At Christmastime, Brussels sprout stalks can be found at many local grocery stores. They are beautiful, festive and a nutritionally sound food. They are a healthy choice and would make a delicious addition to any holiday meal.
The name Brussels sprouts was given to the plant because they were first found in the vicinity of Brussels in Belgium. It is considered a “new” vegetable as there are supporting reports of its existence dated only for the past 429 years.
The first known description was in 1587 with famous botanists as late as the 17th century referring to it only in drawings and conversations as they had never personally seen the vegetable themselves. Finally, around 1800 it was commonly grown in Belgium and France, and by 1850 it was becoming popular in England but Americans were not so excited. According to a study at Cornell University, Brussels sprouts don’t make the top 20 vegetable list in the United States. (In case you were wondering, potatoes hold the top spot.)
The nutritional value in Brussels sprouts is very impressive. They are low in fat and sodium, high in dietary fiber and are cholesterol-free with high levels of vitamin C (three times the level of vitamin C than an orange). They have specific health-promoting compounds called glucosinolates with antioxidant properties that are proven health benefits in the area of cancer prevention. They are high in protein, accounting for more than a quarter of their calories. They’re also an excellent source of vitamin D and folic acid during pregnancy. They can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, on kabobs and chopped then added in recipes.
This cool-season crop is moderately difficult to grow in Colorado. It is a hardy slow- grower that requires full sun, (it can tolerate light shade but this will slow maturity) well-drained soil high in organic matter and a cool, humid climate. Thus, commercial production of this crop is concentrated in the “fog belt” of California, with limited production in the Long Island, New York area. For this reason it doesn’t grow well in our dry diocese. The stalks reach 2 to 4 feet tall and spread 1 to 2 feet wide. The foliage is medium green and grows upright. Interesting facts: frost actually improves the flavor and harvesting can continue until Christmas or longer in warmer areas.
There is compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. The largest and longest study to date, done as part of the Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, included 110,000 men and women whose health and dietary habits were followed for 14 years.
They found that, the higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Compared to those in the lowest category of fruit and vegetable intake (less than 1.5 servings a day), those who averaged eight or more servings a day were a whopping 30 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke. While all fruits and vegetables were likely contributors, the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale made important contributions.
Simply put, fruits, vegetables and Brussels sprouts are a blessing. They are a true gift from God. Organically grown, non-genetically modified fruits and vegetables help our bodies thrive and stay alive. God provides the sun, the rain and a plentiful harvest; the Christmas gift that gives long past the month of December.
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)