If you are passionate about excellent health and excellent food, then sprouts are a food source that is probably already part of your diet, or one that you will want to include. The benefits of sprouts run far and wide where our health is concerned. They are packed full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and enzymes, as well as highly digestible forms of complete protein. Add to that some life energy and you have a supreme food source on your hands, or plate as would apply to our discussion here.
While many of us are already enjoying the powerful benefits of sprouts, to many more of us sprouts may be a complete mystery. What are they? How do we eat them? Where do we get them? And why are they so darn good for us, may be some of the questions you are wondering about yourself. So in this essay, let's explore some of the basics of understanding sprouts.
Sprouts, as the name implies, refer to seeds (including nuts, grains, legumes and beans) that have been brought out of their dry, dormant stage. The seeds are first soaked and then kept in a warm, moist environment that induces them to do what nature intended in order to produce new life—SPROUT!
Sprouts have been an ancient food source, used and depended on for centuries by various cultures, originating most notably in China. In The Sprouting Book, author Ann Wigmore explains that during his sea voyages in the 1800's, Capitan James Cook actually relied on the nutritional power of sprouts to save his crew from succumbing to scurvy. In our Western world, they made a popular emergence around the 60's and 70's, only to re-surface with increased popularity a few decades later. In the last few decades we have been experiencing a tremendous increase in health consciousness, which has led many people to vegetarian, vegan and raw food diets.
When most of us first hear about eating "raw vegan", perhaps we cannot imagine what people like that could possibly eat. Is it just fruits and vegetables? After all, everything else, like grains and beans (aside from meats, eggs and dairy) we have been conditioned into thinking needs to be cooked, or at least subjected to some heat source. However, the truth of the matter is quite different.
Whether one is a raw foodist, or not, grains, beans and legumes can actually be consumed in their raw, uncooked form. This is possible thanks to sprouting. In fact, not only are sprouted grains, beans, nuts and seeds edible, they are more nutrient rich than their cooked, or dry counterparts. Think about it, nature is infusing the best of everything it has into the seed during the sprouting process to ensure the success of new life.
Aside from their outstanding nutrition, which will be explained more below, there is another asset that sprouts have, which most cooked or "dead" foods don't. This being that they contain life energy. Sprouts are in fact biogenic, meaning that not only are they living, or alive, but they can transfer that living energy to you. Why is this important? Without going into some long New Age discussion, just think of it as many experts in the field of optimal raw nutrition put it: "living bodies, need living foods".
But today, the importance of life energy is not just some nice health cliché, it is also a scientific fact and observable phenomenon. At the quantum level we are all energy - in fact everything is! And what you put into your body, the habits you have, or the thoughts you think, all impact that energy. Every action either shifts that energy away or towards your optimal balance, or maintains it. The fact that most of us today are walking around like living zombies, addicted to external stimulants, in a brain fog, suffering from constant fatigue speaks a lot for itself. Our life energies are severely depleted and out of balance! This is where raw, living foods, like sprouts can help to bring us back into balance and let us thrive, not just survive.
Now you may be wondering, what is this magical thing that happens during the sprouting process that activates all of this amazing goodness for us. Well, for starters all of us know that water is necessary for life (at least on Earth). When the dry, dormant seed is placed in the right environment, mainly a wet one, with just the right temperature, it is signaled to begin new life. As the sprouting process takes place to begin the creation of new life, many reactions take place within the seed. Plant hormones are activated, which serve numerous important functions for the sprout, and in turn for us. Proteins are predigested into easily usable amino acids, saving our body a lot of unnecessary work when we ingest the sprouts. (Remember, digestion is a taxing, and energy depleting process on our systems.) Fats and carbohydrates are also broken down into easier to use components, like fatty acids and sugars. Enzymes are activated to make all this happen. These same enzymes are also present to us upon consumption of the sprout for the digestion process within our bodies, again saving our body some work of providing its own enzymes. And while all this is happening, their nutrient content increases profoundly. Sprouts provide a rich quantity and quality of nearly all of the vitamins and minerals we need for optimal health.
All together, sprouts are revitalizing in so many ways! They are excellent life generating, high energy foods that support us on both a cellular and molecular level. They truly are a food for the body, mind and spirit.
- Rich in protein. On average 40-50% of the calories in sprouts is protein.
- Highly digestible protein. Not only are sprouts rich in protein, but along with their rich supply of enzymes the protein is of a superior quality, easy to digest and assimilate by the body. The sprouting process breaks down proteins into their amino acid counterparts, which are easy for our body to quickly utilize.
- Rich in enzymes. Being raw, sprouts come into our bodies with their own rich supply of enzymes, aka digestion breakdown tools. This is highly beneficial for us, as our body does not have to expand its own energy to provide the enzymes and breakdown the food source.
