Steamed, roasted, sautéed, or raw, broccoli is packed with nutrition, including vitamins C and K; calcium, iron, magnesium, and other minerals; and the health-promoting phytochemicals indoles, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane. That mouthful of nutrition adds up to a powerful package of anti-inflammatory (and potentially cancer-fighting) goodness. So, yeah — Mom always said to eat your broccoli, and she was right.
Well, kind of. While steamed broccoli has its place, the best source of one of the most important nutrients in broccoli’s arsenal — the aforementioned sulforaphane — is found in the highest concentrations in very young broccoli sprouts, which contain 10 to 100 times more sulforaphane than the mature vegetable does, according to research by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published in 1997.
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Why does this matter? Sulforaphane has been called a wonder chemical that works by triggering antioxidant compounds in the body’s cells, which boosts the body’s defense system against all kinds of disease. Numerous studies have shown it to inhibit the growth of cancer cells (Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 2015) and repair damaged DNA (The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2013), and help reduce the risk of diabetes (Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017) and cardiovascular disease (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014).
Of the many thousands of phytochemicals in the food supply, sulforaphane’s potential health benefits cover the widest range of diseases and conditions, according to researchers of a review published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2016.
Microgreens and Sprouts: Health Fact or Diet Hype?
Sprouted seeds and legumes (alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, radish) have been eaten for centuries in many parts of the world and started gaining popularity in the U.S. in the 1970s. Grown in water for two to three days, sprouts are lauded as excellent sources of antioxidants, essential amino acids, and vitamins and minerals.
Their slightly older cousins, microgreens — part of a widening interest in nutrient-dense foods — hit the U.S. food scene in the 1990s. Grown in soil for at least seven days before harvest, microgreens — including spinach, Swiss chard, and arugula — pack 4 to 40 times more vitamins and minerals than their full-grown counterparts, as reported in a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2012. The result? You can get all those vitamins and minerals by eating a much smaller portion of microgreens.
Springing off this food trend are young broccoli sprouts. Researchers have been studying the potential health benefits of broccoli sprouts and the nutrient sulforaphane for decades. The discovery that broccoli sprouts contain high levels of precursors of sulforaphane occurred in 1992, accidentally, when researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore realized that three-day-old seedlings were a far better source than fully grown broccoli of the two factors needed to produce sulforaphane — the glucoraphanin compound and the myrosinase enzyme. When the two components are combined in the presence of moisture, such as when the sprouts are chewed or cut, the glucoraphin compound is converted to sulforaphane by the action of the myrosinase enzyme.
Compared to mature broccoli, three-day-old broccoli sprouts contain 10 to 100 times more protective nutrients, as reported in the team’s findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1997. Because of this, sprouts may offer a simple, dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk, according to researchers.
How to Add Broccoli Sprouts and Sulforaphane to Your Diet
Broccoli sprouts can be purchased in some grocery stores and health food stores, or they can be grown at home. But food safety is a priority, as raw sprouts of any type are susceptible to contamination with salmonella, listeria, and E. coli bacteria, even if the sprouts are homegrown — which can result in serious illness.
Another option: nutritional supplements. As with any dietary supplement, it’s important to research the product to ensure it actually provides the benefits it claims. Keeping in mind the research from the Johns Hopkins team, these supplements should contain the glucoraphanin compound and the myrosinase enzyme — rather than sulforaphane itself — to be effective.
BrocSprout2 is a dietary supplement that does just that: Each capsule contains the glucoraphanin compound and the naturally occurring myrosinase enzyme necessary to create sulforaphane. When taken with water, the chemical reaction between the two factors begins, and sulforaphane is rapidly produced within your body.