Research has previously shown that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower contain a cancer-protective compound called sulforaphane which improves the liver’s ability to detoxify carcinogens and other toxins. Three-day-old broccoli sprouts contain 10-100 times higher levels of sulforaphane than the mature plants. Just one ounce of broccoli sprouts contains as much sulforaphane as one-and-a-half pounds of broccoli.
Now a new University of Illinois study published in the January 2011 issue of Nutrition and Cancer suggests that combining broccoli with broccoli sprouts may make the vegetable’s anti-cancer effect almost twice as powerful.
According to Elizabeth Jeffery, a professor of nutrition at the University, it takes only three to five servings of broccoli per week to obtain the cancer prevention benefits. However, to get the benefits the broccoli needs an enzyme called myrosinase to form the sulforaphane, its active cancer fighting substance.
The problem, however, is that many people overcook their broccoli and in the process, they destroy the myrosinase. Jeffery recommends steaming broccoli for two to four minutes only to protect both the enzyme and the vegetable’s nutrients.
The good news, however, is that broccoli sprouts have an abundant supply of myrosinase.
The researchers also noted that some health-conscious consumers use broccoli powder supplements but don’t get the same benefits because the supplements often do not contain the enzyme. They hypothesized that myrosinase combined with the broccoli powder would increase the sulforaphane.
The study was very small consisting of four healthy men eating broccoli sprouts alone, broccoli powder alone, or a combination of the two. Tests performed three hours after the meals showed an almost twofold increase in sulforaphane absorption when sprouts and powder were eaten together. According to the researchers, this indicated that myrosinase from the broccoli sprouts produced sulforaphane not only from the sprouts but also from the broccoli powder.
The authors note that other sulforaphane containing foods, such as mustard, radishes, arugula, and wasabi, can be added to broccoli to boost its effects. For example, they suggest sprinkling broccoli sprouts on broccoli or making a mustard sauce to serve with broccoli.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a line of broccoli sprouts and sprout blends under the brand name BroccoSprouts. They are widely available in the Philadelphia area and can be found at Whole Foods Markets, Wegman’s Markets, Genuardi’s Markets, Redner’s Warehouse, Giant Food Markets, Weis Markets and Acme Markets. They can be eaten raw and are great on sandwiches, in wraps or as a salad topping.