benefits of eating sprouts

The summer garden is gone and the stores from the winter garden might be fading but there is an easy way to get your gardening fix and fresh, tasty greens right now.  Sprouts are enjoying renewed popularity and this popularity is well-deserved.  All of the flavor, vitamins, and minerals that are going to be in the plant are concentrated in the sprouts.  It is much easier to eat a bowl of radish sprouts than a bowl of radishes!  It can take up to seventy days to harvest a radish planted from seed.  Radish sprouts are ready to eat in three days.  Not only does a serving of sprouts pack a nutritional punch, but research has also validated numerous medicinal benefits we can reap from these tiny greens.

Benefits of Eating Sprouts

Digestion: The high number of enzymes in sprouts helps break food down and increases the absorption of nutrients.  There can be up to one hundred times more enzymes in sprouts than in uncooked vegetables and fruits.  Sprouts also have a high fiber content.  This makes sprouts an excellent digestive aid.  It also helps with constipation and diarrhea and can even help prevent colorectal cancer.

Metabolism: The high level of enzymes provide a kick-start for your metabolism.  Enzymes are special types of protein that allow our bodies to perform every chemical function such as the creation and maintenance of cells, organ repair, skin regeneration, bone growth, and muscle development.

Anemia and Blood Circulation: Because of the high iron content available in sprouts, symptoms of anemia and poor blood-circulation, such as fatigue, lack of concentration, nausea, light-headedness, and stomach disorders, can be controlled.

Weight Loss: Sprouts have a high nutrient count and a low calorie count.  The fiber content in sprouts is also substantial.  Fiber is what binds fat and toxins together and escorts them out of our body.  This is critical because we want the fat that our body breaks down to be removed before it can be reabsorbed.  Essential fatty acid also increases during sprouting.  These are fat-burning acids that are uncommon in our diet.

Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli Sprouts

Heart Health: Because sprouts are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are anti-inflammatory, they protect the heart and reduce stress on the entire cardiovascular system.

Immune System: The vitamin content available increases up to twenty times the original value after just a few days of sprouting. This is especially true of vitamin A, B-complex, C, and E., Vitamin C acts as a stimulant for white blood cells, allowing them to fight infection and disease.  Vitamin A has beneficial antioxidant properties.

Vision and Eye Health: Vitamin A is an antioxidant which combats free radicals, helping to prevent glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Allergies and Asthma: Broccoli sprouts are especially helpful due to a compound called sulforaphane.  Sulforaphane is very effective in boosting the airway’s defense system against oxidative stress.

Cancer: 100 mg of sprouts a day has been shown to prevent cancer.  Prostate and breast cancer respond best to clover, alfalfa, and soybean sprouts.  Colon cancer is helped by alfalfa, radish, clover, and soybean sprouts.  Eat broccoli sprouts for bladder cancer.

Menopause: Symptoms of menopause can be relieved by consuming alfalfa, clover, radish, broccoli, or soybean sprouts.

Radish Sprouts
Radish Sprouts

What exactly are sprouts?  Contrary to what many believe, they are not microgreens.  Sprouts are simply newly germinated seeds.  They may produce their first leaves—not technically leaves but cotyledons—but they are always harvested before they develop true leaves.  Sprouts are grown without soil or fertilizer.  They are nourished on water, air, and the nutrients from the seed’s embryo.

Why are sprouts so nutritious?  When seeds are put in water, their outer layers split open and a shoot begins to blossom.  To do this, the shoot must consume some of the starches available in the seed.  This alters the nutritive content of the seed, and, as I said earlier, all of the nutrition that is available to us in the full-grown plant is concentrated in the small sprout, enabling us to reap the benefits of consuming more nutrition without having to eat more food or take commercial vitamins and supplements.

One of the concerns which prevents many people from taking advantage of this nutritional powerhouse is the belief that eating raw sprouts can be dangerous to your health because of the possibility of consuming bad bacteria.  There have been reported cases of people becoming sick, but following the proper techniques, this is not a problem.  The most important safeguard against any food-borne illness is cleanliness.  Because sprouts are eaten raw, sanitary growing conditions are required.  This includes cleaning your seeds and frequent rinsing.

Before you begin sprouting, you must obtain seeds.  Although all seeds will sprout, it is beneficial to buy seeds that are specifically for sprouts.  These specialty seeds have a high germination rate and are cleaned so as to be pathogen-free.  Two reputable seed suppliers for sprouts are Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds and Sprout People.  In addition to providing seeds, there is a wealth of information on their websites.  Store your seeds in the refrigerator to keep them viable.

