Inside Essentials: Broccoli Seed Sprouts

Broccoli sprouts may look kind of small and unassuming, and sometimes they and their friends, the other types of sprouts, are dismissed as being the fare of over-zealous health cranks.  However, broccoli sprouts are little powerhouses of nutrients which can be exceptionally good for us, plus they add a bit of texture and variety to salads. So let’s take a closer look at these small but surprisingly feisty little life forms.

The parent of the sprout, the mature broccoli plant, contains sulforaphane, a compound which has potent ability to help our liver to detoxify potential cancer-causing agents. And here’s the thing about broccoli sprouts – they have up to a hundred times more glucosinolates, which are precursors of sulforaphane, than the mature plants (1). In a laboratory experiment it was found that broccoli sprouts were highly effective at preventing tumors, whilst in another study on people living in rural China, where there is a high liver cancer rate due to aflatoxin, it was found that consuming broccoli sprouts reduced levels of potential carcinogens (2, 3).  Sulforaphane has also been found to prevent benign tumors in mice from becoming malignant by causing damaged cells to be destroyed (4).

Other studies on sulforaphanes and broccoli sprouts have shown that they can improve cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation in the airways of asthma sufferers, and inhibit infection with H. pylori, the bacteria linked with stomach ulcers (5, 6, 7).  

Sprouts in general have exceptionally concentrated levels of nutrients, first because the seed, grain or bean they come from contains all the nutrients required to grow a new plant and secondly because the sprouting process greatly increases the content and bioavailability of the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids and enzymes present. Sprouts also contain the nucleic acids RNA and DNA which are necessary for healthy cell division and thus may help protect against cancer.  

So if you feel your interest sprouting, try adding sprouts to salads and sandwiches or simply sprinkling them over compatible dishes such as baked potatoes with beans or tuna, stir-fries, or any other dish you can think of.  You can also try growing your own sprouts at home.  And if you don’t particularly like them, you can mix them into a smoothie as part of your daily dose of Essentials.  


(1) Fahey JW, Zhang Y, Talalay P (1997). Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A  Sep 16;94(19):10367-72.
(2) ibid
(3) Kensler, TW et al (2005). Effects of glucosinolate-rich broccoli sprouts on urinary levels of aflatoxin-DNA adducts and phenanthrene tetraols in a randomized clinical trial in He Zuo township, Qidong, People’s Republic of China. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 14(11 pt 1); 2605-13.
(4) Yang, YM et al (2006). “N-acetylcysteine conjugate of phenethyl isothiocyanate enhances apoptosis in growth-stimulated human lung cells”. Cancer Research 65 (18): 8538–8547
(5) Murashima, M et al (2004). Phase I study of multiple biomarkers for metabolism and oxidative stress after one-week intake of broccoli sprouts. Biofactors 22(1-4):271-5.
(6) Riedl, M A; Saxon, A; Diaz-Sanchez D (2009). Oral sulforaphane increases Phase II antioxidant enzymes in the human upper airway.  Clinical Immunology 130(3):244-251.
(7) Galan M V; Kishan A A; Silverman A L (2004). Oral broccoli sprouts for the treatment of Helicobacter Pylori infection: a preliminary report. Digestive Diseases and Sciences 49(7-8):1088-90.

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