Light, crunchy and appealing, sprouts add that just-right zip to many of your favorite dishes. Sprouts also earn their place in your food budget with their convenience and wealth of nutritional and health benefits. However, pay close attention to the source of your sprouts, as these mini-vegetables can harbor bacteria that may cause serious illness.
When seeds germinate they do some of the work of digestion for you by breaking down proteins, fats and starches into their component parts, making them easier for your body to digest and use. Levels of certain nutrients, such as protein, vitamins and enzymes increase during the sprouting process so that sprouts are, ounce-for-ounce, more nutritious than the seeds they came from. Additionally, many sprouts begin to develop chlorophyll, which may offer potent cancer prevention benefits, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Broccoli sprouts provide up to 100 times as much anti-cancer benefit as the mature plant, according to a May 2008 article in "Yoga Journal." High levels of sulforaphane give broccoli and broccoli sprouts their cancer-fighting benefits. Anti-inflammatory effects of broccoli sprouts may decrease your risk for stroke, high blood pressure and other forms of cardiovascular disease. A tissue culture study published in the May 2010 issue of the journal "Clinical Cancer Research" found that sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts inhibited breast cancer cells.
Alfalfa, soy, clover and flaxseed sprouts can help you fend off some forms of cancer and heart disease. These sprouts are particularly rich in phytoestrogens, estrogen-like compounds that have a gentle hormonal effect. A review of previously published research that appeared in the 2005 issue of the journal "Nutrition and Cancer" found that plant lignans are particularly effective for preventing breast cancer in premenopausal women. Phytoestrogens such as isoflavones, coumestans and lignans also protect against osteoporosis.
Vitamins and Minerals
Alfalfa sprouts, a staple in salads and sandwiches, offer a wealth of nutritional benefits. Alfalfa sprouts are high in vitamins A, C, E and K and minerals, such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron. They also provide a good source of phytochemicals, nutrients that are not essential, meaning that you do not have to obtain them from food in order to live, but that provide a considerable health boost.
Raw sprouts can be a source of food-borne illness and have caused more than 30 outbreaks of disease over the past 15 years, according to the University of California, Davis. Sprouts are particularly susceptible to contamination due to the conditions necessary for them to germinate, allowing bacteria on the seeds to thrive during the sprouting process. As a result, the FDA has advised that sprouts be cooked before eating.
- University of California, Davis: Ask the Experts
- American College of Health Sciences: Grow-It-Yourself Alfalfa Sprouts More Fun Than They Sound
- Yoga Journal: Lively Bites
- The Complete Guide to Growing and Using Sprouts: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply; Richard Helweg
- Sulforaphane, a Dietary Component of Broccoli/Broccoli Sprouts, Inhibits Breast Cancer Stem Cells
- Clinical Cancer Research: Nutrition and Cancer: Dietary Lignans: Potential Role in Cancer Prevention
- Community Nutrition: Applying Epidemiology to Contemporary Practice; Gail C. Frank
- Sprouts, the Miracle Food: The Complete Guide to Sprouting; Steve Meyerowitz
- Linus Pauling Institute: Cancer Prevention by Chlorophylls
Tracey Roizman, DC is a writer and speaker on natural and preventive health care and a practicing chiropractor. She also holds a B.S. in nutritional biochemistry.