Broccoli sprouts release a phytochemical called sulforaphane which can help heal the gut, reduce inflammation, and could even help fight cancer by enhancing antioxidant activities .
Sulforaphane has been shown to increase Phase II detoxification enzymes and/or antioxidant enzymes which detoxify your body of potential carcinogens and other disease-causing compounds.
Our bodies have a stress-response pathway, known as NRF2 pathway, which controls over 200 genes responsible for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant processes. When this pathway is activated, the body suppresses inflammation, activates detoxification, and promotes antioxidants to exert their effects. Interestingly, when stimulated by sulforaphane, the NRF2 pathway activates every 80 minutes, compared to every 129 minutes under normal circumstances.
In one study individuals who consumed 100 grams of broccoli sprouts for 1 week lowered their LDL (bad) cholesterol while HDL (good cholesterol) went up.
A systematic review looking at the management of type 2 diabetes found that supplementation of high sulforaphane containing broccoli sprouts in patients with type 2 diabetes increased antioxidants, decreased oxidative stress, triglycerides, insulin resistance, inflammatory markers (CRP), and other cardiovascular markers. And lastly, another study found that broccoli sprout powder containing 40mg of sulforaphane (equivalent to 100g broccoli sprouts) significantly reduced inflammation markers (TNF-alpha and C-Reactive Protein) in humans.
The sulforaphane found in broccoli sprouts helps fight the type of bacteria (H.Pylori) that causes ulcers. One study on mice found that sulforaphane may even be more effective at treating ulcers than traditional antibiotics.
A more recent study showed that these effects might be similar in humans as well. Test subjects who ate 2.5 ounces of broccoli sprouts every day showed lower levels of ulcer-causing bacteria than those who munched on alfalfa sprouts instead. They also had less inflammation.
In a randomized control trial, participants were administered a broccoli sprout-derived beverage over 12 weeks. The experimental group excreted significantly higher amounts of the human carcinogen benzene (as much as 61%), and other harmful compounds like acrolein metabolites.
And lastly, there is promising research that shows that sulforaphane can lessen the severity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and may even play an important role in prevention. This is exciting news because sulforaphane is easily accessible, safe to use, and has powerful health promoting properties similar to the effects of pharmaceuticals.
Store bought vs. Home grown
Store-bought sprouts are really expensive and typically poor quality compared to growing your own. In fact, you will spend up to 20x as much! Sprouts from the store can run $1-2 an ounce, but you can grow them at home for $0.10-0.20 an ounce or less (if you buy broccoli seeds in bulk like I do).
Could you just eat broccoli? Yes, but the sprouts contain anywhere from 10 to 100 times more glucoraphanin (the nutrient that becomes sulforaphane) than mature broccoli. An important myth to debunk is that all cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane. This is actually not true, and Dr. Jed Fahey, sulforaphane expert and nutritional biochemist, confirmed this when we spoke during our podcast episode.
Now that you know about the amazing benefits of sprouts and how much cheaper (and easy) it is to make your own, here is a step by step guide on how to grow your own broccoli sprouts.
Wash and sanitize your sprouting jars or containers. Although disinfecting seed is not necessary for sprouting, we recommend disinfecting your seeds prior to sprouting, because if not properly disinfected, all seeds have the possibility of carrying foodborne pathogens.
Using hydrogen peroxide. Heat the hydrogen peroxide to 140F and let them soak for 5 minutes. You need to use a thermometer to make sure the temperature doesn’t reach above 140F. Rinse the seeds for 1 minute and discard the hydrogen peroxide.
Step 2: Soak the seeds
To get started, you’ll need to soak your broccoli seeds in a small bowl filled with water. I just soak them in my jars, but if you use a sprouting tray, soak them in a bowl. This helps prepare the seeds to sprout. Put the bowl in a dark space for at least 12 hours to soak, Make sure they aren’t in sunlight or anywhere too cold.
Step 3: Transfer seeds to sprouting vessel
After you have soaked the seeds, it’s time to rinse them and transfer them to your sprouting vessel. I keep my seeds soaked in the jar that I sprout them in to avoid having to transfer them.
For the next 48 hours, you’ll need to keep the sprouts in a cool, dark place. You’ll also need to rinse the sprouts at least 3 times a day.
Smell your sprouts. They should smell like broccoli, not fishy or putrid. If you accidentally let them go too long without rinsing and they stink, dump them out and start over.
Step 4: Sprout and rinse
After about 24 hours of being in the sprouting vessel, you’ll see that the sprouts will start to form, although they will be more yellow than green until you reach the last step.
Once the sprouts have reached about a half-inch to full-inch in length, it’s time to move the sprouting vessel out of the dark and expose it to some indirect sunlight for about 12 hours. This will be around day 4 or 5 of the sprouting process. This will help develop the lovely green color that broccoli sprouts should have.
Optional step 5: Increase sulforaphane
There are a few methods that can actually increase the sulforaphane content.
Cover the sprouts in water that is around 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70C) and let sit for 10 minutes and then drain and either freeze or eat. This method has been shown to increase the sulforaphane content by 3.5x fold!
Add mustard seed powder when eaten.
How to eat them
Broccoli sprouts have a bit of a bite to them, similar to mustard. When paired with other foods, this taste balances out quite well. A little bit goes a long way. You pack a lot more nutrients per volume of sprouts compared to mature broccoli, making it easier to get your veggies in.
The opportunities are really endless. Throw them on a sandwich, toss them into a smoothie (great for picky eaters), or mix them into a salad, like the detox one I have here. Homemade broccoli sprouts last about 1 week in the fridge.
How much should I eat each day?
To reap the benefits of broccoli sprouts, eat up to ½ cup of broccoli sprouts daily. As mentioned above, studies show that just 100mg (½ cup) of broccoli sprouts can improve markers of cholesterol and oxidative stress.
Who should not eat sprouts?
For people at “high risk” for food poisoning, severe and life-threatening illness may result from consuming raw or lightly cooked sprouts. People with weakened immune systems, including children, older adults and pregnant women, should not eat any variety of raw or lightly-cooked sprouts.
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