Why Broccoli Sprouts Might Actually Be A Superfood

Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images..
Nowadays, many of us are experiencing superfood fatigue, especially when it comes to leafy greens. Kale is starting to taste boring, green juice isn't actually good for us, and cos lettuce is definitely cancelled (for at least a little while) after this latest E. coli situation. But nevertheless, listen up: There's a lesser-known cruciferous green that might actually be "super," because it has some very promising health benefits. It's called broccoli sprouts.
If you've never seen or heard of broccoli sprouts, they're basically immature broccoli plants, says Jessica Cooperstone, PhD, assistant professor of Horticulture and Crop Science and Food Science and Technology at The Ohio State University. When a broccoli plant is around three days old, it starts to grow little sprouts that resemble alfalfa or bean sprouts. In the late '90s, researchers at Johns Hopkins University realised that, at this stage, the sprouts have higher concentrations of good-for-you chemicals than mature broccoli. So, people started eating and studying the sprouts.
As it turns out, broccoli sprouts have loads of health benefits. Researchers have known for a while that cruciferous vegetables are good for you, and studies consistently confirm that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables are linked to a decreased risk for chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and cancer. That's most likely because cruciferous vegetables like arugula, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and wasabi all contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing, and possibly cancer-fighting effects.
Here's the basic scientific explanation: Cruciferous plants contain compounds called glucosinolate, which convert into isothiocyanates when eaten and chewed, Dr. Cooperstone says. All cruciferous veggies contain glucosinolates, but broccoli sprouts have an insane amount — about 10 to 100 times more than most cruciferous vegetables, Dr. Cooperstone says. And, the ones they contain — called "sulphoraphane" — are especially potent, she says. There's evidence to suggest that sulphoraphane can prevent DNA damage that leads to cancer, and in studies on mice, sulphoraphane seems to prevent inflammation that can lead to neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease.
So, broccoli sprouts are really, really good for you, and they don't taste bad, either. They have an almost spicy kick to them, but otherwise they're pretty bland. The texture is grass-like and stringy, sort of like microgreens, and they add a nice crunch to sandwiches and salads. Some people like to put them in smoothies, too. If you really want to reap the health benefits of broccoli sprouts, it's best to eat them raw, because if you cook the them, you'll deactivate the enzyme that converts glucosinolates to isothiocyanates, Dr. Cooperstone says.
Based on the current research on broccoli sprouts, it's tough to determine how much sprouts you'd have to eat in order to get the full benefits. But in Dr. Patrick's video, she estimates that around 100 grams (½ cup) of broccoli sprouts per day is a good place to start. And the cool thing about broccoli sprouts is that you can easily grow them at home, so they're a cheap grocery purchase that also doubles as a science project. (You can also find sulphoraphane supplements, but given that supplements aren't strictly regulated, you're probably better off eating the real thing, Dr. Cooperstone says.)
Broccoli sprouts may seem like they're too good to be true, and there is one caveat: As innocent as these little sprouts look, and as fun as they are to grow, the seeds are extra-susceptible to growing E.Coli during the sprouting process, and growing them at home doesn't reduce this risk. For that reason, children and people who are pregnant shouldn't eat raw sprouts, and you have to make sure you wash them before eating.
TL;DR The current research about the health benefits of broccoli sprouts is exciting and promising, but there is still a lot that has to be done before we can say that these tiny sprouts will prevent cancer or Alzheimer's. If you're into the taste and texture, adding broccoli sprouts here and there in your diet is a great idea. And if you decide you hate the taste, you can always keep the sprouts like a Chia Pet.

More from Diet & Nutrition

R29 Original Series