Broccoli sprouts have skyrocketed in popularity thanks to scientists like Rhoda Patrick and Jed Fahey. More and more research continues to shed light on the health-promoting and cancer-fighting properties of this powerful vegetable. But what exactly are broccoli sprouts?
Broccoli sprouts are immature broccoli, rich in various nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, and sulforaphane. Broccoli sprouts germinate from seeds after a few days of soaking, watering, and rinsing (see below on how to grow your own broccoli sprouts!). After several weeks, they can be transferred to soil where they will eventually grow flowers, AKA broccoli.
What are the benefits of broccoli sprouts?
Broccoli sprouts belong to the cruciferous vegetable family, which has been studied extensively for their powerful anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. One meta-analysis—a study examining multiple studies—found that those who consumed a larger amount of cruciferous vegetables had a lower risk of mortality. Meaning, the more of these vegetables people ate, the less likely they were to die prematurely. Numerous studies also demonstrate a strong link between cruciferous vegetables and a lower risk of various cancers, including prostate, bladder, lung, and breast cancer.[1-5] Cruciferous vegetables also decrease inflammation markers in humans, one of the leading causes of accelerated aging.
Scientists credit sulforaphane for the health benefits of cruciferous vegetables. What is this super-nutrient and how does it manifest its power? To understand where sulforaphane comes from, let’s take a step back. Cruciferous vegetables contain various other nutrients, particularly glucoraphanin, which are found in their leaves, stems, and flowers. When cruciferous vegetables are chewed or chopped (or broken down in some way), an enzyme called myrosinase is released and reacts with glucoraphanin. Together, myrosinase and glucoraphanin produce a new compound called sulforaphane. To sum it up, sulforaphane is the end product of an enzymatic reaction that occurs when we consume cruciferous vegetables.
So why do scientists credit sulforaphane for all these health benefits? Our bodies have a stress-response pathway, known as NRF2, 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.
Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are among the most widely consumed sources of sulforaphane. However, broccoli sprouts contain 100-400 times the content of sulforaphane compared to other cruciferous vegetables!
To recap, what are the benefits of broccoli sprouts? Broccoli sprouts contain very high levels of sulforaphane, which possesses anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
Are broccoli sprouts good for you?
When put to the test in humans, sulforaphane intake, particularly via broccoli sprouts, shows a wide range of health benefits. Through its activation of detoxification pathways, sulforaphane may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. 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.
When looking at markers of cardiovascular disease (the #1 cause of mortality in the United States), the consumption of broccoli sprouts also shows promising results. In one study, individuals who consumed 100mg of fresh broccoli sprouts for one week had significantly lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, elevated HDL (good) cholesterol, and decreased markers of oxidative stress. Similarly, patients with type 2 diabetes had reduced triglycerides and improved cardiovascular health markers after ingesting 10g/day of broccoli sprout powder for four weeks.
In one systematic review, supplementation of 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.
So, are broccoli sprouts good for you? The research indicates that broccoli sprouts have very potent beneficial effects, including their potential to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
How to grow broccoli sprouts?
Purchasing broccoli sprouts from the supermarket can be quite expensive, but growing them yourself is a cheap and convenient alternative. Plus, if you have children, it's a great way activity to do with them. Here is how to grow broccoli sprouts:
- In a jar with a mesh sprouting lid, soak seeks in water for 10 hours.
- Rinse well with cold water and drain.
- Repeat the rinsing and draining process twice a day for 3-5 days.
- After 3-5 days, sprouts should be ready to harvest.
- Rinse sprouts and let dry before storing.
Are broccoli sprouts healthier than broccoli?
While broccoli is a very nutrient-dense vegetable, broccoli sprouts contain over 100 times the amount of sulforaphane than mature broccoli. Interestingly, you can increase the availability of sulforaphane in broccoli by adding mustard seed powder to it. One study found that, when mustard powder was added to cooked broccoli, it increased the bioavailability of sulforaphane by over four times.
Are broccoli sprouts dangerous?
Broccoli sprouts are not dangerous to eat; however, children, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals should not consume raw sprouts. This includes any type of sprouts—not just broccoli sprouts. In its 2017 sprout guidelines, the FDA indicated that sprouts may potentially carry more pathogens than other foods, increasing the chances of a foodborne illness outbreak. This mainly stems from the growing conditions of sprouts—temperature, pH level, water activity, etc.—which are also all ideal for the growth of potential pathogens.
As you would every other food, avoid broccoli sprouts if moldy. Various factors may account for mold growth, including 1) old seeds, 2) improper draining and rinsing of seeds, 3) high humidity, or 4) poor circulation. But don’t confuse mold with broccoli sprouts’ feather-like roots (see below). These are a completely normal part of the broccoli sprout.
How many broccoli sprouts 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.
Are broccoli sprouts safe to eat raw?
Broccoli sprouts are perfectly safe to eat raw. You can even freeze them and add them to smoothies as well. See below for a broccoli sprout smoothie recipe!
To recap, the benefits of broccoli sprouts include:
- Broccoli sprouts are immature broccoli, rich in a range of nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, and sulforaphane.
- Broccoli sprouts contain very high levels of sulforaphane, a nutrient that possesses anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Broccoli sprouts contain 100-400 times the content of sulforaphane compared to other cruciferous vegetables!
- Broccoli sprouts are not dangerous to eat, however, avoid if moldy.
- Aim to eat up to ½ cup of broccoli sprouts daily.
Diana Licalzi, MS, RDDiana is a Content Strategist and Team Nutritionist at InsideTracker. As a Registered Dietitian and self-proclaimed "biohacker," Diana enjoys researching and testing the latest trends and technology in the field of nutrition and aging. You'll often find Diana, completing a 24-hour fast, conducting self-experiments, or uncovering strategies to increase longevity. Follow her on Instagram at @dietitian.diana.