I’ve written before about the intriguing health benefits of the phytochemical, sulforaphane.
This remarkable nutrient continues to lead the charge as one of the greatest natural ways to fight cancer and a whole host of other health issues. Let’s take a closer look at what sulforaphane is, and how you can get the biggest health benefits from adding this nutrient to your daily diet.
Sulforaphane is aptly named: It’s a food molecule—or phytochemical— with sulfur in it.
The easiest place to find sulforaphane is in the cruciferous food family. There’s a hefty amount of sulforaphane in:
- Mustard greens
- Turnips (greens and roots)
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok choy
As a phytochemical, sulforaphane belongs to a class called isothiocyanates, which are simply natural molecules formed in cruciferous vegetables.
The rock star of isothiocyanates
The world of isothiocyanates is one worth knowing about, because most of these molecules have anti-carcinogenic activity. They also trigger detoxification and display anti-tumor activity by prompting apoptosis (natural death) of cancer cells.
Studies show that sulforaphane not only kills cancer cells, but also protects the brain, halts cardiovascular disease, stops inflammation, reverses aging, helps you maintain a healthy weight, reverses diabetes (Type 2), and even aids in relieving depression and anxiety.
With all those bragging rights, who wouldn’t love this stuff? Lots of people, apparently.
For many people, eating a kale salad, some broccoli or bokchoy is not the treat they’ve got their heart set on. So, when you do choose to eat sulforaphane-rich vegetables, make sure you’re taking full advantage of what’s on your plate.
You see, it’s not as easy as eating a piece of broccoli or some cabbage if you want to get your daily dose of sulforaphane.
How to boost sulforaphane levels in food
In mature vegetables, sulforaphane isn’t “activated” until a compound called glucoraphanin comes into contact with myrosinase enzymes. To make this happen, you have to effectively damage the plant before you eat it in order to prompt the reaction of these two compounds to make sulforaphane. Fortunately, this is easy to do by chopping the vegetable on your cutting board, which releases the myrosinase enzymes.
In fact, to maximize sulforaphane levels in your vegetables – even if you plan on cooking them – you should first chop them up and then wait about 40 minutes. By then, the myrosinase enzyme has done its job and created the sulforaphane.
Stay out of the frozen section
If you’re in the habit of cooking from frozen foods, you’ll be foregoing the sulforaphane benefits. That’s because commercially produced frozen broccoli and other vegetables get blanched, or flash-cooked before being frozen, which deactivate all the enzymes.
In other words, frozen vegetables aren’t frozen while fresh. They’re cooked first, to kill germs. It’s analogous to pasteurization of milk.
This prolongs shelf life in grocery stores but takes the myrosinase out of the picture, and leaves you without the ingredients required for the chemical reaction that creates sulforaphane. (To give you an idea of why this matters so much, fresh kale is known to suppress cancer cell growth as much as ten times more than frozen kale.)
So, my advice is to buy your cruciferous foods fresh, chop them up first when you’re cooking dinner, and ideally eat them raw or after a light steaming to maximize nutrition.
The top dog of all greens,
and you can grow it in a jar
There is one superfood that has more sulforaphane than all the other cruciferous vegetables combined (which is saying something). That superfood is broccoli sprouts, which contain anywhere from ten to 100 times the amount of sulforaphane you’d find in a mature broccoli plant.
While you can always buy broccoli sprouts at a natural foods store, it’s also very easy and inexpensive to grow them at home in a mason jar.
Start with a wide-mouth, clean jar and two tablespoons of broccoli seeds. Rinse the seeds and put them in the jar with about three inches of water. Top the jar with a screen or cheese-cloth (something that can drain without letting the seeds escape). Secure it with the lid or a rubber band and let it sit somewhere cool and dark overnight.
The next morning, drain all the water out and then fill the jar with water to rinse and drain again. Then put the jar upside down in a bowl to continue draining. Rinse and drain like this twice a day for five days, storing it upside down in the cabinet. Then for the next three days, put the jar where it gets light and the sprouts will green right up.
Well, it involves some work – at least it’s easier than walking the dog.
After about eight days total, you’ll have a healthy supply of super nutrient broccoli sprouts. They go well on anything – sandwiches, tacos, roasted-vegetables, lasagna, and of course, you can always eat them raw.
A little sulforaphane goes a long way
Enjoy four servings of one or two sulforaphane-rich cruciferous vegetables every day and you’ll be getting an adequate amount to help your body fight off cancer and other diseases of aging.
Better yet, there appears to be no upper limit of sulforaphane that you can safely enjoy, and no known adverse side effects. (To be clear, I mean no known side effects of eating too much sulforaphane. Too much raw cruciferous food can cause gas in people with sensitive stomachs.)
There are also sulforaphane supplements available.
- “Are isothiocyanates potential anti-cancer drugs?” By Xiang Wu, et al. Journal ListActaPharmacolSinv.30(5); 2009 MayPMC4002831. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4002831/
- “Sulforaphane Reduces Hepatic Glucose Production and Improves Glucose Control in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes.” By Annika S Axelsson, et al. SciTransl Med. 2017 Jun 4;9(394):eaah4477. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aah4477.
- “The Best 12 Foods to Reverse Aging with Sulforaphane.” Dr. John Day, 11 August 2017. https://drjohnday.com/sulforaphane-broccoli-sprouts-best-food-prevent-cancer-heart-disease/
- “What Is Sulforaphane?” by Daisy Coyle, APD on February 26, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sulforaphane#what-it-is