As a youngster, I remember hearing the pleading call from the kitchen: “Make sure to eat your mini trees!” For some reason, thinking of them as little trees really did help.
Growing up, our nightly vegetable was usually some sort of cruciferous vegetable – broccoli, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, etc. – but I had no idea at the time that these were among the most beneficial foods on the planet. Thanks mom!
Why cruciferous veggies are so amazing
So what makes cruciferous vegetables so powerful? One word: sulforaphane. This is the magical ingredient found in cruciferous vegetables that is the most potent dietary regulator of the NRF2 pathway. The NRwhat? Let me explain.
The NRF2 pathway is probably the most important pathway for increasing your body’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential. It does this by regulating 200 different genes involved in these processes. In 2011, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that the top 20% of consumers of cruciferous vegetables had a 22% decrease in all causes of mortality. Say what?! I had to know more…
Here are my top 4 reasons everyone should be boosting their intake of cruciferous veggies:
1. They GREATLY decrease cancer risk
Okay my smoker friends, this is the magic food for you! Studies have shown that intake of more than five servings of cruciferous vegetables every month, compared to less than two, decreased lung cancer in participants by 55%. This is likely due to the activation of the NRF2 pathway – when the pathway is activated, cancer-fighting genes are turned on and get to work!
We see this in other cancers as well – more than four servings every month compared to less than one decreased bladder cancer by 57%, prostate cancer by 41%, and breast cancer by 51%. These results are mind blowing.
2. They slow down the aging process
Because sulforaphane turns on all those amazing cancer-fighting genes, it has a wonderful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ability, which greatly slows down the aging process. On a cellular level, sulforaphane decreases DNA damage and telomere shortening (decreased cell division).
As far as our outside appearance, sulforaphane can prevent balding and protect aging skin. In a study done with mice, sulforaphane increased hair re-growth by an astounding 50%! And thanks in part to the vitamin A found in cruciferous veggies, the active NRF2 pathway also increases antioxidants that protect our skin.
3. They detoxify
Sulforaphane turns on phase II detoxification enzymes, which play a critical role in protecting our bodies against harmful substances. In addition to decreasing lung cancer by 55%, sulforaphane also increases the excretion of benzene, the chemical commonly found in cigarette smoke and car pollution, by 61%! The best idea (and my recommendation) is to quit smoking. But if this doesn’t seem feasible right now, broccoli may be the Holy Grail to prevent some of the negative health effects attributed to smoking. Sulforaphane has also been shown to turn harmful pro-carcinogenic agents into water-soluble conjugates that are less reactive and more easily excreted.
4. They have promising mental health effects
Mental health disorders have been shown to correlate greatly with inflammation, impacting neurotransmitter function and production. Since the NRF2 pathway turns on anti-inflammatory genes, we can assume sulforaphane likely shows promise for improving mental health. In fact, in mice, sulforaphane was shown to be as effective as Prozac for combating depression and anxiety. Sulforaphane supplementation also increased autism checklist scores by 34%. Although there hasn’t been much research yet on how sulforaphane can be used to alleviate depression and anxiety in humans, it shows a ton of promise.
Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you that boosting your intake of cruciferous veggies is a brilliant idea. But you may be wondering what veggie has the most sulforaphane, and the most bang for your buck? How much should you consume?
Broccoli sprouts have 100x higher the amount of glucorathanine, which is the precursor to sulforaphane. So, if you really want to boost your antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, broccoli sprout consumption is the way to go! Most studies include around 40mg of broccoli sprout powder or 100g of raw broccoli sprouts. It’s always better go to the whole food route – better for you, and much cheaper. Win-win.
Get to sprouting y’all!