Do you have memories of your mother admonishing you to ‘eat your broccoli’ when you were young? My own daughters would push the detested little florets around their plates with forks for a while hoping to outlast my patience and eventually be told just to clear the table and go get their homework done. (which rarely happened, but didn’t keep them from trying) Other times, they’d attempt smothering it with cheese to disguise the slightest hint of ‘green-ness’ as it passed the taste buds on its way to the tummy.
Fortunately for my daughters, they outgrew their broccoli aversion with age as most kids do. However, I’ve met plenty of adults who never did and still politely pass on the broccoli as it makes its way around the table. Too bad, so sad for them, because the lowly broccoli stalk, and the relative new kid on the block - broccoli sprouts, aka, brassica sprouts, are the subjects of numerous research studies spotlighting their superior nutritional value and numerous health benefits.
Broccoli's many noteworthy nutrients include the vitamens C, K, A (mostly as beta-carotene), a plethora of the various B vitamins, and E, the minerals – iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc, along with omega 3 fatty acids, tryptophan and some fiber and protein.
Broccoli facilitates removal of estrogen from the body (an important action with regards to estrogen-dependent breast cancers), and is known for its antiviral and antiulcer properties. There’re more benefits as well. Broccoli belongs to the Brassicaceae family of vegetables (formerly Cruciferae) along with cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, and turnips among others, all of which contain two important phytochemicals – indoles and isothiocyanates.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore isolated from broccoli one isothiocyanate of particular interest, Sulforaphane, in the form of its natural precursor - sulforaphane glucosinolate.* Sulforaphane is a natural organosulfur compound that supports the body’s antioxidant functions, and exhibits antidiabetic, antimicrobial and anticancer properties. Research in animal studies proved it boosts cell enzymes that protect against molecular damage from cancer-causing toxins.
Sulforophane is an amazing compound that can activate the internal defenses of the body’s cells by switching on over 200 different defense genes that the cells use to protect themselves. Some of these genes help regulate antioxidant levels of the cells while others switch on the cell’s internal detoxification processes - the two major ways that human cells defend themselves against disease.
Sulforaphane switches on several detoxification enzymes including the gene needed for cells to activate the production of Glutathione. Glutathione is an essential antioxidant coenzyme that all cells make themselves from the three precursor amino acids - glycine, glutamic acid and cysteine. Glutathione continuously detoxifies our cells; neutralizing and eliminating free radicals and other toxic substances, it activates phase II detoxification enzymes that convert toxins into water-soluble forms that are removed by the kidneys. It also helps the liver remove chemicals that are foreign to the body, such as drugs and pollutants. While all cells in the human body are capable of synthesizing glutathione, glutathione synthesis by liver cells in particular has been shown to be essential.
Glutathione cannot be taken as a supplement as it is destroyed by the body’s digestive process. Therefore, a steady, daily intake of glutathione supportive foods is the best way to maintain high levels of the enzyme in the body. Brassica vegetables supply the sulforaphane component.
Research shows brassica sprouts are the shining star of this show when it comes to sulforaphane. Three-day-old brassica sprouts contain 20-50 times the concentration of sulforaphane found in mature plants. However, the sprouts have lower values for many of the other nutrients compared to mature broccoli so it’s good to eat both the sprouts and mature stalks to reap full benefits of this vegetable.
For example: The USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference lists sprouts as being lower in protein (1.4 compared to 2.324 mg.), fiber, Vitamin A (561 compared to 1,082.64 IU), Riboflavin (none found in sprouts compared to .043 mg.), Vitamin B-6 (.07 compared to .112 mg.), Vitamin C (20 compared to 58.188 mg), Iron (.22 compared to .665 mg.). **
That being said, brassica sprouts are an easy addition to the diet. Sulforaphane is heat stable but water-soluble, so sprouts can be eaten raw, steamed, stir-fried or stewed; but not boiled as you’ll lose the nutrient in the water. Add them to salads, soups, stir-fries, wraps or smoothies. You might find these sprouts at your local grocer, but growing them yourself is a less expensive and relatively easy process.
