Don’t ditch the sprouts

With Christmas just around the corner our supermarkets are bursting at the seams with those traditional Christmassy foods, including that festive talking point…the Brussels sprout. More so than any other vegetable, sprouts have got a bad reputation – perhaps it’s their slightly bitter taste, or maybe the association with causing excessive wind! Love them or not, sprouts are the traditional Christmas green veg… and the latest research underlines just how important our green veggies really are.

According to recent studies, eating green vegetables such as spinach, celery and our lovely Brussels sprouts could be even better for our health than we thought. Reports from the Universities of Cambridge and Southampton have found yet more reasons why consuming green vegetables could help combat a variety of health issues. The studies looked at a chemical called nitrate, commonly found in many green vegetables, and suggest a link between higher levels of nitrate and improved health.

Reduced risk of blood clots and heart attacks

The first study from the University of Cambridge looked at the effect of nitrate on our body’s production of erythropoietin – a hormone that regulates the number of red blood cells in the body. Too much erythropoietin, triggered by high altitudes, and certain cardiovascular diseases, can result in thicker blood, in an attempt to get more oxygen into the blood stream. Thicker blood can put us at risk of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. However, this research suggests that higher levels of nitrate helps to ensure our bodies get the oxygen that we require without an over-production of red blood cells, so reducing that risk. Can you think of a better reason to eat those sprouts?!

heart healthImproved Heart Health

Wondering how on earth you’re going to get your family to eat a substantial amount of green veg, when they’ll barely eat a forkful? The good news is that it might not take a whole lot of green veg to improve your health. In a second study on nitrate, researchers found that a higher nitrate diet equivalent to a eating a few more leafy green veggies, could protect against heart and circulatory diseases by preserving vital proteins in heart cells and increasing production of a compound that makes blood vessels widen, allowing the heart to pump more efficiently.

Increased Brown Fat

Did you know that brown fat can help our bodies to burn fat, rather than store it? Not only can our brown fat levels be increased by cold and exercise, but a further study has shown that nitrate can help to convert white fat cells to cells that are very similar in nature to brown fat cells. So, follow your extra helping of leafy green sprouts with a brisk walk in the chilly outdoors to boost your brown fat levels and ensure that those excess Christmas calories don’t hang around for long!

If these recent findings haven’t changed your mind about Brussels sprouts, don’t worry. You can always swap them for another nitrate-rich vegetable such as aubergine, beetroot, broccoli, kale, chard, pumpkin or radishes!

T Ashmore, BFernandez, C Evans et al. Suppression of erythropoiesis by dietary nitrate FASEB

T Ashmore, B Fernandez, C Branco-Price et al. Dietary nitrate increases arginine availability and protects mitochondrial complex l and energetics in the hypoxic rat heart J Physiol 2014

L Roberts, T Ashmore, A Kotwica et al. Inorganic Nitrate Promotes the Browning of White Adipose Tissue through the Nitrate-Nitrite-Nitric Oxide Pathway Diabetes 2014



Another great bit of research from Brian Wansink – the prolific researcher of our eating habits – has found that children, left to their own devices, only eat about 60% of what is on their plate. They listen to their bodies and stop when their hunger is satiated… unlike us!

Frustratingly, that may mean they haven’t eaten those vegetables or polished off that delicious casserole that we served up – but, by forcing them to clear their plate we are increasing their anxiety around food and giving them the wrong messages for the future. A better approach is to try to ensure that their meal consists of real nutritious food and they are allowed to leave food on their plate without punishment. By all means, insist they try a mouthful before they leave the rest…but forcing the issue causes them, and you, unnecessary stress and may well confuse their natural instincts to only eat when they are hungry.

I wish I could recapture that simple behaviour that is second nature to my kids. Instead, I am enticed into over-eating when a meal is delicious or when I am tired or stressed. It is hard not to feel frustrated when a meal you serve to your child is only half-eaten because ‘I’m not that hungry’ – but I no longer get cross. Instead, I have started to celebrate that self-awareness that they still possess – and will try to help them preserve it for as long as possible. And, it’s my fault for serving them over-large portions in the first place so I now ensure I ask them how much they want served on their plate. “You can’t leave the table until you clear your plate” has not been heard in our household for some time now!

B Wansink, K Johnson (2014). Adults Only: Why Don’t Children Belong to the Clean Plate Club? International Journal of Obesity