Sproutrageous Nutrition: The Health Benefits of Sprouts
You might be familiar with sprouts as a trendy superfood or sandwich garnish. They’re healthy, refreshing, extremely low in calories, and they add a satisfying crunch to the top of any dish. But what makes these tiny greens so good for you-- and are these small wispy greens really better than fully matured plants?
What are the benefits to eating sprouts?
Sprouts have ample health benefits, many of which won’t be found in other stages of their maturity-- seeds, nuts, or fully-matured plants.
Sprouts vs. Fully-Grown Veggies
While you will get many of the same nutritional benefits from eating fully matured plants as eating the less matured sprouts of the same plant, there are a few additional health benefits to know about sprouts.
Fresh sprouts are healthy because they are in their most biologically concentrated form. This means that you can consume more antioxidants, proteins, and helpful enzymes, from eating a few broccoli sprouts as you can from eating a whole head of broccoli.
Sprouts also contain higher protein and phytochemical levels than their fully matured counterparts. Phytochemicals are bioactive compounds associated with decreased risk in many different types of chronic diseases and help to increase vascular blood flow.
This study found that 3-day-old sprouts of cultivars of certain crucifers (a specific type of leafy green plant, such as cauliflower) contain 10–100 times higher levels of glucoraphanin, which through certain biological processes in metabolism, can lead to a decrease in neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
Sprouts vs. Seeds and Nuts
Sprouts are also often easier to digest and offer more nutrients than nuts or seeds. The reason for this is that seeds have antinutrients, which defend their substances from being broken down during digestion. The evolutionary benefit of this is to allow the seeds and nuts to pass through a digestive tract intact, retaining the ability to sprout, root, and grow after passing through.
When a nut or seed sprouts, it allows the nutrients within to be more accessible in the digestion process. In fact, sprouting a seed or nut can reduce the anti-nutrient content by up to 90% for consumption.
What are the most nutritious sprouts to eat?
Almost all sprouts offer some unique health benefits, but there are a few exceptionally nutritious varieties to start with:
Mung beans make the top of the list. These nutty-tasting beans are full of fiber and offer vitamins B, C, and K. They also contain high quantities of folate and iron. In fact, a cup of mung beans can offer up to 12% of your recommended daily intake of iron.
Broccoli sprouts are another tasty choice, packing in vitamins C and A, calcium, iron, and protein. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant and vitamin A supports a healthy immune system.
Alfalfa sprouts are also high on the list. One cup of these sprouts clocks in at around 8 calories and offer vitamin K, vitamin C, copper, manganese, folate, iron, and more. That cup also has about one gram of protein.
Sprouted lentils are a great meat replacement as they’re extremely high in protein, but contain no fats, saturated or otherwise. They’re also packed with vitamin C, folate, and potassium.
Wheatgrass sprouts have an exceptionally high level of amino acids. Of the 17 total amino acids found in wheatgrass sprouts, 8 are essential, meaning they cannot be produced by the human body and must be collected by plant consumption. They’ve also been proven to show anti-cancer, anti-ulcer, antioxidant, and anti-arthritic activity in this recent study.
Are Sprouts Dangerous?
The short answer? Not more so than other potentially infectious foods, such as meat or eggs. But you may have seen health warnings around sprouts, as they have the potential to carry certain food-borne illnesses. Some are wary of these superfoods because the conditions necessary for sprouts to thrive (warm and moist environments) are the same for some harmful bacterias.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid eating sprouts-- it just means you should munch on them safely. There are a few things to remember when preparing and consuming sprouts:
Growing them yourself is preferable. Fresh sprouts are key, and unfortunately it’s not always possible to ensure your supermarket sprouts are fresh. Farmers Markets are better, but the only way to be completely sure that your sprouts are fresh is to grow them in your own garden.
Rinse them thoroughly. As is good practice with all produce, make sure to rinse your sprouts well before eating.
Consider lightly cooking or roasting them. Sprouts can be good in soups, stir fries, or as crispy, baked garnishes on top of entrees. Cooking sprouts, and therefore exposing them to high temperatures, can help burn off any harmful bacteria that can be lingering.
Choose your sprouts based on taste or nutritional value, and remember to eat them fresh from your garden-- as soon as they’re harvested! Happy sprouting as we sail into Spring.