Written by Michael Mantz, M.D.
Cruciferous vegetables – Background information
Cruciferous vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition. They are legitimate superfoods with wide-ranging benefits. Most of the nutritional research on cruciferous vegetables demonstrate their potent anti-cancer effects:
28 servings of vegetables per week decreased prostate cancer risk by 35%, but just 3 servings of cruciferous vegetables per week decreased prostate cancer risk by 46% (1)
One serving per day of cruciferous vegetables reduced the risk of breast cancer by over 50% (2)
Your body is a beautiful interwoven system and cruciferous vegetables not only boost immune function and reduce cancer risk they also enhance brain function. A study published in 2005 that included over 13,000 women showed that cruciferous vegetables and green leafy vegetables provided the most protection against cognitive decline than any other food group. (3)
The cruciferous vegetables (Brassica family) include: cabbages, kale, collards, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, watercress, arugula, etc…
Cruciferous vegetables contain special phytonutrients called glucosinolates (G) and in a different area of the plant cell an enzyme called myrosinase (M). When these two substances come together either by chopping, blending, or chewing they form a formidable class of healthy compounds called isothiocyanates (ITCs). ITCs have been shown to remove disease causing compounds, balance hormone levels, kill cancer cells and protect your liver and brain function.
The cruciferous vegetable equation: G + M = ITCs + = chewing/chopping/blending.
Broccoli sprouts – Health benefits
Broccoli sprouts contain extraordinary amounts of glucoraphanin – between 10-100X the amount found in adult broccoli. Glucoraphanin is a type of (G) that when combined with (M) creates an important health promoting compound called sulforaphane (SFN) (a type of ITC). These compounds provide you with a host of benefits including: heart, bone, and respiratory support, fighting off infections, detoxifying harmful environmental toxins, combating autoimmune disease, and protecting and enhancing brain function.
A 2015 open label study on patients with schizophrenia suggests that SFN has the potential to improve cognitive function in patients with this difficult to treat disease. (4)
Another 2015 study showed that dietary intake of glucoraphanin prevented the onset of PCP-induced cognitive deficits in adolescents. (5)
A review paper published in 2018 discussed the powerful effects of Nrf2 (“nerf” 2) activators. (6)
Note: Nrf2 is a protein that turns on genes in your cells to make potent detoxification enzymes, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds that play a key role in developing stress resilience for your body and is involved with improving the pathophysiology of mood disorders. (6)
Glucoraphanin and SFN are powerful activators of Nrf2 and may prevent mood dysregulation and minimize relapse in depression for those who are in remission.
There are a lot more studies that demonstrate the brain benefits of these compounds and scientists believe that the compounds in cruciferous vegetables, broccoli sprouts in particular, may have far reaching brain-boosting properties.
How to use broccoli sprouts in recipes
Broccoli sprouts are crisp and have a bitterness kick. It’s best to use them in combination with creamy fats like avocado or nut butter sauces to even out the bitterness. Adding in mildly sweet elements will also tame the bitterness and create a more balanced flavor profile.
When you buy broccoli sprouts use your nose and smell them to make sure they are fresh. If you detect any funky smells don’t buy them. It should smell clean and not have any lingering odors. They should look vibrant and green at the tips.
Broccoli sprouts, like all cruciferous vegetables, lose their potency if they are cooked. (M) the important enzyme that converts (G) into ITCs is heat sensitive and will be destroyed by most cooking methods.
Wash your sprouts thoroughly in cold water to keep them crisp. Make sure they are completely dry before using them. Watery sprouts do not taste good and any sauces you add to them will not stick to them if they are wet.
Broccoli sprouts – My personal experience
I try to eat at least one serving of cruciferous vegetables most days of the week. When I go shopping each week, I make it a habit to buy at least two cruciferous vegetables that I will eat throughout the week. I started buying and consuming three 3 oz boxes of broccoli sprouts each week after learning about the nutritional potency of broccoli sprouts.
Several stores carry broccoli sprouts and they are becoming more popular each day. Near me Whole Foods and a grocery store called Sprouts sell them. I found that sometimes the sprouts can be old and that it’s important to inspect them before buying them. The best tool for inspecting broccoli sprouts is your nose. They should smell clean and fresh. I have bought some that smelled a little off…and I paid the price with a belly ache afterwards.
Broccoli sprouts are easy to use and versatile. I put them in my salads, top my soups and stews with them, and love making wraps stuffed with them. Since they have a bitter kick, I love pairing sprouts with creamy fats – especially avocados.
I hope this article gets you interested in adding this potent superfood to your diet.
6. Hashimoto, K. (n.d.). Essential Role of Keap1-Nrf2 Signaling in Mood Disorders: Overview and Future Perspective. Front. Pharmacol., 9. Retrieved February 21, 2019, from http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.01182