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Published November 05, 2010, 12:00 AM

Prairie Faire: Give nutrient-rich Brussels sprouts a try

“Well, you don’t like liver, Mom,” my 15-year-old son announced when I tried to add some Brussels sprouts to his plate.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Well, you don’t like liver, Mom,” my 15-year-old son announced when I tried to add some Brussels sprouts to his plate.

Granted, liver is not my personal favorite. I was wondering how liver got into this debate. I guess we are all entitled to opinions about food.

“Brussels sprouts are really good for you,” I noted. I really wasn’t expecting this tactic to work either.

He rolled his eyes and agreed to a couple of sprouts.

My 12-year-old daughter took her full share at first, but then slid a couple of extra ones onto my plate. My 7-year-old agreed to one sprout, as long as it was the tiniest Brussels sprout in the bowl.

“Load me up. I love Brussels sprouts!” my husband announced.

I was pleased at his current support of the little cruciferous vegetables. When our kids were younger, he referred to Brussels sprouts as “little brains.” That didn’t help promote the cause of eating cruciferous vegetables at the dinner table.

“These aren’t as bad as I remember,” my son said after eating a sprout. “My taste buds must have changed,” he added.

All this reaction to Brussels sprouts reminded me of a conversation with a group of horticulture professionals a couple of weeks ago. Of almost any food, people usually are not “on the fence” about their like or dislike of these members of the cabbage family.

In fact, one of my colleagues likened Brussels sprouts to “cabbage soaked in diesel.” He then asked the group to raise their hands if they liked Brussels sprouts. Most voted in favor and a couple of people added “with butter” or “with cheese” to their vote. He seemed disappointed that anyone could stand them.

I’m quite sure I can’t change my colleague’s distaste for Brussels sprouts. I hope he’s eating the recommended 2 to 2.5 cups of vegetables a day, despite leaving Brussels sprouts off his menu.

Brussels sprouts have an interesting history and nutritional merit. Brussels sprouts have been known for more than 400 years, but in the world of plants, that’s considered fairly new.

The plants can be traced back to Brussels, Belgium, where they grew in abundance. They grow well in a climate with a long, cool growing season. Unlike a cabbage plant, which forms a large head, Brussels sprouts are tall-stemmed cabbages with sprouts that grow along the stem.

What’s so great about Brussels sprouts from a nutritional standpoint? Brussels sprouts are nutrient-rich, providing vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, potassium, iron and fiber. Along with broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, Brussels sprouts contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that protect our cells from damage.

These substances may play a role in protecting us from heart disease and cancer.

Recently, the Ohio State University Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute examined anticancer effects associated with substances found in Brussels sprouts and broccoli. The researchers identified “indole-3-carbinol” as a substance in the vegetables that can block the growth of cancer cells.

If you haven’t tried Brussels sprouts lately or ever, give them a chance, but go light on the added butter, cheese or other sauce. Brussels sprouts are available in some grocery stores in the fresh-produce section. In most grocery stores, brussels sprouts are available frozen, often with an added sauce.

Enjoy the full range of colorful vegetables to reap all their health benefits.

Try this easy recipe from the University of Kentucky Extension Service.

Brussels Sprouts with Onion Butter

2 cups cooked, drained sprouts

2 tbsp. butter or margarine

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

1 medium onion, sliced

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

To cook fresh Brussels sprouts, remove any discolored leaves and boil eight to 10 minutes. Cook frozen, plain Brussels sprouts as directed on the package.

Sauté sliced onion with butter or margarine until the onion is golden brown.

Stir in the cooked Brussels sprouts, salt and pepper. Stir and cook just until the sprouts are coated with butter and heated through. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Makes six ½-cup servings. Each serving has 80 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 6 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 200 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.