bones and teeth.

Magnesium is also essential for smooth muscle function, helping muscles to relax (versus calcium which helps them to contract). They’re also loaded with vitamins A, C, E, B6 and folate, to support immune function, mental health and cardiovascular health.

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Usually storage, cooking or processing of vegetables damages and reduces the nutrient content, but with Brussels sprouts this appears not to be the case.

In particular it’s believed that their folate content is retained better than in any other vegetable due to the presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which provides antioxidant protection.

As with all brassicas (or cruciferous vegetables as they’re also known), Brussels sprouts also contain glucosinolates. These phytochemical compounds are potent antioxidants – their role in the plant is to defend against pathogens, and when absorbed in the body they add to our ability to defend against bacterial and fungal infection as well as having some impressive anti-cancer credentials.

Glucosinolates convert to isothiocyanate molecules when ingested and studies have shown that these effectively reduce activation of carcinogens, aid detoxification of damaging toxins, and aid natural and appropriate cell death protecting against development of cancers.

And if that’s not a good enough argument for eating your sprouts, consider this. There is more isothiocyanate in a single sprout than you would access from eating an entire head of cauliflower or broccoli!Must-know healthy cooking ingredients for fallwinter 2014_2Another by-product of glucosinolate breakdown is a substance called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which has also been widely researched in connection to breast and prostate cancer, with evidence to suggest that they are protective against development of these particular cancers.

So with all these great benefits why are so many of us anti-sprout? Really it comes down to bland cooking. As with all food, you can make any vegetables more interesting by simply adding a few herbs and spices and a bit of imagination.

Try the following idea to include Brussels sprouts in your diet throughout the winter and beyond.

And remember: a sprout is for life, not just for Christmas!

Sesame sprouts with spring onions

– 1 tsp sesame oil
– 1 inch sliced ginger
– 300g Brussels sprouts (halved)
– 250g beansprouts
– small bunch spring onions (sliced diagonally)
– 1 tbsp clear honey
– 2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
– 1 tbsp sesame seeds

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok. Stir fry the ginger and Brussels sprouts for 5-6 minutes, adding a dash of water during cooking to stop them sticking if needed. Add the beansprouts, spring onions, honey, and soy sauce/tamari and stir-fry for a further minute. Sprinkle sesame seeds and serve.

References:

Chen L, Cheng P, Rao X, McMasters K, Zhou H (2014) Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) increases apoptosis, represses growth of cancer cells, and enhances adenovirus-mediated oncolysis. Cancer Biology and Therapy, 15(9): 1256-1267.

Malin T (1977) Total folate activity in Brussels sprouts: the effects of storage, processing, cooking and ascorbic acid content. International Journal of Food Science & Technology, 12:623-632.

Wu X, Zhou Q, Xu K (2009) Are isothiocyanates potential anti-cancer drugs? Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, 30: 501-512.

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