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The Magic Ingredient in Broccoli Sprouts: What is Sulforaphane and How to Get It

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There’s no underestimating the power of broccoli. This cruciferous veggie is a versatile ingredient and packs a punch of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Broccoli, along with its cruciferous counterparts, also hosts a magic ingredient called sulforaphane. This sulfur-containing compound has sparked the interest of medical and health professionals in recent years.

So, what is this secret ingredient and why does it have researchers so excited?

What is Sulforaphane?

Kurt Bauschardt/Flikr

As an anticarcinogen and antibacterial compound, sulforaphane acts as a bodyguard by neutralizing free radicals, while also encouraging the production of antioxidant enzymes. A healthy body needs a balanced number of free radicals and antioxidants to function properly. Too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants can cause oxidative stress, a process that damages lipids, proteins, and DNA.

Ultimately, oxidative stress has been postulated to lead to a host of diseases. These include inflammatory and ischemic diseases such as arthritis, vasculitis, lupus, heart disease, and stroke, as well as selective cancers, and even neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Sulforaphane can be found in cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, turnips, and collard greens. With that said, the highest amounts of this bioactive compound has been found in broccoli sprouts.    

Benefits of Sulforaphane

Spicy Cabbage Turmeric Stew/One Green Planet

This super-compound offers unique fighting power and protection on various health frontiers. The “magic” of sulforaphane lies within its ability to prevent and protect damage to cells.

Healthier Aging

PaelmerPhotoArts/Pixabay

There’s no stopping the aging process, but there are healthier ways to stay spry in your old age. Preventing cell damage and preserving healthy cells are key ingredients for graceful aging. As an antioxidant stimulator, sulforaphane helps protect and even prevent cell damage. Also, due to its character, sulforaphane “helps facilitate the defense of normal cellular function” and blocks many external threats. In short, sulforaphane allows cells to stay healthy and function normally longer.

Cardiovascular Health

JanBaby/Pixabay

Sulforaphane may also help keep your heart healthy. Recent studies have shown that sulforaphane reduces the amount of heart and vessel arterial plaque that forms due to damaged blood vessels. It does this by reducing the amount of calcification that collects on the smooth muscle lining via reversing damaged blood vessels.

Gut Health

Caio Vinicius Reis de Carvalho/Flikr

Sulforaphane’s positive effects on gut health are some of the most substantiated findings yet. The gastrointestinal tract employs a host of cells that keep your gut, and also your mind, happy and healthy. The protective behaviors of sulforaphane are most active in these gastro lining cells, providing a high level of function and efficiency.

In addition, the gut-power of sulforaphane is also linked to treating Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children. Recent studies have shown a connection between abnormal intestinal bacteria and certain ASD. Balancing the communities of digestive bacteria in the gut may help lessen the effects of ASD.

Cancer Fighting

Gloria Cabada/Flickr

Research around the positive effects of sulforaphane on cancer is still in process, yet the newborn insights are somewhat incredible. While its powers haven’t been seen to directly prevent cancer, sulforaphane has been proven to protect cells from cancer-related damage and, even more astounding, destroy potentially hazardous cells. This cancer-fighting behavior has been seen to “inhibit cancer development, growth, and metastasis” by blocking cancer cells to create an invasion pathway.

How to Grow Your Own Broccoli Sprouts

Organic To You/Flickr

While all cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, broccoli sprouts have 10 to 100 times more. Broccoli sprouts and supplements can be found at health food stores, but they are generally expensive. Growing your own sprouts is easy and cheap!

What you’ll need:

  1. Broccoli sprouting seeds
  2. Tablespoon
  3. Wide-mouthed quart jar (try Amazon and Target for cheap quart jars in bulk)
  4. Sprouting Lid (purchase pre-made or make your own!)
  5. Filtered water

What to do:

  1. Pour 2 tablespoons of your sprouts into the quart jar and then cover with a few inches of water.
  2. Seal the jar with your sprouting lid.
  3. Let sit overnight in a cool and dark location (kitchen cabinet, closet, or under the bed).
  4. Rinse the water completely through your sprouting lid, then replace in your selected cool area. Make sure you keep your sprouts out of sunlight.
  5. Repeat the process two to three times a day by filling the jar with water and then straining through the sprouting lid.
  6. Once the sprouts have reached the desired maturity, remove them from the jar and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. You get the most benefits from broccoli sprouts that are ingested within 3 to 5 days of sprouting.

A Menu of Sulforaphane

To help you get started, we browsed the Food Monster App to find recipes packed with sulforaphane.

Broccoli

Easy Cheesy Broccoli and Brown Rice Bake/One Green Planet

Broccoli is a classic favorite. It is low in calories and high in essential nutrients, plus it’s a great source of sulforaphane. With that said, it’s oftentimes difficult to infuse broccoli with taste. Therefore, try soaking broccoli with flavor in these recipes: Easy Cheesy Broccoli and Brown Rice Bake, Baked Broccoli Burgers, Lemon and Walnut Linguine With Roasted Broccoli, Hearty Lentil Broccoli Bolognese, or Roasted Broccoli and Saurekraut Quesadilla.

Cabbage

Chinese Cabbage Salad With Tofu and Spicy Peanut Dressing

Chinese Cabbage Salad With Tofu and Spicy Peanut Dressing/One Green Planet

Cabbage is a versatile filler in vegetarian and vegan recipes. While it’s mostly used in soups, stews, and salads, cabbage is great for wraps and carb-free shells for tacos and burgers.

Try a few of these tasty cabbage recipes: Chinese Cabbage Salad With Tofu and Spicy Peanut Dressing, Spicy Cabbage Turmeric StewPolish Cabbage and Potatoes, or Sweet Potato and Cabbage Dogs.

Kale

Quinoa Kale Veggie Burgers

Quinoa Kale Veggie Burgers/One Green Planet

This dark green, bitter leaf has exploded onto the health scene. Its smooth, firm, and durable texture makes it a popular ingredient in soups. Yet, there are many other ways to incorporate this sulforaphane favorite into your weekly regime.

Try a few of these creative meals: Quinoa Kale Veggie Burger, Kale Tofu Curry, Leek and Kale Tart With Sweet Potato Crust, Spicy West African Chickpea and Kale Curry, or Kale Pesto Pizza With ‘Goat’ Cheese.

Bok Choy

Ginger Bok Choy Soup

Ginger Bok Choy Soup/One Green Planet

A favorite in many Asian inspired recipes, bok choy helps to thicken thin recipes and adds a bitter bite to stir-fries. Mix this veggie with something sweet and something spicy to complement all the flavors. Try it out in these recipes: Ginger Bok Choy Soup, Sweet and Spicy Bok Choy, Bok Choy and Brown Rice Noodle Bowl, Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup With Bok Choy, Asian Ginger Tofu and Carrot Rice With Bok Choy.

The Food Monster App offers over 10,000 vegetarian and vegan recipes that can help you build a sulforaphane-rich menu. It is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Lead image source: Spicy Cabbage Turmeric Stew

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