- Rich in living energy. Every living being has a quantifiable energy within them, their "Chi", "Qi", life energy or life force. When food sources are "living" (plant foods), as opposed to "dead" (animal foods), they transfer to our bodies their life energy. This has numerous positive benefits, like improving our overall energy levels and aiding the optimal function of our body systems.
- Rich in vitamins. Sprouts contain some of the highest concentrations of vitamins that are valuable to us for proper health and maintenance of tissues, as well as the healing and prevention of disease. Some sprouts even include vitamin D and vitamin B12.
- Rich in minerals. Sprouts contain some of the highest concentrations of minerals that are necessary for our bodies to thrive at optimum levels. They contain both major and trace minerals, which are all needed for optimal health function.
- Rich in phytonutrients. Being a plant food, and a fully living one at that, sprouts include a rich variety of various phytonutrients. Nutritional science today is discovering how highly protective and healing these compounds are for all acute and chronic conditions.
- Low in calories. Sprouts are extremely nutrient dense, providing lots of nutrients, for very little calories.
- Easily digestible. Due to their pre-digested nutrients and high concentration of enzymes, sprouts are very easy to digest. They do not tend to give any of the unpleasant effects typically associated with eating beans or even grains, like bloating and gas.
- Alkalizing. When we understand the importance of eating based on the acid-alkaline balance, we realize that the average person is suffering from chronic acidity, which results in all sorts of ailments and weight problems. Most of our food should come from alkaline forming sources, and sprouts are one example of just that. Sprouts in this case are very beneficial because as seeds sprout, they become more alkaline.
- Anti-carcinogenic. Most sprouts are rich in phytonutrient compounds that are directly linked to being protective against, or healing towards cancer.
- Positive cholesterol effects. Sprouts decrease LDL and increase HDL. (Alfalfa sprout cholesterol research)
- Healthy hair, skin, nails. Due to their high protein, vitamin, and mineral content, sprouts contribute to healthy skin, hair and nails.
- Healing and Protection. Due to their high nutrient and phytochemical density, sprouts provide numerous benefits to all of our body systems, and overall health.
- Highly Economical. Dry grains and beans, even most seeds are very low cost food sources. When sprouted, they increase in volume and nutrient density, becoming an even more economically sound food choice.
Phytoestrogen content. Some sprouts, like alfalfa, mung or soy contain phytoestrogens. Generally speaking phytoestrogens are very health promoting, as they help the body balance its estrogen uses. However they have also gotten a negative reputation with links to cancer formation. Currently it is not clear what the negative effects of phytoestrogens may be, as data is inconclusive citing both, for and against the health effects of phytoestrogens.
Toxicity risks. While almost all seeds (legumes, nuts, etc.) can be sprouted, a few should be avoided due to the toxins they contain. For example, phytohemagglutinin (PHA) is common in most large beans, but its concentrations are the highest in kidney beans. These should not be sprouted or eaten raw. Black beans and cannellini beans have also been noted to produce undesirable effects when eaten in their sprouted form. Lima beans on the other hand contain linamarin, which can cause unpleasant toxic reactions as well. Individual sensitivity to PHA will vary, but to avoid unpleasant health effects, it is best not to sprout large beans. Chickpea (Grabanzo beans) seem to be okay, however it is best to stick to Adzuki and Mung beans, as well as lentils for sprouting from the bean and legume family.
Contamination risks. (See below)
In recent years, as the popularity of sprouts increased, so did cases of foodborne illnesses linked to sprouts. This has left many wondering if they should even be incorporating sprouts into their diet, and left others turning away from sprouts altogether.
However, to properly assess the issue, we have to properly understand the issue. The most common foodborne illnesses were linked to cases of Salmonella and E. Coli. Neither of these bacteria naturally grow on plants. They are typically associated with fecal matter and animals. So how did they get to the sprouts? According to Health Canada, sprouts can become contaminated at the seed level in the field (from animal manure, runoff, etc) or during storage. Then, the warm and wet sprouting process allows the bacteria to proliferate. Contamination can also occur at the processing level, while improper storage can further make the problem worse.
Homemade sprouts should be rinsed regularly during the entire sprouting time. Homemade and store bought sprouts should be strictly kept in the refrigerator.
It is also important to understand that even IF sprouts were contaminated, the digestive and immune system of a healthy individual would be able to handle the incoming bacteria, preventing any infection. The typical bacterial proliferation in plant foods is unlikely to ever be as high as it is found in animal foods. The truth is that most people today have extremely toxic and out of balance bodies. Pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria, fungi or viruses can only thrive in polluted internal systems, where the good microbes are unable to maintain a healthy balance. Pathogens do not attack randomly and no, unlike popular belief we are not at their mercy. The human body has numerous mechanisms of defense, as well as a remarkable natural healing ability and self regulation. However, when we abuse our bodies through the nutrient-depleted, toxin-laced, acid-forming diets, stress filled lifestyles and other poor habits that the majority have, any infection then becomes easily possible.
