Steamed, roasted, sautéed, or raw, broccoli is packed with nutrition, including vitamins C and K; calcium, iron, magnesium, and other minerals; and the health-promoting phytochemicals indoles, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane. That mouthful of nutrition adds up to a powerful package of anti-inflammatory (and potentially cancer-fighting) goodness. So, yeah — Mom always said to eat your broccoli, and she was right.
Well, kind of. While steamed broccoli has its place, the best source of one of the most important nutrients in broccoli’s arsenal — the aforementioned sulforaphane — is found in the highest concentrations in very young broccoli sprouts, which contain 10 to 100 times more sulforaphane than the mature vegetable does, according to research by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published in 1997.
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Why does this matter? Sulforaphane has been called a wonder chemical that works by triggering antioxidant compounds in the body’s cells, which boosts the body’s defense system against all kinds of disease. Numerous studies have shown it to inhibit the growth of cancer cells (Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 2015) and repair damaged DNA (The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2013), and help reduce the risk of diabetes (Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017) and cardiovascular disease (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014).
Of the many thousands of phytochemicals in the food supply, sulforaphane’s potential health benefits cover the widest range of diseases and conditions, according to researchers of a review published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2016.
Microgreens and Sprouts: Health Fact or Diet Hype?
Sprouted seeds and legumes (alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, radish) have been eaten for centuries in many parts of the world and started gaining popularity in the U.S. in the 1970s. Grown in water for two to three days, sprouts are lauded as excellent sources of antioxidants, essential amino acids, and vitamins and minerals.
Their slightly older cousins, microgreens — part of a widening interest in nutrient-dense foods — hit the U.S. food scene in the 1990s. Grown in soil for at least seven days before harvest, microgreens — including spinach, Swiss chard, and arugula — pack 4 to 40 times more vitamins and minerals than their full-grown counterparts, as reported in a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2012. The result? You can get all those vitamins and minerals by eating a much smaller portion of microgreens.