Power Foods: Brussels Sprouts

Let's face it. Brussels sprouts don't rank high on most people's favorite vegetable list, especially in the 10-and-under set. But this cabbage cousin has its fans, especially in Belgium, where the veggie was purportedly cultivated in the sixteenth century. Even the French settlers deemed the sprout worthy enough to carry it across the pond to North America a century later. The Europeans were certainly on to something: The nutrients in Brussels sprouts alone make them worthy of a spot on your dinner plate.

Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Mustard Seeds

Health Benefits
A cruciferous vegetable, Brussels sprouts contain a wealth of phytonutrients called glucosinolates, which account for the vegetable's pungent smell when cooked and are thought to help fight cancer. Isothiocyanates, a byproduct of these sulfur-containing compounds, trigger the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes, which aid in the elimination of potentially carcinogenic substances. Studies have found that one glucosinolate in particular, sinigrin, is possibly responsible for suppressing the development of precancerous cells. And research has shown a relationship between the consumption of cruciferous vegetables and a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer. Beyond that, Brussels sprouts help keep the digestive system running smoothly, thanks to a high fiber content. The hearty vegetable also provides plenty of vitamins A and C, two powerful antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of some cancers. In addition, vitamin A boosts immune-system function and promotes healthy, resilient skin. Folate, another heart-healthy nutrient found in the sprouts, may protect against cognitive decline and is essential for pregnant women, as it helps prevent birth defects.

How to Buy
Choose sprout heads of roughly the same size so they'll cook evenly. Avoid those with excessive leaf perforations; they may be housing aphids, common garden pests. You can buy heads on their stalks (from a farmers' market) or separated. Look for hard, bright-green sprout heads, as mushy sprouts yield less flavor. Heads on stalks stay fresher longer if you keep them in water; separated sprouts should last up to three days if stored in a refrigerated, airtight plastic bag.

Cooking Tip
Remove yellow or discolored leaves and soak your sprouts in a bowl of cold water to remove any dirt or bugs. Trim the stem right at the base of the head and, if cooking whole, cut an "X" into the base so heat can evenly penetrate the sprout. Boil or steam for no longer than 10 minutes; overcooking your sprouts will yield that unappealing sulfur smell, as well as diminish their nutritive value.

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