This M.D. Wants You to Eat More Broccoli Sprouts, But What Are They?
Broccoli sprouts pack tons of nutrition, including disease-fighting antioxidants. Here's everything you need to know about buying, storing, growing, and (the best part) eating 'em.
When a well-known, nutrition-focused neurologist gives advice, odds are you're going to listen. One recent example: David Perlmutter, M.D., author of Brain Wash and Grain Brain, took to Instagram to share his love for broccoli sprouts. But what the heck are broccoli sprouts?
Apparently, they're little nutrient-packed sprigs that carry the health-promoting properties of broccoli in a more concentrated form, according to Dr. Perlmutter's video post. But that's just broccoli sprout basics. Here, all the ways these vitamin-packed veggies can improve your health, plus how to buy, store, grow, and use them.
What Are Broccoli Sprouts, Exactly?
Broccoli sprouts are basically the baby version of broccoli—what grows from the dirt before the seeds turn into a full bushel. "Broccoli sprouts are the first green shoots to emerge once a broccoli seed has germinated," says Jennifer Bruning, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That means, once you plant the seeds, a few days later you'll see some greens peek through and that's your sprout. They'll look a lot like other sprouts (say, alfalfa) with white flimsy stems and small green leaves.
Similar to other greens, broccoli sprouts taste fresh and clean, but have a bit more of a grassy flavor, says Bruning. "They don't taste much like broccoli, which means they could be a good ingredient to try for people who aren't a fan of full-grown broccoli," she adds. (Related: Broccoli Leaves Recipe Ideas That Will Limit Your Food Waste)
Doug Evans, co-founder of Organic Avenue and author of The Sprout Book, describes the flavor as milder than broccoli (which, btw, can boost your libido), making the sprouts tastier to eat raw. "They are light yet crunchy, clean-tasting, and with a little kick. You may be able to detect a slight, but not unpleasant, sodium or sulfur taste," he says.
The Benefits of Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli sprouts contain a nutrition profile similar to other cruciferous veggies (as in regular broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), but with all the vitamins and minerals packed into a smaller, more concentrated package. Most importantly, the sprouts contain high amounts of sulforaphane, a cancer-battling compound. Technically, when you chew the broccoli sprouts you activate the enzyme (myrosinase) that converts a compound (glucoraphanin) in the broccoli sprouts into sulforaphane, Dr. Perlmutter explains to Shape. The sulforaphane then reduces inflammation, detoxifies the body, and fights free radicals, according to Dr. Perlmutter. (Related: 15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Should Be Eating Regularly)
Research backs up sulforaphane's ability to stave off cancer, as well as the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Other smaller studies show that the nutrients in broccoli sprouts in particular, including sulforaphane, can help people with cancer live longer and lower inflammation in overweight individuals.
In addition to fighting off serious illness, broccoli sprouts contain a solid amount of dietary fiber to keep you full. One cup of the sprouts contains about 4 grams of fiber, compared to 2 grams in a cup of regular broccoli, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). A cup of the sprouts also contains about 60 percent of the vitamin C you need in a day, which can help you sidestep sickness, says Bruning. (Remember: vitamin c is a serious immune booster.)
Where to Buy Broccoli Sprouts
Thankfully, as broccoli sprouts become more popular, they also become more available, says Evans. You can find them at health food stores, farmer's markets, or even traditional grocery stores. The sprouts (typically sold in plastic clamshell containers at the grocery store or in plastic or paper bags at the farmer's market) should smell fresh, with a light, bitter fragrance—nothing potent. (Related: Is This Ripe? How to Pick the Best Produce)
You can even grow your own sprouts at home. Evans suggests looking for organic broccoli seeds made for sprouting online or at the grocery or health food store. Then, put 2 tablespoons of the seeds in a mason jar, cover them with filtered water, secure with a mesh lid and let them soak for five hours in a cool spot, away from sunlight, at a temperature of about 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Twice a day for about five days, pour out the water, rinse the seeds or sprouts, and add more cool water back in. Once the sprouts grow in—around five days— dry them off with an unbleached paper towel or dishcloth to absorb the moisture, then store the sprouts in the fridge in an open container for up to a week. Be sure to store them dry and in the refrigerator, so they don't grow mold and bacteria, adds Evans. (Don't have much of a green thumb? Check out these tips for first-time gardeners .)
While all the experts say broccoli sprouts taste best served fresh, you can also store them in the freezer to expand their life. Evans suggests putting a few sprouts in ice cube trays (roll them into a ball), top with water, and freeze, so you can easily pop 'em in your smoothie. Speaking of smoothies...
How to Use Broccoli Sprouts
Your best bet: Don't cook 'em. That not only makes them mushy, but it will also cause them to lose their health power and fresh taste, explains Dr. Perlmutter.
One crucial step before you eat broccoli sprouts: Wash them thoroughly, as they have a higher risk of carrying E. coli than other veggies, says Bruning. That's because they grow best in moist environments, which is also a breeding ground for bacteria, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For that reason, Bruning recommends skipping broccoli sprouts if you're immune-compromised, pregnant or very young or old. Or stick to growing your own!
Try about 1/4 to 1/2 cup on top of avocado toast, suggests Bruning. You can also add broccoli sprouts to your usual smoothie recipe (green smoothies FTW!), blending them into gazpacho, or using them as a garnish on top of the soup, says Evans. You can also toss them in a salad. (Or you can go an entirely different route and add broccoli powder to your coffee.)
No matter how you choose to eat them, broccoli sprouts will provide tons of nutrition you can feel good about consuming.