Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on November 16, 2021

“Brussels,” Not “Brussel”

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As in the city of Brussels, Belgium, where historians think people first started to grow them widely for food back in the 1500s. Boiled into a soggy mess, you might not find them very appetizing. But roast them to crispy perfection with onions and olive oil, and you might be pleasantly surprised. That’s a good thing, because they’re packed with healthy stuff your body needs.

They’re Antioxidant All-Stars

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Brussels sprouts are part of a family called cruciferous vegetables (they’re called this because their flowers form the shape of a cross). This group of veggies are full of molecules called antioxidants. Each of these molecules works in a different way to form a kind of team that fights cell damage. Brussels sprouts are antioxidant powerhouses, with manganese, beta-carotene, quercetin, and more.

They Have Vitamin C

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This antioxidant helps protect your cells against damage, supports your immune system, and helps your body use iron. Your body also uses it to make a springy type of connective tissue called collagen that, among other things, helps heal wounds. Men need 90 milligrams per day, women need 75 milligrams. A cup of cooked Brussels sprouts gives you about 100 milligrams. 

They Have Folate

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This B vitamin is especially important for women who are pregnant or trying to have a baby. It helps stop certain types of birth defects. It’s also important for heart health, cell division, and your nervous system. You’ll get about 78 micrograms -- a quarter of the recommended daily amount -- in just 1 cup of Brussels sprouts. 

They Pack Potassium

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This mineral helps your cells work in the right way. Your nerves and muscles -- most importantly your heart -- may not work well if you don’t get enough. It’s an electrolyte, which means it conducts electricity to help cells get their work done. Adult men need about 3,400 milligrams, while women need about 2,600. A cup of Brussels sprouts gives you about 340 milligrams.

They May Help Prevent Cancer

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Like their cruciferous cousins kale, broccoli, and cabbage, Brussels sprouts have substances called glucosinolates. These chemicals have sulfur, which gives them their distinct taste and smell. Studies have had mixed results, but they may also play a role in preventing certain types of cancer, including those of the prostate, lung, and cervix.

They’re Full of Fiber

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It does more than keep you regular. It also may help protect against heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. Most Americans don’t get the daily recommended 25 to 30 grams per day. Brussels sprouts are good source of both types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. You’ll get about 3 grams in 1 cup of cooked sprouts, about 13% of the recommended daily allowance.

They Fight Inflammation

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Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous veggies cut down on inflammation. That’s important because inflammation is linked to a host of health problems, including hardening of the arteries, heart disease, and cancer. In particular, a substance found in Brussels sprouts called sulforaphane seems to help.

They Help Lower Cholesterol

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Your body needs cholesterol to form cell walls, make hormones, and make bile acids that help you digest food. But too much can cause plaque to build up in your arteries (atherosclerosis), and that’s a serious problem for your health. As part of a balanced diet, the nutrients in Brussels sprouts can help lower your levels. This is good news for the health of your heart and blood vessels.

They Have Vitamin K

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It helps your body maintain strong bones and clot your blood, among other important functions. You likely get enough in your regular diet. But you might need more if you have an illness that makes the vitamin hard to absorb, like ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and certain other bowel illnesses. A cup of sprouts will give you more than double the daily recommended allowance of vitamin K.

You Can Eat Them Raw

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Just shave them thinly with a mandolin slicer or food processor. A simple dressing of oil and vinegar will do. But you can also dress them up with a bit of Dijon mustard and some roasted nuts and even some chopped apple. This crispy, slaw-like salad could help win you over to this once-scorned vegetable.

They Could Give You Gas

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It happens because the raffinose in Brussels sprouts might not digest as easily in your stomach. It can move into your colon, where bacteria break it down and make gas. It’s not bad for you, but it can be unpleasant for you when it bloats your gut (and for everyone else when it exits). Beans, broccoli, and cabbage also have raffinose. Over-the-counter meds may help you digest these foods more easily.

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SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “About Cholesterol.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Gas.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “How it’s made: Cholesterol production in your body.”

Harvard School of Public Health: “Fiber,” “Brussels Sprouts.”

James Beard Foundation: “Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad.”

Journal of The Academy of Nutrition And Dietetics: “Cruciferous vegetable intake is inversely correlated with circulating levels of proinflammatory markers in women.”

Molecular Nutrition & Food Research: “Diet rich in high glucoraphanin broccoli reduces plasma LDL cholesterol: Evidence from randomised controlled trials.”

Molecules: “Profiling of Phenolic Compounds and Antioxidant Activity of 12 Cruciferous Vegetables.”

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Potassium (for consumers),” “Potassium (for professionals),” “Vitamin C (for consumers),” ”Vitamin C (for professionals),” “Folate (for consumers),” “Folate (for professionals).”

Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute: “Vitamin C.”

Pubchem: “Sulforaphane.”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Gas and bloating (Beyond the Basics),” “Amount of vitamin K in different foods.”

USDA: “Brussels Sprouts.”