5 Benefits of Sulforaphane—And How to Get More of It In Your (And Your Kids') Diet
I don't know about you guys, but I have a pretty serious relationship with veggies. I mean, they taste yummy AND they're exceptionally good for you?
Yeah, pretty much love at first sight.
And I looooove when new research comes out explaining the incredible benefits of specific compounds found in veggies. As far as I'm concerned, the more details I know about the food I'm eating and why it's so good for me, the more likely it is that I'll consume it on the reg—and keep coming up with creative and tasty ways to get my kids to eat it, too.
One compound that's been making big news in the nutrition world lately is sulforaphane. I want to share some info about it now, but fair warning: after reading this article, you may end up with an insane craving for broccoli.
Sulforaphane is an organic sulfur compound belonging to a group of phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates. It's predominantly found in cruciferous veggies, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts, kale, bok choy, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Okay, technically sulforaphane isn't in these veggies—rather, it's stored in a precursor form and then enzymatically transformed into sulforaphane once the veggies are frozen, chopped, crushed, chewed, etc. (this actually evolved as a protective plant response to ward off insects). When ingested, the compound is a virtual health elixir for humans.
And no, I don't think I'm being dramatic about this—just take a peek at the what the research has to say.
5 Benefits of This Powerful Phytonutrient
There are a gazillion scientifically-significant benefits of sulforaphane. For the sake of time, I'm highlighting just a handful:
1. Prevents or slows cancer growth.
Eating just three servings of broccoli per week may reduce a man's risk of prostate cancer by as much as 60%. This promising bit of data makes sense when we learn that sulforaphane is chemo-preventive—the anti-cancer compound actually triggers programed cell death (apotosis) in colon, prostate, breast, and lung cancer cells.
2. Alleviates and prevents chronic illnesses.
Sulforaphane has been shown to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, enhance metabolism and fat burning, improve blood glucose control, raise "healthy" HDL cholesterol levels, and offer a host of other biological effects—a legit grab bag of "good for you" benefits. For this reason, study after study has found that sulforaphane can prevent and manage a wide range of chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even depression and anxiety.
3. Provides anti-aging benefits.
Sulforaphane has been shown to squash oxidative stress—a type of cellular damage linked to aging. In the skin specifically, it protects against damage caused by ultraviolet radiation, one of the leading causes of wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer.
4. Reduces symptoms of autism.
In a randomized double-blinded study published in the peer-reviewed Global Advances in Health and Medicine, researchers discovered that adding sulforaphane to the diet of children with autism reduced common behavioral symptoms. Improvements were seen during the study itself and after a 3-year follow up.
5. Improves cognitive function.
Research has shown that sulforaphane can improve cognitive function in people with hepatic encephalopathy (impaired brain function due to liver damage) and traumatic brain injury. And for people with Alzheimer's dementia, sulforaphane can reduce neurobehavioral deficits, at least in part by reducing the impact of amyloid plaque build-up in the brain.
It's a safe bet to say sulforaphane offers neuro-protective benefits for people with typical brain function, as well. This is no small thanks to the fact sulforaphane has been shown to increase the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), aka "Miracle Gro" for the brain.
Better wellness for brain AND body? Clearly this little compound packs a powerful punch!
How to Quarterback Sneak Sulforaphane Into Your Family's Diet
If your family is anything like mine, then eating veggies isn't seen as a chore to tick off the list—it's just a part of daily life. Don't get me wrong, though—sometimes my boys still groan about the green stuff.
To make sure you're getting the right amount of sulforaphane-rich veggies in your diet without completely boring your taste buds, try these tips:
- Add frozen broccoli sprouts into your morning smoothie.
- Steam broccoli florets and top with ghee and salt.
- Try "riced" cauliflower seasoned with coconut aminos for an Asian-inspired side.
- Make a homemade coleslaw with raw cabbage.
- Sprinkle ground mustard seed over your cruciferous veggies—this popular condiment contains an enzyme that makes it easier for your body to absorb sulforaphane.
How much of sulforaphane do we need, exactly? So far, the research hasn't quite confirmed a single optimal dose. But if we base it off of bioactive doses observed in animal models, then around 0.1 to 0.5 mg of sulforaphane per kilogram of bodyweight seems sufficient (although more may offer additional benefits).
This works out to around 7 to 34 milligrams per day for a 150 pound person, or around 10 milligrams for a typical 6-year-old kid—NOT a lot. You can get a whopping 73 mg in a 1 ounce serving of broccoli sprouts (which have up to 100 times more of the sulforaphane precursor, by weight, than mature broccoli or cauliflower).
Unfortunately, the precursor to sulforaphane is heat sensitive—meaning if you cook your veggies too much, the potency of this compound will go down. On the other hand, heating it up to a certain extent may actually increase the sulforaphane content, since a temperature change can induce the enzymatic process required to turn the precursor into the actual compound we want.
Your best bet? Eat your sulforaphane-rich veggies raw or lightly steamed whenever possible—or consume a few extra servings to make up for the reduced potency induced by cooking.
Besides, getting an extra amount of an anti-cancer, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, neuro-protective, and anti-diabetic compound doesn't sound like such a bad deal, anyway.