Updated: July 20, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell
Children tend to have a love-hate relationship with Brussels sprouts, though they are considered by many to be a superfood. But what about beardies? Can bearded dragons eat Brussels sprouts?
The short answer is no.
To be clear, Brussels sprouts are not outright toxic to beardies, and eating one won’t cause a sudden health crisis, as can be the case with other foods.
However, Brussels sprouts can be dangerous to beardies if eaten on a regular basis. This is because they leach calcium from bearded dragons’ bodies, and calcium is one of the most important nutrients for lizards.
Read on as we explain the role of calcium in lizard nutrition and exactly why Brussels sprouts can undermine their dietary health. We will also suggest an array of better greens to feed your beardie for better health.
What’s the Deal with Beardies and Calcium?
Before we get into exactly why Brussels sprouts aren’t the best food for bearded dragons, it’ll help to first go over why calcium is so important to your lizard’s health. If you read a few of the articles in our series on the best foods for bearded dragons, you will notice we talk about calcium a lot!
Beardies need lots of calcium throughout their lives. They need it as babies when they’re growing to develop their bones and muscles, and they need it later in life to maintain their overall health. Calcium is also essential for good reproductive health, and females need lots of it to produce their eggs.
If they don’t get enough calcium, they can develop metabolic bone disease, which is one of the most common health problems affecting bearded dragons in captivity. It can cause them to have weak bones that are smaller than necessary to support their musculature, which means they end up with painful, misshapen bodies and a poor quality of life. It can also eventually lead to paralysis and death.
How Much Calcium Do Bearded Dragons Need?
How much calcium does your beardie need? Well, on a daily basis:
- Hatchlings require 650 mg of calcium
- Juveniles require around 1,100 mg of calcium
- Young adults need around 1,300 mg of calcium
- Adults need around 1,500 mg of calcium.
Considering how important calcium is, you could be forgiven for thinking bearded dragons and other lizards are well adapted to suck it up from every source. However, that is not the case!
Plus their favorite food, insects, while yummy and full of healthy protein, doesn’t tend to contain much in terms of calcium. This means they have to get most of it from plant matter–dark greens, herbs, flowers, fruit, and veggies. This plant matter needs to be high in calcium for it to really count!
Bearded Dragons and Calcium Absorption
It’s actually quite difficult for bearded dragons to get all the calcium they need for a number of reasons. Don’t worry–we’re getting to what this all has to do with Brussels sprouts!
First of all, most plants contain varying amounts of calcium and phosphorus. Phosphorus binds with calcium when digested and prevents calcium from being absorbed.
So, if a food is high in calcium but also high in phosphorus, it doesn’t deliver as big a calcium bang as you might imagine. In fact, if a food contains more phosphorus than calcium, the excess phosphorus can even start leaching other calcium out of a lizard’s body!
While phosphorus is the main culprit when it comes to calcium leaching, it is not the only one. Oxalic acid (also known simply as oxalates) and other compounds present in foods can have a similar effect.
Even once a lizard has absorbed calcium, it needs enough vitamin D3 to be able to actually use that calcium. Yes, that is the type of vitamin D we all get from sun exposure, and many beardies don’t get quite enough sun exposure when raised in captivity. This means they require both vitamin D3 supplements and UVB lighting (which mimics natural sunlight) to process as much calcium as possible.
To sum up, the plant matter you feed your beardie needs to be high in calcium and low in phosphorus (and any other substances that might also leach calcium from their system).
Read our complete guide to bearded dragon diets here.
So Can Bearded Dragons Eat Brussels Sprouts?
So, what does all that mean for Brussels sprouts? It means that while this veg contains plenty of things that are healthy for beardies and certainly aren’t toxic to them, they still should not be eating brussels on a regular basis.
Brussels sprouts are very healthy vegetables for humans, and they contain nutrients that tick boxes for your beardie. Specifically, they are rich in antioxidants, which boost immune health and lower inflammation. They also contain vitamin K for blood and bone health and vitamin C for immunity. Finally, they’ve also got some nice fiber for digestion and heart health.
