Broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower may not sound like the most delicious of nature’s bounty to you, but they’re chock-full of a potent chemical: sulforaphane.
I know, it sounds like sulphur, which is not appealing. Even though it may not sound like a delicious or exciting new addition to your diet, stay with us. This powerful little compound will impress you. With myriad health benefits, sulforaphane can improve your mood and even prevent cancer (and for those with cancer, reduce mortality rates by shocking percentages).
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It’s hard to exaggerate the benefits of this esoteric chemical. Sulforaphanes have been proven to have a drastic effect on cancer prevention and reduction and cardiovascular disease, and can maximize brain functioning. It also “has the ability to help enhance the excretion of carcinogens” in the body.
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A new study also suggests that sulforaphane may help with behavioral problems linked to autism. It’s a relatively new study, but the effect sulforaphanes have on reducing inflammation in the brain are believed to help calm behavioral issues like being stuck in repetitive actions, like rocking or obsessive behaviors with objects.
By consuming an average of 40-60mg of sulforaphane per day, you, too, can reap its benefits.
Sulforaphane is found in cruciferous vegetables. Namely, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, bok choi, pak choi, watercress, land cress, radish, daikon, wasabi (yes, it’s a vegetable), and cabbage. And broccoli sprouts. Broccoli sprouts are the best way to access sulforaphane, though they can be pricey and difficult to find at your average grocery store. These little sprouts contain up to 100 times more of the compound than adult broccoli. It’s just harder to find.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick describes sulforaphane as the “most potent naturally occurring dietary activator of the genetic pathway NRF2, which regulates over 200 different genes,” many of which are “anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and genes that are involved in inactivating harmful compounds that we are exposed to on a daily basis.”
Dr. Patrick is the kind of researcher that weighs dozens of peer-reviewed studies and does not play into hyped-up medical studies that 24-hour news cycle organizations seem to adore (like the study that equates a glass of red wine to an hour of exercising…it’s just plain misleading). She knows her stuff and is the most responsible commentator on nutrition and fitness that I’ve seen recently, when it comes to checking her sources. Check out her YouTube channel here. And when it comes to sulforaphane, the little compound has been the subject of intense scrutiny by the medical community and stands up to the most rigorous testing. She’ll talk your ear off about it.
So, how does this all work? Basically, sulforaphane helps kick carcinogens (specifically benzene) and other inflammatory compounds out of your body. Benzene is a major cancer causer, mostly found in cigarette smoke and automobile exhaust. So, any help excreting these bad compounds, the better. By decreasing damage to DNA, which causes cancer and aging among other ails, sulforaphane is a potent player that you need to have on your team.
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If you’re interested in the chemical details on how the enzymes transform damaged cells and reduce inflammation, watch the full episode of Dr. Patrick’s “Found My Fitness” series. Fair warning: she gets very detailed on the genetic and chemical components of everything.
Why haven’t we heard about this before? When I first learned about the power of the cruciferous vegetable family, I was blown away. Cultures have known about the health benefits from these vegetables for millennia, but now we have the scientific evidence for it. The Ancient Roman Cato the Elder seems to have known about the power of cabbage to cure a host of problems, writing that it cures all, “from crapulence after exceeding wine consumption to serious diseases like cancer.” (I hope ‘crapulence’ is a new favorite word for you, as it is for me now).
How can you get your 40-60mg of sulforaphane? Cruciferous vegetables! Raw is better, but if you’re going to cook your broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, etc., Dr. Patrick recommends sprinkling mustard powder on it after it’s cooked (just make sure the powder still has a kick to it!). Supplements are alright, but not always authentic and definitely not the purest source. Whole foods are always the best way to get your vitamins and minerals! But, honestly, broccoli sprouts seem to be the best way to ensure that you’re getting the active enzyme.
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Sound gross? Try putting it in a shake. I purchased some broccoli sprouts at my local Fresh Market and put them on salad or in my morning green shake. You can also attempt to sprout them yourself! Order a kit online if you’re feeling adventurous and want to save some money.
Sulforaphane: it’s a long word with a lot of benefits. We hope this little foray into the world of sulforaphane has been informative and helpful. The next time you’re in the vegetable aisle or at a party with a crudité platter, we hope you’ll take another look at the crunchy cruciferous vegetables. Bon appetit!