The secret to broccoli’s superfood status

Happy New Year! I hope you had a peaceful and relaxing Christmas Break, and are feeling great about 2024.

This month I decided to focus on a fascinating compound called sulforaphane – a big name with big health benefits! In fact, it is one of the most potent food-derived anti-carcinogens known at this time. Read on to find out what sulforaphane is, how it benefits us, and how to maximise its potential in your daily diet. 

What is sulforaphane?

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, are well-known for their disease-preventive effects, but have you ever wondered why exactly that is? One reason is because of the compound called sulforaphane (SFN) which you’ll find in cruciferous vegetables and also in potent extract form.

Sulforaphane (SFN) is the main reason that broccoli is considered a superfood. It’s also found in cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, mustard and wasabi. However it’s a humble sprouted seed that contains the highest concentrations – Broccoli seed sprouts contain about 10 times that of broccoli itself, making them a ‘super’ superfood. 

What does sulforaphane do for our body? Studies show it can help fight cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, prevent brain and liver damage, and more. It’s being studied all over the world for a myriad of different conditions, with often startling results. Synthetic versions are being prescribed as part of cancer treatment, and you can find a natural form in a capsule also, but we like to focus on diet first. 

In the US, researchers looked into the benefits of eating vegetables on life expectancy. The top 20 per cent (who at the most veg generally) had approximately 15 per cent less chance of dying young (from any causes). But the top 20 per cent of people who ate the most CRUCIFEROUS vegetables had 22 per cent less chance of dying young,  regardless of other factors like exercise. So there’s something in these vegetables that has a hugely protective effect on our health. 

So what are the possible health benefits of SFN?

Sulforaphane is a powerful anti-inflammatory, with antioxidant-like effects. It helps fight oxidative stress (which is considered to be a major cause of modern diseases like type 2 diabetes and cancer). 

Research shows that sulforaphane can potentially help prevent cancer, diabetes, and liver, lung and brain damage, and much more. It can help boost immunity, it’s cardio-protective (helps our heart) and can help us detoxify serious chemicals. For this reason it might be good to take alongside chemotherapy. 

Initial research often looks at the impact on, say, cancer cells in a test tube environment. But what does this actually mean in our body? One innovative study I found (Johns Hopkins University) gave women who were about to undergo breast-reduction surgery a dose of broccoli-sprout juice just before they went in, and analysed their breast tissue afterwards. The compound SFN was found in their breast tissue. This shows that it is absorbed and also that it targets breast tissue in real time – which is interesting for any of us who are concerned with the increasing levels of breast cancer these days. 

Other studies looked at the way SFN reduces prostate cancer cells, how it can help with bladder and colorectal cancer. 

None of this means you would try to treat cancer by drinking broccoli sprout juice. However, if you want to seriously boost your health, you could add sulforaphane-rich foods into your everyday meals, and I think it’s good to know of ways we can use our diet to help prevent serious disease. 

How to maximise the benefits of SFN

To maximise the benefits of eating SFN-rich foods, you need to eat them nearly raw or very lightly cooked. Making kale salad, or eating broccoli sprouts in a salad is ideal. I also love broccoli and feta salad. Drinking broccoli sprout juice daily is another option. 

However, there are a few ways to maximise the benefits of SFN even when cooking broccoli (I was happy to read this as it’s not all that easy to get kids to eat raw broccoli). According to Dr Gregor (the MD behind the health website the best thing to do is to chop up the broccoli, leave it for 30 minutes (this activates the SFN) and then cook as lightly as you can. In fact, steaming is the best method of cooking broccoli to maximise the SFN, for three minutes maximum. 

Another way to activate the SFN, if you’re short of time, is to use mustard in the same meal – say in a dressing or as a condiment (if you want to dive deep into the chemistry behind this you can do so on Dr Greggor’s website!). Another interesting fact I came across was that fresh broccoli has 10 times the amount of SFN as frozen, so it’s fresh (and organic of course!) all the way for me. 

For general health, the main message from all this interest in cruciferous vegetables is to eat as much as you can, as often as you can. Try to have broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale brussel sprouts and broccoli sprouts on a daily basis. For the highest concentration of SFN, you need to focus on eating broccoli sprouts or broccoli sprout juice. 

We stock ready-to-eat organic broccoli sprouts in Organico. But if you want to really increase your intake of SFN, for more specific health reasons, then growing broccoli sprouts and juicing them could be a good option. You can buy the seeds and sprout them using simple methods at home – we stock broccoli seeds for sprouting, and a quick search online will give you the method. 

If you want to try adding broccoli sprout juice to your diet the easy way, Irish company No Hurt No Harm (NHNH) makes a juice shot from broccoli sprout and beetroot (more palatable than the sprout juice on its own, plus beetroot juice has its own benefits) and these can be found in most health food shops. If your local shop doesn’t stock it, we have it on our online shop. You can also buy sulforaphane in capsule form. 

For more information, you can look up Sulforaphane on Found My Fitness on Youtube (Dr Rhonda Patrick is fascinating) and also on, Dr Greggor’s website.

Organico Shop Deli & Bakery is open from 9am – 6.30pm, Monday – Saturday, on Glengarriff Road in Bantry. Call us on 027 51391; email us on and buy online from us on

Hannah Dare

Hannah Dare co-runs Organico, the café, bakery and health shop in Bantry, West Cork.

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