As you may know, I am way into vegetables, but if I had to play favorites, cruciferous veggies would top the list. Not only are they lovely to look at and tasty to eat, but they’re also a group of fantastic health-promoting ‘anti’ veggies, with powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-cancer effects.
In numerous studies, they’ve shown themselves to be brain- and heart-protective and are associated with lower cancer risk for lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancer — and may help stave off diabetes and aging to boot. There’s also evidence indicating their protective powers against prostatic, endometrial, and ovarian cancers as well, so when we call cruciferous veggies ‘superfoods,’ we mean it!
So just where do these superpowers come from? A lot of it comes from a key ingredient: the powerful phytochemical sulforaphane (or SFN). It’s created when the plant’s myrosinase and glucoraphanin compounds combine and react through chewing, chopping, cutting, etc. The resulting sulforaphane then scavenges free radical production, helping to block a number of the enzymes that can activate cancer cells.
Here’s a topline on what you need to know about SFN — and how to get more of it.
Sulforaphane will make you feel good all over
When you have sulforaphane on your team, you’ll be treating your body to a host of other benefits as well. Sulforaphane also helps reduce inflammation and promotes better detoxification, liver function, brain health, and heart health. Though there are supplement versions of SFN on the market these days, the best way to get yours is in its purest form — and that’s by eating your veggies.
Have a plate of sulforaphane
To get yours, all you have to do is hit the produce aisle or farmers’ market and fill your basket with (preferably organic) arugula, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, cabbage, kale, turnips, wasabi, watercress, radishes, and mustard greens, to name a few. But when it comes to sulforaphane, the leader of the pack is sprouts — in particular broccoli sprouts, whose tender shoots are loaded with must-have myrosinase and glucoraphanin, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. They found that the sprouts delivered higher concentrations of health-supportive chemicals than the fully grown edition.
Treat your sulforaphane right
To get the biggest sulforaphane bang for your buck, simply wash your veggies and enjoy raw. Unfortunately, heat tends to kill off a lot of the enzymes. Same holds true for frozen cruciferous veggies as well, so focus on buying fresh and eating raw as much as possible. How to have it all? Toss sulforaphane sprouts on your breakfast and lunches, and have your still-healthy cooked cruciferous at dinnertime and top ’em with a pinch or two of mustard seed to help reactivate some of the sulforaphane lost in the cooking process.
Start your own sulforaphane garden
You don’t need a lot of outdoor space to have a garden. In fact, all you need is a small corner of your kitchen counter to create your own mini-garden of delicious and super nutritious tiny veggies. Among the most space efficient power veggies you can grow are sprouts. They’re tasty, inexpensive, a cinch to grow, and loaded with sulforaphane as well as other enzymes that help your body extract maximum nutrition from many of the other foods you eat.
Watch ’em grow, almost overnight
Sprouts are the just-popping/just peeking-out first growth of a plant seed—the tender stems of a new plant. All it takes to sprout is a few basic supplies, a very small dose of TLC (two minutes a day for three to five days), and bingo, you have a supply of supercharged plant food to add a big nutritional boost to your meals. Developing a sprout habit pays you back not only with fresh veggies literally at your fingertips but also with prodigious detoxifying and protective benefits.
Our favorites? Broccoli sprouts, because they’re known for their extremely high levels of cancer-fighting compounds, especially sulforaphane, which kickstarts the release of the liver’s detoxification enzymes. Sprouting your own is also a terrific way to reduce the potentially inflammatory lectin content of foods which are healthiest in their sprouted form, like beans, legumes, and grains.
Start your sproutin’ journey
While most of us are familiar with alfalfa sprouts, what people often forget is they can sprout an amazing variety of plant foods! There are leafy sprouts, brassica sprouts, bean sprouts, and more. All you need to DIY it is a quart-sized canning jar, a wide-mouthed canning ring, and a mesh sprouting screen (or a plastic “sprouting lid”). Or you can pick up an Easy Sprout Sprouter for less than $15.
Next, pick your seeds. Try a universally pleasing and easy-to-source brassica sprout like mildly peppery arugula or broccoli seeds, and always look for “sprouting” seeds from a good organic/non-GMO source. Sproutpeople.org is an excellent source for quality sprouting seed supplies. Then, once you’ve got broccoli and its cruciferous bros growing, explore other types of seeds —like cress, mustard, onion, radish — to expand your repertoire.
Sprouting for newbies
Step 1: At night, pour about three tablespoons of sprouting seeds into your canning jar. Place the sprouting screen over the top of the jar and screw on the canning ring. Pour about two cups of non-chlorinated water through the screen. To increase the mineral content, add a piece of kombu (a type of seaweed) to the jar before adding the water. Swirl the seeds, drain, and then cover again with about two cups of water. Leave the jar on your counter overnight.
Step 2: In the morning, drain the water and remove the kombu if used. Add another two cups of water and then rinse, swirl, and drain again. Once drained, lay the jar on its side at a slight angle (prop it up using a bowl with a rim, or a pan with something that wedges the bottom of the jar up an inch or two).
Step 3: Two to three times per day, drain the old water, rinse with fresh water, and drain again. The seeds should be moist but free of standing water. (If you see furry white “cilia” clouds on the sprout tails, they need a little more moisture in the jar — add a few drops and shake gently.) Place the jar back on its side. Watch your sprouts sprout! They should start to fill the jar, gradually turning green. This takes three to five days, sometimes longer for greens.
Step 4: When the sprouts look quite long and green, shake them into a bowl, wrap them gently in a paper towel, and store in a plastic bag in the fridge. Keeping your sprouts dry helps stop growth and limits spoilage.
Step 5: Enjoy a handful of sprouts per day on salads and soups, or even blended into smoothies! Use within five days.