Author: Trish Shea R.D.
Edible sprouts have been eaten for thousands of years. Chinese and ancient Egyptians ate sprouts as a “health food”, especially for the purposes of healing and rejuvenation. Ancient Chinese physicians prescribed sprouts to “cure” many ailments and diseases over 5,000 years ago.
In this post, we will explain what sprouts are, why they are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, and why you should include them in your diet!
But first, what exactly is a sprout?
In order to fully understand what a sprout is, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of plant biology.
Let’s start with one of the most important aspects of plant biology—seeds! Have you ever thought of a seed as a living thing? Seeds are living entities that contain an embryo and in most plant species, a store of food reserves (also called an endosperm), all of which is protected by the seed’s coating.
A viable seed (meaning one that is able to grow) must contain healthy, living embryonic tissue in order for it to develop into a mature plant. This is because the embryo (contains the DNA of the plant) is the part of the seed that will develop into the plant’s roots, stem, and leaves.
How does a seed become a plant?
A seed will remain dormant or inactive until the environment provides the right conditions for it to grow (think water, oxygen, sunlight, and the appropriate temperature). When these conditions are met, the embryo begins to consume the food reserves, which kickstarts the embryo’s growth. This is called the process of germination or the initial growth stage of a plant.
When the embryo grows large enough, it bursts out of the seed and “sprouts” out from underneath the soil as a small plant.
This small, “young” plant is an edible sprout!
Types of Sprouts & Where to Find Them
Edible sprouts can be produced from many different types of plants, including grains, legumes, beans, vegetable seeds, nuts and edible seeds.
For example, there are salad green sprouts, such as alfalfa, broccoli, and clover; gelatinous sprouts such as chia and flaxseed; legume and bean sprouts, such as green pea, lentil, and mung bean; sprouted grains such as oats, buckwheat groats, and quinoa; and sprouted nuts and edible seeds, such as raw almonds, hemp, or sunflower seeds.
Sprouts vary in texture and flavor. Some are soft, crispy, or crunchy in texture. Flavors include spicy (radish, broccoli), sweet and delicate (green pea), mild and fresh tasting (alfalfa, clover) and clean and nutty (mung bean).
Now this isn’t to say that you have go out and start a garden tomorrow to start eating sprouts.
Sprouts can be produced using high-quality, high-germination seeds, pure, filtered water, and a container with a screen. When the seeds are soaked in water for several hours (depending on the seed), it should “activate” the germination process and cause the seed to start sprouting within a few days’ time!
Of course, there is a bit more involved than just soaking seeds and waiting for them to sprout.
For example, you want to make sure that your equipment has been thoroughly sanitized and to also rinse and drain the seeds several times a day until you start to see leaves forming and splitting, etc.
If sprouting sounds like a cool new hobby, my advice is to really do your research and learn how to properly and safely sprout your own seeds.
If all of this sounds a bit tedious for your liking, you can make it really easy on yourself and buy your sprouts instead. You can find sprouts at many grocery and health food stores in the fresh produce aisle and also at farmers markets.
You can also purchase foods that contain health promoting sprouts already in them! Here at FoodNerd, our products are made with hand-sprouted flaxseed, sunflower and broccoli seeds!
Why You Should Be Eating Sprouts
It is common sense that we should eat more vegetables because they contain nutrients that are good for our bodies.
You might be asking, "If I am already eating an abundant amount of vegetables or at least trying to, why should I bother adding sprouts into my diet?"
Because sprouts are harvested at the beginning of the plant’s growth phase, they are highly concentrated in nutrients. Not only are they low in calories, fat, and sodium, but they give us the most bang for our buck because one serving per day can have mega health benefits.
What type of nutrients are we talking here?
Sprouts contain diverse micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and amino acids), macronutrients (high in protein, low in carbs, and high in dietary fiber), and plant secondary metabolites (don’t worry, we will explain).
The nutrient content of sprouts gives us a valuable opportunity to impact our health, if incorporated into our eating habits on a regular basis.
Sprouts are high in vitamins and minerals.
