Broccoli sprouts are among the world's healthiest foods, but few people realize this. They are the top known source of sulforaphane, one of the cancer-fighting compounds in adult broccoli. Broccoli sprouts contain anywhere between 20-100 times the sulforaphane-producing compounds as broccoli.
But sulforaphane isn't just a powerful cancer fighter. It may as well be described as a panacea, able to aid in everything from neuroplasticity to weight loss.
What is sulforaphane?
Certain raw cruciferous vegetables contain two important compounds that combine to create sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate. One of them is the glucosinolate glucoraphanin and the other is an enzyme called myrosinase.
Sulforaphane is created in your mouth when these vegetables are chewed raw. This is because the 2 compounds in question normally reside in separate compartments, but damage to the cell structure unites them.
Sulforaphane actually serves as an insect "antifeedant"—it is toxic to bugs who try to chew the plant. This mild toxicity in humans acts as a hormetic stressor, which, like exercise, compels our bodies to respond in a very positive way.
What will sulforaphane do for me?
Sulforaphane is not a vitamin or essential nutrient. (If we're speaking strictly in terms of micronutrient content, adult broccoli is more nutritious than broccoli sprouts.) Instead, sulforaphane is a powerful genetic modulator known for its potent activation of an antioxidant pathway called NRF2. NRF2 is the body's master switch that when activated, turns on the machinery to create powerful chemicals that mop up oxidative stress. In fact, sulforaphane is the most potent known activator of this pathway.
Among the many activities sulforaphane is currently being studied for, I've gathered a sampling of research that may compel you to add sulforaphane-producing foods to your diet (of which broccoli sprouts are the top contributor). Sulforaphane may:
- Kills cancer cells and protect healthy cells. (R)
- Prevent obesity. Mice fed sulforaphane along with an obesity-promoting diet gained 15% less weight and had 20% less visceral fat deposits compared to mice that weren't fed sulforaphane with their diets. (R)
- Improve symptoms of autism in people. (R)
- Protect against harmful gut bacteria and reduce gut inflammation. (R)
- Improve liver function. (R)
- Aide in the detoxification of air pollutants. (R)
- Prevent autoimmunity. (R)
- Promote hair growth by degrading DHT, which is responsible for male-pattern baldness. (R)
- Protect against UV-induced skin damage. (R)
- Reduce inflammation in the brain. (R)
I plan on doing a post going deep into the benefits of sulforaphane, but in the meantime the website SelfHacked provides a great list (with citations) of the many known benefits of sulforaphane.
Why can't I just eat broccoli?
Well, you can, and you should, continue to eat broccoli which contains many micronutrients not contained in broccoli sprouts. However, young, 3-day old sprouts contain 20-100 times the sulforaphane-creating compounds as adult broccoli (R).
In other words, 1 pound of sprouts equals 100 pounds of broccoli in terms of sulforaphane-producing capacity.
Talk about bang for the buck!
What you'll need to sprout your own seeds:
- A wide-mouth mason jar. It's usually easy and cheap to buy single jars from hardware or gardening stores or your local Whole Foods.
- A sprouting lid or a small piece of mesh to act as a strainer. I use this lid, which fits wide-mouth mason jars. When I first began, I used a simple coffee filter but using a straining lid is far easier to manage.
- Broccoli seeds. I like Todd's seeds because of their high germination rate.
- Tap water
Activate your seeds:
- Put two tablespoons of seeds in a jar and fill so that the seeds are submerged in water. Depending on the size of your jar you may be able to increase the amount of seeds.
- Cover the jar with your sprouting lid.
- Set in a dark cabinet and leave overnight (12 hours should suffice).
Sprout your seeds:
- Drain the soaking water and fill with fresh, cool water.
- Gently swirl the seeds to ensure all are rinsed.
- Drain. You will do this twice a day for 3 days. Morning and night is fine. Note that the seeds/sprouts should always be wet but never sitting in a pool of water.
- After 3-4 days, eat!
Root hairs: After a day or two, you may notice little hairs sprouting from the roots (they may appear slightly fuzzy). This is not mold—they are simply little root hairs reaching for more water. A quick rinse should suffice to make them happy!
Optional: You can green your sprouts. After yellow leaves begin to appear, your sprouts can be taken out of the darkness and into the light. Leaving the jar on a windowsill with exposure to ambient sunlight is fine. This will cause chlorophyll to develop, and after a day your yellow leaves will turn green (see below)!
Remember: Glucoraphanin content declines after sprouting (by day 3), reaching the level of adult broccoli by 15 days (R). If you're only interested in sulforaphane, once the leaves emerge (as pictured above, in either image), the sprouts are good to eat!
When and how to eat
Once your sprouts are ready, I like to eat them straight out of the jar (they have a strong but not unpleasant radish taste) or put them on salads. No matter how you chose to eat them, they should be consumed raw as heat deactivates the enzyme myrosinase. Excess broccoli sprouts can be stored in the fridge until you're ready to eat them!
Have you tried this? What do you think of the results? And how has your health changed since consuming more broccoli sprouts? Let me know in the comments below!