They’re the divisive festive vegetable that often split opinion at the dinner table more than Brexit or football.
But there’s good reason why your mum insisted on making you endure a forkful of Brussels sprouts on Christmas Day.
These little vegetables, which are part of the cabbage family, might look mediocre, but they’re quietly one of the most nutritious side dishes going, thanks to their high antioxidant content, cocktail of vitamins and surprising versatility.
Loved and loathed in equal measure, sprouts have a nutty, earthy taste and are a member of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables; their close relations include the cabbage, broccoli and kale.
They gained their name after becoming a staple of the Belgian diet in the 16th Century, although they’re thought to have originally found their way to the UK from Afghanistan.
Sprouts often get a bad rep for being soggy and slightly pungent, making them fated to be scraped into the bin. But the key to getting the best out of their unusual flavour is in cooking them correctly.
With more of us turning to plant-based diets, the humble sprout is experiencing something of a rejuvenation, with chefs stirring them into raw salads or sautéing them with honey and balsamic vinegar to make exciting flavour combinations.
If you’re still on the fence about serving them to your dinner guests, we’ve found plenty of good reasons why sprouts are for life, and not just for Christmas…
1. They could protect against cancer
While quitting smoking and regularly exercising is sensible advice to reduce your risk of cancer, the NHS also advises eating a vegetable-rich diet to safeguard your health.
Several studies have suggested that sprouts have particular cancer-fighting potential, thanks to their high antioxidant count, which can ward off harmful free radicals that contribute to diseases like cancer.
Research from a 2008 study found that sprouts could protect cells against carcinogens and from oxidative DNA-damage, although more research into the subject is needed.
2. They’re high in fibre
Fibre is not only important for regular bowel movements, but it can also improve cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels and can help to prevent diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.
A 100g serving of the winter sprout contains 3.5 grams of fibre, and we all know that every little bit helps when it comes to hitting your daily count.
Not only is fibre handy for digestive issues, it can also help you to feel fuller for longer, curbing the cravings for seconds or thirds of Christmas pudding, if you’re trying watch your waistline.
3. Sprouts are rich in vitamins and nutrients
One of the best things about the humble sprout is its portfolio of nutrients, minerals and all-important vitamins.
As well as fibre, each sphere packs a punch of vitamin K (which helps blood to clot), vitamin C (necessary for growth and repair) and vitamin A (good for vision and eye health).
They’re also high in folic acid, which is important for producing and maintaining red blood cells, and manganese – an essential nutrient for optimum brain health.
That means you’re keeping the nervous system in good nick and some of your body’s enzyme systems too when you serve up sprouts.
4. They’re low in calories
Half a cup (or 78 grams) of sprouts contains just 28 calories, which is why you’ll often find them included in healthy weight loss recipes.
Of course, it all depends how you prepare them – frying them with butter and bacon is never going to be super healthy – but adding sprouts raw to a salad is a good way of reaping their low-calorie benefits.
5. They contain ALA omega-3 fatty acids
You’d have to be living under a very large rock to miss the rise in veganism. And for those of us who chose not to eat fatty fish, getting enough omega-3 can be a challenge.
These fatty acids are crucial for brain health, helping to slow cognitive decline and fight against depression and anxiety.
Sprouts are brilliant source of omega-3 fatty acids, with around 135 mg of ALA in each 78 gram serving. Although it’s worth noting that plant-based omega-3 is used less effectively in your body in comparison to fish and seafood, because your body needs to convert it to more active forms.
For this reason, vegans and vegetarians are encouraged to eat a greater amount of plant-based sources to reach their daily recommended amount.
6. They’re good for bone health
Thanks to their high vitamin K content, sprouts are a great way to keep your bones in tip top shape.
Studies have found that this essential vitamin is helpful in increasing bone density and limiting fractures in osteoporosis patients, as well as decreasing the risk of bone injury in postmenopausal women.
Most doctors would advise that anyone taking blood-thinning medication should moderate their vitamin K intake, but your GP can advise you on any questions or concerns you might have about your diet.
If you’re thinking of upping your cruciferous veg intake, but you’re still developing a stomach for sprouts, you can balance out the flavour with a bit of garlic and olive oil in a hot pan.
Or, if all else fails, whizz them up in the blender with banana, mixed berries, oranges and honey, to create a super sprout smoothie with a sweeter kick.