The new mantra from Mom may soon be, "Eat your broccoli sprouts."
Three-day-old sprouts from broccoli seeds are 20 to 50 times richer in the chemicals thought to protect against cancer, compared with mature broccoli, scientists reported at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore.
So a seemingly insurmountable problem--how to gag down enough broccoli to do some good--may be solved. The tiny sprouts don't even taste like broccoli.
"They have a far more interesting taste than other sprouts. It's rather good. They have a tang to them that is sort of like radish," said Dr. Paul Talalay, a pharmacologist at Johns Hopkins. "They don't have the grassy taste of alfalfa sprouts," and they would be good in sandwiches and in salads, he said. Broccoli sprouts are about midway in size between bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts.
Talalay, a broccoli enthusiast, is most excited about the prospect that broccoli sprouts "may offer a simple dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk."
Unfortunately, there are no broccoli sprouts to eat. The sprouts are not--yet--a commercial product. He warned that commercial seeds are usually treated with fungicides and insecticides, so sprouts grown at home might be dangerous.
To get around that problem, Talalay recently established the Brassica Foundation to test and certify plant products such as sprouts that offer cancer protection, and certify their safety. Talalay wears a small silver broccoli sprig pinned to his lapel.
His discovery of rich potential in broccoli sprouts was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors are postdoctoral fellow Yuesheng Zhang and plant physiologist Jed Fahey, also at Johns Hopkins.
The goal is to find chemicals that mobilize the so-called phase 2 detoxification enzymes that cells use to guard against mutations and other biochemical damage. One of the best-studied is sulforaphane.
Fahey explained that sulforaphane "is a very potent promoter of phase 2 enzymes" in living animals. And extracts from broccoli sprouts, fed to female rats, seemed to reduce cancer incidence and reduce tumor size when the animals were dosed with a carcinogen.