Therefore, it is wise to take precaution and be prudent about sprout consumption safety, but one must also understand that what is often shared by the media applies most to the person living the mainstream lifestyle. If one has an optimally healthy diet and lifestyle, and hence a properly working immune system and digestive system, it is very unlikely to suffer from any microbial infections. If you have a compromised immune or digestive system, it is best to avoid commercial sprouts.
To ensure the most pleasant and safe experience with sprouts, consider the following guidelines:
Sprout your own seeds. Buy seeds from high quality sources, preferably organic, local if possible so you know exactly where your seeds have been. Rinse the seeds thoroughly before sprouting. Some people also use a vinegar solution to rinse the seeds. Follow with sprouting the seeds yourself and making sure that you follow the recommended regular rinsing about every 8 hours.
Buy organic sprouts from high quality sources. Whether it be a grocery store, health food store, local farmer's market, or restaurant, inquire as to the company of the sprouts, the origin of the sprouts, how they were handled, etc.
Don't buy expired sprouts. Sprouts should look and smell fresh. If there is any mold, or undesirable scent, wilting or yellowing, avoid consuming the sprouts.
Sprout Nutrition & Usability
Here is some key information about some of the most common sprouts.
Mung Bean Sprouts
Nutrition: Very Good source of protein - 40% of their calories come from protein (3g per 1 cup). The protein in sprouts is highly digestible and easy to assimilate for the body. They are rich in enzymes that ease the digestive process, making mung bean sprouts very easy to digest. They are low in calories, rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, Folate and Manganese, as well as a good source of most other vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Taste & Texture: Mung bean sprouts have a mild flavor that tends to go well with any meal. They are slightly crunchy, and can be eaten warm or cold. If eating warm, be sure not to apply high or prolonged heat, as that will defeat the purpose of benefitting from their superior nutrition.
Nutrition: Excellent source of protein - 47% of their calories come from protein (10g per 1 cup). The protein is highly digestible and easy to assimilate for the body. They are low in calories, rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, Folate, Manganese, as well as a good source of most other vitamins and minerals.
Taste & Texture: Soybean sprouts also have a mild flavor and are easy to mix with nearly any meal. They are bigger than mung bean sprouts, but delicately crunchy as well. They can be eaten warm or cold.
NOTE: It is crucial to only purchase ORGANIC soybeans or sobean sprouts, as soy is one of the top three GMO foods produced today. If your soybeans are not organic, you can easily assume they come from GMO sources.
Nutrition: Excellent source of protein - 36% of their calories come from protein (7g per 1 cup). The protein is highly digestible and easy to assimilate for the body. They are low in calories, and very rich in minerals like Iron, Copper, Manganese and Phosphorus, as well as others. They are also rich in vitamin C, Folate and Vitamin B1, as well as good sources of other vitamins.
Taste & Texture: Lentil sprouts have a delicate, pleasant flavor, and go well with many meals, whether warm or cold. They are about the size of mung bean sprouts and slightly crunchy.
Nutrition: Very good source of protein - 50% of their calories come from protein, however due to their large sprouted volume, 1 cup only yields about 1g of protein. They are very low in calories, and rich in Vitamin K, vitamin C, and a good source of other vitamins, as well as minerals. It has also been found that alfalfa may be a possible source of vitamin B12, as well as a source of vitamin D.
Taste & Texture: Alfalfa sprouts are very small, and usually eaten as green seedlings. The sprouts have a mild nutty or Earthy flavor, and a delicately crisp texture. They are typically eaten cold, sprinkled on top of meals, added to salads or wraps.
NOTE: It is wise to only purchase ORGANIC alfalfa or alfalfa sprouts, as alfalfa is one of the top GMO foods produced today. Apparently GMO alfalfa is only used to feed animals, and the one for sprouting is not GMO, but to be on the safe side, organic sources would be best.
Nutrition: Good source of protein - 25% of their calories from protein, however like alfalfa sprouts only provide 1g of protein per cup of sprouts. They are very low in calories and very rich in nutrients, like Vitamin C and folate, and a good source of most vitamins and minerals.
Taste & Texture: Radish sprouts are very small and typically eaten as green seedlings, which are attached to the sprouted seed. While their texture is similar to other sprouts like alfalfa or broccoli, their taste is more pronounced. Expect a radish-like flavor that is a bit on the spicier side. They are typically eaten cold, sprinkled on top of meals, added to salads or wraps.
Nutrition: Good source of protein - 40% of their calories from protein (2g of protein per 1 cup). They are very low in calories and rich in various vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin C. They are extremely rich in sulforaphane and other phytonutrients.