Raw, commercially grown sprouts have increasingly been recognized as a source of food-borne illness in the United States including Salmonella and E. coli infections. Recent reports have found toxic parasites including Cryptosporidium and Giardia in some commercially sold sprouts. As a result, many commercial sprout companies now rinse their sprouts with chlorine washes.
So, add another level of self-sufficiency by learning how to grow your own sprouts. With home-grown sprouts, you’ll know you’re getting them at their peak nutritive value and the health benefits you reap are well worth the minimal effort it takes.
Step 1 – Prep the seeds
Rinse 3 Tablespoons of brassica seed, then transfer into your sprouter. You can purchase seed sprouters or simply use any large enough glass jar with a piece of netting over the top and held in place with a rubber band. Add 2-3 times as much cool (60°-70°) water. Gently shake to assure even water contact for all seeds. Allow seeds to soak overnight or for 6-12 hours.
Step 2 – Drain and rinse
Drain off the soak water. Rinse thoroughly with cool water. Drain thoroughly. Set your sprouter anywhere out of direct sunlight (sunlight is not necessary for growth at this time) and at room temperature (70° is optimal) between rinses.
Step 3 – Repeat Step 2
Repeat the rinse and drain procedure two or three times a day (every 8-12 hours) for a total of 3 days. Daily rinsing is essential as it helps prevent mold from developing in your sprout garden. Be aware however, that broccoli (Brassicas in general) plants will begin developing root structures with microscopic root hairs around day 3 that might be mistaken for mold. Also, Brassica sprouts have a tendency to ‘clump’ forming a dense bluish root mass which shortens shelf life of the finished sprouts. Care should be taken during rinsing to break up any clumps using high water pressure, your fingers or even a fork if necessary.
Step 4 – Green your sprouts
Rinse and drain your sprouts then relocate them to a spot with brighter but still indirect sunlight to green them up for a couple of days. Avoid direct sunlight as this is too strong and will cook them. Continue to rinse and drain every 8-12 hours. By end of Day 4 or 5, the majority of sprouts will have green open leaves. Timing varies here given temperatures etc. If the sprouts develop leaves sooner, you’ll want to green and de-hull accordingly. This is not an essential step but does provide the added component of chlorophyll.
Step 5 - De-Hull
You’ll want to remove the hulls from these sprouts as they are large relative to the seed and sprout and hold a lot of water – which lessens shelf life. So transfer sprouts to a container at least 3-4 times the volume of the sprouts, fill with cool water and loosen the sprout mass by agitating with your hand. Skim the hulls off the water surface. Return sprouts to the sprouter for a final rinse and drain. Be sure to drain very thoroughly.
Step 6 - Harvest
Sprouts are ready to harvest 8-12 hours after the final rinse. This extra drying period will minimize the surface moisture of the sprouts and lengthen shelf life in the refrigerator. Transfer the sprout crop to a sealed container and refrigerate. Yields approximately 1/2 lb. (2 Cups) of sprouts.
*The enzyme, myrosinase changes glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate, into sulforaphane upon damage to the plant (such as from chewing). Young sprouts of broccoli and cauliflower are especially high glucoraphanin. ** Comparative nutritional value between broccoli sprouts and mature plants and more information can be found at: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 14.
Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page Seeds and sprouting supplies can be purchased very economically from
Mountain Rose Herbs The Johns Hopkins Studies: Y Zhang, et al. (1992) A major inducer of anticarcinogenic protective enzymes from broccoli: isolation and elucidation of structure,
End Notes and References:
*The enzyme, myrosinase changes glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate, into sulforaphane upon damage to the plant (such as from chewing). Young sprouts of broccoli and cauliflower are especially high glucoraphanin.
** Comparative nutritional value between broccoli sprouts and mature plants and more information can be found at: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 14. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page
Seeds and sprouting supplies can be purchased very economically from Mountain Rose Herbs
The Johns Hopkins Studies:
Y Zhang, et al. (1992) A major inducer of anticarcinogenic protective enzymes from broccoli: isolation and elucidation of structure,Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 89:2399–2403 .
P. Talalay, et al. (1997) Broccoli sprouts: An exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 94:10367-10372.
Wikipedia lists several more research studies for further self-education.