But now let’s get to the huge red flag! 100 grams of Brussels sprouts contain 42 mg of calcium, which is good, but it also has 69 grams of phosphorus, which cancels out all that good and can leach your beardie’s body of other calcium that it may have stored.
This comes out to a downright pitiful calcium to phosphorus ratio of around 1:1.5. For reference, any foods you offer to your bearded dragon should ideally have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of at least around 2:1.
Plus, Brussels sprouts also contain a fair amount of oxalic acid, which can further prevent calcium from being absorbed. This means including brussels in your beardie’s diet on a regular basis is a recipe for poor bone health and potentially metabolic bone disease!
So, while you don’t exactly need to panic if your beardie gets its claws on a Brussels sprout and munches it down (depending on what else it was prepared with – beardies are, for example, lactose intolerant), it is just not a food that they should be eating. Full stop.
What Greens Are Good for Bearded Dragons?
If beardies shouldn’t be eating Brussels sprouts, what types of greens are healthy to include in their salad bowls? Various dark, leafy greens are among the very best staple foods for bearded dragons due to their high calcium to phosphorus ratios and overall vitamin and nutrient content.
The following greens are all good choices with a positive calcium to phosphorus ratio (quantities per cup):
- Mustard Greens: 104 mg of calcium and 48 mg of phosphorus, 1.8:1 ratio
- Watercress: 40 mg of calcium and 20 mg of phosphorus, 2:1 ratio
- Chard: 102 mg of calcium and 58 mg of phosphorus, 1.7:1 ratio
- Spinach: 56 mg of calcium and 28 mg of phosphorus, 2:1 ratio
- Kale: 98 mg of calcium and 36 mg of phosphorus, 2.7:1 ratio
- Beet Greens: 164 mg of calcium and 58 mg of phosphorus, 2.8:1 ratio
- Chinese Cabbage: 74 mg of calcium and 26 mg of phosphorus, 2.8:1 ratio
- Dandelion Greens: 104 mg of calcium and 36 mg of phosphorus, 2.9:1 ratio
- Parsely: 78 mg of calcium and 24 mg of phosphorus, 3.2:1 ratio
- Turnip Greens: 106 mg of calcium and 24 mg of phosphorus, 4.4:1 ratio
- Collards: 148 mg of calcium and 19 mg of phosphorus, 7.8:1 ratio
These are just a few of the delicious greens that can fill their bowl. Bearded dragons can also have small amounts of fruits such as grapes, apples, papaya, and watermelon, plus loads of other vegetables like sweet potato, green beans, and more.
With all these great choices, there is no reason to be giving your beardie Brussels sprouts!
Read our full recommendations for the best greens for your beardie here.
FAQs About Feeding Beardies
What vegetables can bearded dragons not eat?
There are several vegetables that are toxic to bearded dragons, such as onions, garlic, chives, and leeks. There are also a number of fruits that can cause immediate health problems if ingested, chief among them avocados. Mushrooms are also bad for your beardie’s health.
Can bearded dragons eat cheese?
Bearded dragons are lactose intolerant and should avoid eating all dairy products, including cheese.
Can bearded dragons eat cucumbers?
Bearded dragons can eat small amounts of cucumber, and it makes a nice occasional treat. However, they shouldn’t have it too often, because its high water content can upset their stomachs and cause runny stools, leaving you with a sick, grumpy beardie and an especially dirty enclosure to clean.
Can bearded dragons eat avocados?
No, bearded dragons cannot eat avocados. Avocados contain a toxin known as persin. This can cause diarrhea and vomiting in the best case scenario and respiratory issues and death within a few hours in the worst case.
Brussels sprouts aren’t toxic to bearded dragons, and there is no need to panic if they get their hands on one. Still, Brussels sprouts should absolutely not be a regular inclusion in your beardie’s diet.
This is because beardies need lots of calcium to thrive, and the phosphorus levels present in Brussels sprouts not only negate the calcium present but can also leach other calcium that your beardie may have stored in their bodies. This is basically a recipe for an unhealthy beardie with weak bones and muscles.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other veggies and greens out there with loads of vitamins and a good calcium to phosphorus ratio, so there is no good reason to be feeding your beardie Brussels sprouts.
What are your favorite veggies to give your beardie? Share your recommendations with the community in the comments section below.