If you've ever enjoyed a delicious salad with sprouts on top, you may not have given much thought to the fact that those sprouts are packed with nutritional value.
After all, they are so thin and wispy, so how could they possibly pack a punch?
Actually, the sprouts of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are power-packed with valuable nutrients. Scientists have been studying the nutritional value and have amassed research evidence regarding the impressive health benefits of these tiny broccoli sprouts.
Why Are Sprouts So Nutritious
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli and kale contain a natural plant compound called sulforaphane, a sulphur-rich compound.
Interestingly, the compound is in the plants in an inactive form called glucoraphanin. The plant must be “damaged,” meaning cut, chopped or chewed to release an enzyme called myrosinase that serves as a catalyst to convert the inactive glucoraphanin to sulforaphane.
It is interesting because myrosinase is one of several enzymes that act as a defence mechanism for the plant. It is only activated when the plant is damaged in some way.
Cruciferous vegetables are best eaten raw because raw vegetables have the highest sulforaphane levels.
In fact, raw broccoli has ten times more of the compoundthan cooked broccoli. Most people can eat raw cruciferous vegetables, but some experience gas and bloating, caused by the complex sugars in the plant that are hard for some people to digest.
There are over-the-counter enzyme supplements you can take that safely and effectively help you break down those compounds to enjoy the nutritional benefits of broccoli and other cruciferous creations.
If you prefer cooked vegetables, some studies show that steaming the vegetables for no more than three minutes can optimize sulforaphane levels. It is best not to boil or microwave because the high heat destroys these compounds.
Raw or slightly steamed broccoli provides the best bioavailability, meaning the amount of the nutrient absorbed in the bloodstream. For example, if you had an intravenous medication, the bioavailability is 100 percent because the medication is going directly into your bloodstream.
It is remarkable that uncooked broccoli has ten times the bioavailability compared to cooked broccoli, but broccoli sprouts are even more remarkable. Sprouts actually have very high levels sulforaphane, an extremely bioactive compound that has multiple benefits to the human body. Many papers have been published attesting to the amazing health benefits of sulforaphane, and broccoli sprouts are one of the main sources. Let’s explore some of these benefits.
Sulforaphane has a bioavailability of 80, meaning about 80 percent of ingested sulforaphane finds its way to the cells.
Many other supplements have around one percent bioavailability. One example is curcumin, which is why it is often paired with black pepper to increase its bioavailability.
1. Gut Health
The word “microbiome” is derived from “micro” meaning “small” and “biome” which indicates a habitat of living things.
Yet the microbiome is not small by any means. Of the 100 trillion microbial cells in the human biome, the large majority of them reside in the gut.
It is sometimes difficult to think of the microbiome as an “entity.” After all, it is not the same as an organ or tissue because the microbiome does not have a specific location. Furthermore, this far-reaching system has many roles and is tied to many different physiological functions.
The gut microbiome impacts nearly every function in the human body. Most diseases can be traced back to the origin in the gut and the health of the microbiome.
Poor gut health can lead to inflammatory disorders like ulcerative colitis, autoimmune disorders, and even heart disease, arthritis and cancer. A healthy gut microbiome dictates your overall state of health and even your longevity.
In order to have a normal immune system, one must have a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome. Disruptions in the microbiome, particularly in childhood, have been linked with the development of multiple inflammatory conditions. In particular, disrupted gut microbiota has been linked with many allergic diseases, including eczema and asthma.
The human microbiome is constantly changing. It adapts to the ever-changing environment, which is largely controlled by the foods we eat.
Sleep quality and duration, stress levels and even daily exposures to external bacteria all drive changes in the microbiome. At any given time, the microbiome can be in a relatively optimal or relatively poor state of health.
People can exert a large amount of control over their own microbiomes by making smart lifestyle and dietary choices like eating fresh vegetables.
The widespread use of antibiotics has had a tremendous impact on the human microbiome. In an effort to kill pathogens and save lives, antibiotic use has had the unintended effect of killing beneficial human-associated microbesthat perform a plethora of important functions.
Antibiotics alter the human capacity to process food in the gut and our ability to resist infection. People who have a long history of antibiotic use tend to have more difficulty achieving a healthy, balanced gut microbiome.
Cells called enterocytes in the gastrointestinal tract must function properly to protect us and sulforaphane improves the function of these cells. People who have severe stomach inflammation or ulcers often have an overgrowth of a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, but sulforaphane has been shown to destroy H. pylori therefore greatly reducing inflammation in the gut.
Researchers are studying various aspects of gut health, and there is some indication that broccoli sprouts may improve constipation. A study was conducted comparing broccoli and alfalfa sprouts (which have no sulforaphane). While the alfalfa had no effect, eating broccoli sprouts over four weeks did improve symptoms.
If you’ve read “treat the gut first,” this is because the gut houses most of the body immune system. Therefore gut health influences the health of other body systems and processes.
If your gut is not healthy, your body does not properly absorb nutrients, which can cause other issues downstream.
