Your mom always told you to eat your broccoli. Turns out she was right. Now there is research that shows that this always-healthy food contains an even more powerful compound than your everyday lineup of vitamin-packed veggies, one that could possibly help fight off the virus that we are all trying to avoid: COVID-19. It also protects against cancer and other ailments, according to emerging research.

There is a building body of research to show that the controversial green veggie (George Bush 1 was no fan) is found to deliver a super compound called Sulforaphane Glucosinolate, which is known as a disease-fighting agent that boosts immunity even as it helps take the stress off your other organs.

Sulforaphane is a killer to bugs, in the garden and in your body

Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound found in several cruciferous vegetables like bok choy, cabbage and kale, but broccoli delivers the mother load. When it is activated as glucosinolate, this compound fights off bugs. Literally when a bug bites into the stalk, leaf or flowering buds of the plant it releases this sulfuric gas that kills the invaders, thereby protecting the plant. This is the same agent that gives broccoli that sulfuric smell when you cook it, so don't overcook it since you'd rather all of that end up in your body than in the kitchen air.

On a basic cellular level, scientists now believe that this compound does the exact same thing in your body: When broccoli gets chopped or cut or broken (or chewed for that matter) the sulforaphane releases its defenses against the invaders in the body, which allows you to fight off "bugs" such as viruses. How cool is that?

Sulforaphane Gets Released When the Broccoli Gets Cut, Chopped or Chewed

Sulforaphane gets activated when glucoraphanin comes into contact with myrosinase, a family of enzymes that help defend the plant in nature. These enzymes get released when a plant is damaged. So to get the benefit the plant needs to be cut, chopped or chewed.

Raw vegetables have the highest levels of sulforaphane, and raw broccoli has up to ten times more sulforaphane than cooked broccoli. Steaming broccoli for three minutes optimizes the release of sulforaphane, but keep the temperature low (below 250) and avoid boiling or microwaving it since overlooking neutralizes the compound.

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The Benefits of Sulforaphane Extend to Cancer Prevention

In studies in the lab, sulforaphane has been shown to have strong health benefits, including preventing cancer cell growth by releasing antioxidant and detoxification enzymes that protect against carcinogens, according to a growing body of studies.

Now, Chris D’Adamo, PhD, the Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, specifically wants us to understand that the compounds in broccoli are even more powerful when combined with specific extracts from maitake mushroom. And if we don't want to make broccoli and maitake mushroom soup by the vat full to give ourselves the edge, he has a few recommendations of what we can do to get the same effects, without turning into broccoli and mushroom fueled machines.

A nutritional epidemiologist by training, D'Adamo tells us there is "a lot we can do to improve our immune system" through diet, specifically eating combinations of foods like broccoli and mushrooms, or adding a supplement that mimics the effects. He is working to educate medical students and doctors to try to get them to teach patients to eat more veggies.

"Through a lot of work that has been done on micronutrients hows us that sulforaphane is one of the most powerful compounds we have seen. What sulforaphane does is it has anti-inflammatory effects and also shown some promising effects against cancer. Sulforaphane helps reduce clinical inflammation and there are quite a few clinical trials that show it may reduce cancer growth in early trials."

Broccoli Sprouts, Supplements and Boosting Your Immune System

This magical compound sulforaphane been shown to have anti-microbial effects and is being taken in supplement form to fight against Herpes, Hepatitis C, and flu viruses, D'Adamo explains, and he said that some people are using it to strengthen their immunity in light of the coronavirus. "Sulforaphane increases the body's natural killer cells that are part of the normal immune response that fights pathogens like this," he explains.

From a study on broccoli and the power of sprouts and sulforaphane:

"Since diet is an integral part of the lifestyle and given that an estimated one-third of human cancers are believed to be preventable through appropriate lifestyle modification including dietary habits... Several epidemiological studies have indicated that consumption of broccoli is associated with a lower risk of cancer incidence, including breast, prostate, lung, stomach and colon cancer.

"Broccoli is a rich source of sulforaphane, which is considered to be a potent anti-cancer agent. Plant-based dietary agents such as sulforaphane mimic chemotherapeutic drugs...  Evidence from epidemiological and experimental studies have emerged, enhancing the clinical plausibility and translational value of sulforaphane in cancer chemoprevention.

Sulforaphane has the power to reduce "viral load" in studies.

In addition to fighting cancer, sulforaphane has the power to "reduce viral load" according to the latest studies: "Ingestion of sulforaphane-containing broccoli sprout homogenates (BSH) reduces markers of viral load in the nose," so now D'Adamo and others are recommending taking daily sulforaphane could be helpful against COVID-19. If you want to get high-intensity in your food consider broccoli sprouts, which are easy to grow on your own windowsill,.

Of course, not everyone loves broccoli, or broccoli sprouts and the easiest way to get enough of the compound is through a supplement.

When choosing a broccoli sprout derived sulforaphane supplement, Dr. D’Adamo recommends looking for those that have active myrosinase, clinical research and maitake mushroom for immune support. Chris D'Adamo recommends the brand of  Avmacol Extra Strength since it contains a combination of sulforaphane and extracts from maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) that he says boosts the strength of immunity benefits. But any broccoli sprout derived sulforaphane supplement that is all-natural will give you the immunity boost you're looking for.

If someone asks what to eat during COVID-19 just tell them: broccoli, baby, with a chaser of mushrooms. That's nature's way of helping our bodies along in the fight against bugs and other nasty things. Go load up at the farm stand. Since right about now, reaching for something that will help strengthen immunity seems like a great idea.