Taste & Texture: Broccoli sprouts are very small and typically eaten as green seedlings, which are attached to the sprouted seed. They have a similar delicately crisp texture as radish or alfalfa sprouts. Their taste is sharp, and similar to radish sprouts. They are typically eaten cold, sprinkled on top of meals, added to salads or wraps.
Nutrition: Good source of protein - 18% of their calories come from protein (2g of protein per 1 cup). They are low in calories and rich in vitamin C, E, and even D, as well as the B vitamins and folate. They also contain minerals like, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as fiber, and many phytonutrients.
Taste & Texture: Sunflower sprouts are among the top favorite, as they have a nice, nutty taste, and crisp texture. They are commonly used in wraps and salads, or as a garnish for almost any meal.
How to Eat Sprouts
Sprouts are extremely versatile and can be included as part of almost any meal, or eaten on their own as a snack. Seedling sprouts like radish, broccoli, onion, sunflower or alfalfa are normally always eaten cold, in their raw form. They are commonly sprinkled on top, or added next to main dishes. Whether a tofu stir-fry or a raw zucchini pasta, they can add an element of both color and nutrition to any meal. These types of sprouts are also commonly stuffed into wraps or added to sandwiches. Finally, they are also commonly mixed into various salads, and can even be juiced.
Bigger sprouts like mung, lentil or soybean sprouts are used in many main dishes, and either sprinkled on top, or mixed right into a meal. They can be eaten cold, or gently warmed up and served along with a cooked meal. Even though mainstream health agencies advocate for thorough cooking of sprouts, this essentially defeats the purpose of eating these delicate living foods, as their enzymes and core nutrients can get easily destroyed. Cooked sprouts will still offer some health benefits, but not nearly as much as in their raw form.
Sprouts can also be blended into hummus-like dips and sauces, along with some herbs and spices. Bigger ones, like chickpea sprouts are also commonly eaten on their own as a snack. Grains like brown rice, or buckwheat are commonly sprouted as well. And if you consume bread as part of your diet, then sprouted grain bread should be the only way to go. Excellent sprouted grain bread choices include: Manna Bread, Food For Life Bread, and ShaSha Bread.
While sprouts can be enjoyed year round, they have been relied on by many cultures as an indispensable food source during the colder months, when fresh produce is limited. No matter the climate, seeds can be stored dry, and sprouted when needed to produce a source of rich nutrition, including vital vitamins and minerals.
How to Sprout
Sprouting at home is easy and most cost effective, ensuring the best quality control over your sprouts and optimal freshness. You can use a specifically designed sprouting apparatus, or simply a plate, or a glass jar.
- Begin by rinsing the seeds intended for sprouting thoroughly.
- Soak your seeds in clean/boiled lukewarm water for about 3 to 8 hours. (Small seeds shorter time, bigger seeds (beans), longer time. Tiny seeds like radish, do not need to be pre-soaked at all.)
- Drain the water from the seeds and rinse them with clean (non-chlorinated) water.
- Place the seeds into your sprouting apparatus, or sprouting jar, or on a few wet paper towels or gauze sheets on a plate. If on a plate, or jar, cover with lid to maintain a level of warmth and humidity. Note: sprouting jars usually have holes punctured at the top to provide some airflow, and provide ease of rinsing.
- Rinse your seeds thoroughly every 8-12 hours, roughly twice a day: morning and evening.
- Make sure that your seeds are kept moist and do not dry out. They should be kept at room temperature, in a well lit area, but out of direct sunlight.
- Depending on the type of seed, sprouts are ready in about 2 to 7 days.
Be sure to rinse your sprouts well with clean water before consumption. In terms of storage after sprouting, store the sprouts in the refrigerator. Be sure to remove any excess water, and store in a closed container.
To maintain nutritional integrity and safety, sprouts should be consumed fresh, especially the delicate seedling kinds. Do not store fresh sprouts for long periods of time. Usually 2 to 3 days is the maximum time.
Where to Get Sprouts
Most health food stores carry sprouts, or seeds available for sprouting at home. Some grocery stores are beginning to cary various types of sprouts as well. The most common ones that can be found are soybean sprouts, which have been a regular staple in Asian cooking.
If you cannot sprout (yet) or rely on fresh sprouts for whatever reason, or prefer some convenience, especially when it comes to grains and beans, several companies are creating dry sprouted products. These are sprouted seeds (grains, etc.) that are dried and ready simply for you to re-hydrate, and/or cook, and/or use as is depending on the sprout. My two favorites include ShaSha Bio-Buds and Organic Traditions Sprouts. These can be stored like similar dry goods for longer periods of time.
References & Resources
Aside from any directly linked references above, other sources used to support or obtain information are included below. These can provide further resources on your sprouting journey.
- The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health by R. Young and S. Redford Young
- Nutrition data obtained mainly from NutritionData.com