2. Healthy Aging
Interestingly, microbiome health is related to age. As people age, chronic inflammation often sets in. Scientists don’t fully understand the link between this inflammation and age, but current research does point to the gut microbiome.
As adults get older, their microbiomes become altered potentially due to things like long-term antibiotic use.
Ageing is complex and is influenced by environment and genetics. However, bioactive broccoli sprouts can support cell function in the gut and other cells. Sulforaphane has been shown to directly influence genes that “run” the cells; it helps genes express positive cell benefits while turning off those that cause inflammation.
One particular cell switch is Nrf2. Think of it as the cell’s master switch. Research shows that sulforaphane is a strong activator of the Nrf2 switch.
This is a new area of research called nutrigenomics, and the research on broccoli sprouts is very compelling.
Ageing can not be prevented, but it is possible to age well while minimizing negative health results. So much of this comes from the diet, and research supports the fact that sulforaphane derived from broccoli sprouts can play an important role.
3. Disease Defender
These days, many people around the globe are acutely aware of the current COVID-19 crisis and are actively seeking ways to defend against disease.
The master Nrf2 switch actually operates more than 2000 genes that either protect cells or increase the cells function.
When Nrf2 switches are activated, the body produces more enzymes that help detoxify and protect the body. This means cells are up-regulated and can destroy free radicals and disease in a much more capable fashion.
Cells are also more likely to inhibit inflammation and prevent the formation of cancer-producing enzymes.
4. Heart Health
Heart disease is a global problem, and like ageing, it is influenced by genetics and lifestyle.
Inflammation is a characteristic hallmark of blood vessel and heart damage, but sulforaphane has been shown to increase the body’s production of enzymes that protect the heart and vessels.
Its influence on the immune system also helps because the compound reduces inflammatory cell-damaging substances. Sulforaphane has even been shown to reverse blood vessel damage.
When people have heart disease, it often leads to other issues like kidney disease or type 2 diabetes, so intake of the bioactive molecule sulforaphane can have far-reaching effects.
5. Defender Against Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that is exponentially growing across the globe. As with most conditions, genetics playa role, but lifestyle factors are a big contributor.
Amazingly, broccoli sprouts may help here too. In a small three-month study, people with diabetes regularly consumed a broccoli sprout extract, andblood sugar levels reducedby over five percent.
The ability for the red blood cells to utilize haemoglobin, the molecule that helps deliver oxygen to the body, also improved. Several animal studies have shown the same result.
There is even some interesting emerging research that shows that sulforaphane can help with the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
In an 18-week study, researchers noticed significant behavioural changes in young people who ingested sulforaphane. Since the original study in 2014, several other studies have been conducted.
Cell protection is the likely mechanism. The sulforaphane protects cells from inflammation, DNA damage and oxidative stress, all of which are suspected mechanisms for autism spectrum disorder.
How to grow your own sprouts at home
Now you know how great broccoli sprouts are, growing your own at home is a simple and inexpensive way to ensure you always have a good supply.
What you'll need:
Broccoli seeds (look for organic certified)
A Jar with a mesh lid. You can buy these as sets online or if you already have a mason jar then you just need to buy a lid with metal mesh.
How many seeds you sprout at a time depending on the size of your jar and how many people will be eating them.
A 1-litre jar will hold between 3-4 tablespoons of sprouts. Most people have two jars and start the second a few days after the first so there is always a good supply.
Sprouts can be frozen so if you ever find yourself with too many you can always store them away to use in smoothies.
1) Add 3-4 tablespoons of seeds and cover with slightly warm water for 8-10 hours or overnight. Place the jar in a dark place away from any direct sunlight or heat. Most kitchen cupboards work well for this.
2) Drain the water and rinse the seeds, then leave the jar upside down for any remaining water to drain out. You can buy a jar stand for as cheap as £1 on Ebay or just place your jar upside down in a bowl to collect the run-off water.
3) For the next four days continue to rinse your seeds two to three times per day.
4) When the sprouts reach an inch long and have developed defined yellow leaves you can expose them to sunlight before harvesting. This causes chlorophyll to develop and within 6-8 hours the leaves will turn green.
5) To separate the seed shells simply pour all of the sprouts into a large mixing bowl and fill with water. This will cause the shells to float to the surface and you can easily scrape them away and drain the water leaving you with fresh sprouts ready to go!
Before storing allow the sprouts to dry and then put into an airtight container in the fridge. The sprouts can be stored like this for 4-6 days.
To freeze the sprouts ensure they are fully dry and then pack them into an airtight bag or container and freeze.
How to eat Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli sprouts have a distinct nutty taste with a mild zing to them. They are a great addition to any salad or meal, especially when dressed with some Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.
If you are not fond of the taste but still want to enjoy the benefits then adding sprouts to a fruit smoothie is a great idea.
For a delicious crunchy salad start with two handfuls of Sprouts. Add chopped Beetroot, Avacado, Red Pepper and Cucumber then dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.