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What are Sulforaphane Foods?


Sulforaphane may be the best thing you’ve never heard of. We know that many powerhouse foods, like kale, broccoli, blueberries, and more, are packed with antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and all kinds of compounds that fight diabetes, aging, and cancer. One of the newest compounds science has discovered is sulforaphane. Here are the best sulforaphane foods and exactly why they should be on your next grocery list.

What Is Sulforaphane?

Bunches of kale, know for its Sulforaphane compounds

Sulforaphane is an iso-thiocyanate molecule present as a glucoraphanin (a type of organic compound) in certain foods. When this compound comes in contact with an enzyme called myrosinase, it transforms into the compound we want: sulforaphane. The important enzyme needed to make this transformation is present in sulforaphane foods, but it can only come in contact with the glucoraphanin molecule when the food gets chopped or chewed up.

What Does It Do?

Slows Down Aging

healthy professional at work

Sulforaphane can interact with our DNA, turning on genes that initiate DNA repair and decreasing inflammation. The master protein in our body that controls every gene related to longevity is the Nrf2 gene. For whatever reason, as we age, this gene tends to “turn off.” Sulforaphane turns it back on. This gene is also responsible for stopping inflammation, which makes sulforaphane a potent anti-inflammatory.

Fights Diabetes

The root cause of all the trouble in diabetes is high blood sugar. In 2017, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden did a study of nearly 100 people with Type II diabetes. They regularly fed them either a placebo or a helping of broccoli sprouts.

In 12 weeks, those who had been eating the broccoli sprouts had 10% lower blood sugar readings than those on the placebo. This was without adjusting any other factors related to diet or exercise. The best news? There were none of the side effects that usually come with diabetes medications.

Protects the Brain

brain food

This is one of the few compounds in the foods we eat that is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, making it especially potent for mental health. Because it can cross the blood-brain barrier, its anti-inflammatory effects have enormous potential for treating mental illnesses, neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism, and traumatic brain injuries.

So far, tests have shown that large doses of this important compound improved autistic behavior checklist scores by 34% and resulted in significant improvement in verbal communication and social interaction. In animal studies, it has proved promising for depression, where it worked just as well as Prozac for mice. It also reduced tremors in mice with Parkinson’s disease.

Helps Muscles Recover

Thirsty beautiful sportswoman doing her jogging training

Sulforaphane represses myostatin, a protein that stops muscle growth. This, combined with its anti-inflammatory properties, makes it easier for our muscles to recover from injury or even disease. In mice, this compound increased muscle mass by 30%.

Fighting Cancer

There have been no human trials so far, but the observational studies and animal studies are promising. For now, what we do know is that cruciferous veggies are the primary sulforaphane foods, and those who eat at least five servings of these vegetables per week have a 41% lower risk of prostate cancer, 51% lower risk of bladder cancer, and 50% less risk of breast cancer.

In rats who were deliberately given a chemical that causes bladder cancer, only 38% went on to develop the disease when they were fed sulforaphane. Men with prostate cancer who were given 60mg of this compound per day saw an 86% drop in the size of their tumors.

Important Sulforaphane Foods

If you’re looking to incorporate more sulforaphane foods into your diet, it’s important to know not just which foods have it but how much you need to eat. Not all compounds that are found in the foods we eat are readily bioavailable to us, meaning that it’s often important to eat much more of a food than you would think in order to get the benefits you’re hoping for.

You can find this compound in the most common cruciferous vegetables. Here are the key vegetables that contain this compound, in order of richness:

    • Broccoli sprouts
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Mustard greens
    • Turnips
    • Savoy cabbage
    • Kale
    • Watercress
    • Kohlrabi
    • Red cabbage
    • Broccoli
    • Horseradish
    • Cauliflower
    • Bok choy

Bok choy or Chinese-cabbage on black table. Pak choi. Top view

Broccoli sprouts are by far the richest of the sulforaphane foods, with 281mg in just one ounce. Kale falls somewhere in the middle: 1/2 cup of kale has about 67mg. Cauliflower and bok choy offer around 20mg for 1/2 cup.


Your body will only be able to process the glucoraphanin in these foods if you eat them raw. Unfortunately, only about 20% of the glucoraphanin in these foods is actually absorbed by our bodies, meaning that you need to eat a significant amount on a regular basis. Fortunately, most of these cruciferous vegetables are easy to add to salads, coleslaw, and similar side dishes.

How to Get More Broccoli Sprouts In Your Diet

Assorted vegetable sprouts, broccoli, alfalfa, red cabbage in old box on gray stone background with copy space.

While all the foods on the list above are relatively high in this important compound, broccoli sprouts are by far the most potent. How do you eat more of them, and even trickier, how can you get more into your kids’ diet?

Add sprouts to all your blended soups, particularly cold soups. They can also be added to any salad recipe, and if chopped up small will go almost completely unnoticed. If your kids are particularly picky, a few sprouts mixed in their juice or smoothie won’t be noticed, and they can also go on top of tacos and even hamburgers successfully. Try adding some sprouts to your wraps or sandwiches, as well.

Learn More

Sulforaphane foods lower inflammation, fight the aging process and are weapons in the fight against many diseases and disorders that affect us. We’re just discovering their true potential, and it will be exciting to see where the research leads.

Add cruciferous vegetables to your diet, and especially broccoli sprouts. Your heart, brain, and future self will thank you. And for more tips on the healthiest foods and lifestyle choices and how to incorporate them into your busy day, visit Healthy Foods Mag today.