In order to meet the growth needs of the young plant, vitamins including A, B-complex (B-12), C, E, and K, increase and chelated essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc are supplied so that they are better absorbed by the plant, meaning that we are able to better absorb these minerals when we consume the sprout.
Sprouts are easy to digest.
The process of germination is complex and involves breaking down the food stores we talked about earlier, which include storage proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids (fat) into their smaller counterparts (amino acids, simple sugars, and fatty acids respectively) to provide energy for the growing plant.
This is what makes a sprout so easy to digest (puts less work on our GI tract since the macronutrients are already broken down into their smallest components).
This process also increases the bioavailability of protein, so that our bodies are better able to absorb and utilize it for bodily functions.
Sprouts are high in beneficial plant compounds.
Researchers have termed sprouts as authentic superfoods and for good reason. Besides being rich in macro and micronutrients, sprouts contain high amounts of plant secondary metabolites, also known as phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are naturally occurring chemical compounds in plants (phyto means plant). These compounds are not necessary for the survival of plant; however, they are involved in important functions of the plant, including protection, competition, and species interaction.
Why are phytochemicals important for humans?
According to researchers, these plant metabolites have a wide range of biological functions, including anti-cancer, analgesic (pain relieving), anti-inﬂammation, and anti-microbial activities.
Sprouts contain much higher concentrations of some health promoting phytochemicals (namely sulphoraphane, sulphoraphene, isothiocyanates, glucosinolates) than their adult counterparts.
Additionally, research has shown that foods rich in phytochemicals (in this case sprouts!) have diverse properties that aid in disease prevention and promotion of health. In fact, Epidemiological studies have shown that eating sprouts may help to protect against certain chronic diseases and cancers.
Let’s recap here:
- High in vitamins & minerals
- High in bioavailable protein, as well as dietary fiber
- High in secondary plant metabolites or phytochemicals, which may aid in prevention of chronic diseases and possess health enhancing properties
- Low in fat, calories, and sodium
- Easier to digest than their adult plant counterparts
- An inexpensive superfood that we all should be eating more of!
- We will talk more in detail about the amazing health promoting benefits of phytochemicals
- We will talk about the benefits of specific sprouts: sprouted oats, sprouted buckwheat groats, broccoli sprouts, sprouted chia and sprouted flaxseed (FoodNerd uses sprouted broccoli seeds, chia, and flax in our Mega Puffs, and the most nutrient dense Broccoli Sprout Powder on the market!)
Here are a few words from our Founder, Sharon Cryan regarding sprouts:
- International Sprout Growers Association: https://isga-sprouts.org/about-sprouts/
- Abellán, Ángel, et al. "Sorting out the value of cruciferous sprouts as sources of bioactive compounds for nutrition and health." Nutrients 11.2 (2019): 429.
- Marton, M., et al. "The role of sprouts in human nutrition. A review." Acta Univ. Sapientiae 3 (2010): 81-117.
- Moreno, Diego A., Santiago Pérez-Balibrea, and Cristina García-Viguera. "Phytochemical quality and bioactivity of edible sprouts." Natural Product Communications 1.11 (2006): 1934578X0600101120.
- Laila, Omi, and Imtiyaz Murtaza. "Seed sprouting: a way to health promoting treasure." Int J Curr Res Rev 6.23 (2014): 70-4.
- Shin, Seong-Ah, et al. "Structure-based classification and anti-cancer effects of plant metabolites." International journal of molecular sciences 19.9 (2018): 2651.
- Dupont, Tianna and Stivers, Lee. Penn State Extension. 28 Aug. 2012: https://extension .psu.edu/seed-and-seedling-biology.
- Bhardwaj, Harbans L., and Anwar A. Hamama. "Yield and nutritional quality of canola sprouts." HortScience 42.7 (2007): 1656-1658.
About the Author: Trish Shea
Trish graduated from UB with a Bachelors in Exercise Science and a Masters in Dietetics from D’Youville College. She also served in the Army National Guard as a Healthcare Specialist. She is passionate about using food as medicine and physical activity to look and feel our best. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.