Have you ever taken the lid off a pot of broccoli or cauliflower and been hit with an unpleasant smell – something sort of like rotten eggs?
That’s the good stuff. The pungent odor you get from brassica vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts – is thanks to a rockstar molecule called sulforaphane (the sulfur is what gives it its smell).
Antioxidants come up a lot at Bulletproof, and sulforaphane is one of the most potent antioxidants available. It’s an exceptionally powerful anti-inflammatory, detoxifier, and even brain enhancer. It builds stronger mitochondria, too, which means a stronger brain and body as you age.
The best part? You don’t have to take a supplement to get this precious little compound. You can find loads of sulforaphane in veggies you’re probably already eating; the key is to prepare them right. Here’s what sulforaphane does for you, and how you can upgrade your broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage to get much more of it.
Sulforaphane + Nrf2 = supercharged antioxidant production
Every cell in your body contains a powerful protein called Nrf2. The little guy is usually sleeping, but when stress, inflammation, or another signal hits your body, Nrf2 wakes up and gets to work. It binds to something called the antioxidant response element (ARE), the master switch that controls antioxidant production. When ARE turns on, your cells start pumping out antioxidants and detox compounds like glutathione, quieting inflammation and protecting you against stress and damage.
The key to starting this whole process is waking up Nrf2. That’s where sulforaphane comes in. It’s a potent Nrf2 activator [1,2], freeing the Nrf2 protein to turn on your antioxidant production. This pathway affects your whole body, which could explain why sulforaphane does so many different things for you:
- Energy. Sulforaphane/Nrf2 activation helps your mitochondria make more ATP (the energy that fuels your whole body) [3,4,5]. Your mitochondria can handle stress better, too, which means more energy and faster recovery for you .
- Detox. Sulforaphane makes your cells create detoxification enzymes that clear carcinogens and other toxins . One study found that sulforaphane increases excretion of airborne pollutants by 61% .
- Reduces symptoms of autism. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of men with autism found that supplementing with sulforaphane dramatically reduced symptoms, including lethargy, irritability, stereotypy, and hyperactivity . Patients took the equivalent of a couple of servings of broccoli a day.
- Weight loss. Activating Nrf2 increases fat burning , and it prevented obesity in mice fed a high-fat diet (mice did not evolve with much fat in their diets, and are notoriously bad at processing it) .
- Kills cancer cells. Sulforaphane destroys cancer cells while simultaneously strengthening healthy mitochondria . It also detoxes carcinogens  and kills cancer cells in Petri dishes , and prevents tumor growth in rats [14,15]. Recent studies have found that sulforaphane helps reverse cancer in humans, too , and the results are so promising that drug companies are currently testing Sulforadex, a synthetic analog of sulforaphane, as a cancer treatment.
Fortunately, you don’t need to take a drug or a supplement to get this stuff.
Top 3 ways to get sulforaphane into your diet
1. Grow your own broccoli sprouts
Sulforaphane is most potent when broccoli is sprouting before it matures into the plant you see in the produce section. The best part? You can easily and cheaply grow these at home.
- 3 tbsp. organic broccoli sprout seeds
- 1 large (32-oz.) mason jar
- Sprouting top
- Small bowl for draining
- Filtered water
- Add seeds to your clean mason jar.
- Cover with about 3 inches of filtered water.
- Leave the seeds to soak in water for about 12 hours (in a cool, dry place, not in the fridge or in direct sunlight).
- After about 12 hours, drain the water and rinse and drain your seeds into the draining dish.
- Rinse and drain your sprouts twice per day (once in the morning, once at night) until your seeds sprout (usually 5-6 days).
- When your jar is full of fresh sprouts, they’re done.
- Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Store in the fridge.
- Enjoy in salads, soups, and smoothies!
Recommended dose: Eat ½-1 cup of sprouts daily on salads or in soups or stews, along with some raw radish.
Time of day: Anytime
2. Steam your brassicas
The best sources of sulforaphane are broccoli sprouts or an activated sulforaphane supplement, but there’s also plenty of it in the other members of the brassica family: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. To access sulforaphane, you have to coax your veggies to release myrosinase, an enzyme that mixes with a compound called glucoraphanin to create sulforaphane.
In other words, myrosinase + glucoraphanin = sulforaphane. Myrosinase releases in response to physical damage (think chopping or chewing) and gentle cooking.
You’ll get a little bit of sulforaphane from raw or fully cooked veg, but the sweet spot is in the middle. Light steaming (3-4 minutes) will triple the sulforaphane you absorb [17,18].
Bonus points if you slice your veggies, let them sit for a few minutes to release myrosinase, and then gently steam them.
One last thing: buy your brassica veggies fresh, not frozen. Frozen broccoli is blanched before it’s frozen. The combo deactivates myrosinase, which means no sulforaphane .
3. Take an activated sulforaphane supplement
Most of the sulforaphane you’ll find online requires activation by gut bacteria that aren’t common, so you probably won’t see much benefit from it. You can either buy an enzyme-activated sulforaphane or make sure to eat a bite of raw radish or cruciferous vegetable (like a broccoli stalk) to get the right living enzymes in your gut to activate the supplement.
Recommended dose: 10 mg sulforaphane daily with some raw cruciferous vegetable or raw radish or 10 mg of an enzyme-activated sulforaphane supplement.
Time of day: Anytime, on an empty stomach.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and have a great week!