The first step I am going to give you is optional but recommended if you are feeding sprouts to the very young, the elderly, or anyone with a depressed immune system.

Step One: Heat seeds on stove for five minutes in a solution of three percent hydrogen peroxide (available at pharmacies), preheated to 140 degrees.

Step Two: Rinse seeds under running water for one minute.  Place in a sanitized sprouting container.  A wide mouth canning jar works fine.

seed sprouting jar
Sprouting jar

Step Three: Soak.  Dry seeds are dormant.  Soaking the seeds is the only way to end the dormancy.  Fill sprouting container with enough water to cover seeds plus an additional inch.  Remove any debris or floating seeds.

Step Four: Cover the jar with cheesecloth and secure it with a rubber band.Step Three:  Soak.  Dry seeds are dormant.  Soaking the seeds is the only way to end the dormancy.  Fill sprouting container with enough water to cover seeds plus an additional inch.  Remove any debris or floating seeds.

Step Five: Seeds will sprout in a dark or well-lit area.  Overhead lighting, such as in kitchens, poses no problems, but direct sunlight is not recommended.  Because of sanitary concerns, sprouts should be put away from food preparation areas and animals.  Depending on the type of seeds you are sprouting this step will take anywhere from three to twelve hours.  Most seeds do well if you start the soak cycle before you go to bed and tend to the next step when you wake up.

Step Six: Drain.  Draining is essential.  Like any crop, sitting in a puddle will lead to germination failure.  Pour water through a cheesecloth.  Run fresh water in, shaking to rinse thoroughly.  Drain and repeat.

Step Seven: Rinse.  Rinsing is a critical step to sprouting.  It is how you add moisture to your sprouts.  Rinse and drain three to five times a day.  Use a lot of cool water and use high pressure.  Cool, high-pressure water will clean and oxygenate your sprouts.

Step Eight: Harvest.  Sprouts will be ready in three to five days.  Some sprouts will keep their hulls.  These are edible, but if you do not like them you can remove them by gently rubbing them in your hands or spinning them in a salad spinner.  Sprouts will keep for up to a week, but it is best to eat them as soon as possible, when they have the highest concentration of nutrients.  Cooked sprouts are delicious, but a lot of the nutritive value is lost when heated.  Try to get a good portion of raw sprouts in your diet.

Step Nine: Store.  Refrigerating any produce wet is the fastest way to kill it.  This is especially true of tender sprouts.  To ensure sprouts are thoroughly dry before refrigerating, let air dry for twelve hours after the final rinsing.  You can also use a salad spinner before laying sprouts out to reduce drying time.  Transfer sprouts to a plastic bag, glass, or plastic container and store them in the refrigerator.  Sprouts will generally keep for one week when properly stored but the sooner you eat them, the better.

Not only are sprouts a fun and healthy addition to your diet, but there is also definitely a niche market for them if you decide to include them as part of your homestead business.  The technique for sprouting on a farm scale is basically the same other than the growing containers.  Farm-scale production can use seed trays or flats in order to grow enough to meet market demand.

Because sprouts are best for you when eaten raw I am going to start with a recipe I found for Sprouted Hummus. To make this easy and delicious dip combine in a food processor or blender:

  • 1 c. mixed sprouts
  • 1 T. tahini
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Blend until smooth.  Use on bread, crackers, or raw vegetables.

alfalfa sprouts
Alfalfa Sprouts

My favorite recipe using cooked sprouts comes from Beth Hensperger’s The Pleasure of Whole-Grain BreadsUsing sprouted wheat in bread adds texture and crunch to the loaves while improving the nutrition and digestibility of the bread.

A few days before making the bread, begin sprouting wheat berries.  To do this, put half a cup of raw wheat berries in a bowl.  Cover with lukewarm water plus an inch.  Let stand at room temperature for six to eight hours.  Drain and rinse.  Divide berries between two one-quart jars.  Cover with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.  Place jars on their sides in a warm, dark place.  Rinse and drain twice a day for two to three days, until berries have sprouted.  Sprouts can be used now or you can dry them and store them in the refrigerator for up to three days.  Once you are ready to make your bread, grind the wheat berries in a blender.  Do not overprocess.  Berries should be chunky.

  • ½ c. warm water
  • 1 ½ T. active dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • pinch of ginger
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1 ½ c. warm water
  • ¼ c. honey
  • 4 T. unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 c. sprouted wheat berries, chopped
  • 4 ½ – 5 c. bread flour
  • wheat germ, for sprinkling
  • melted butter

Pour half a cup of warm water into a small bowl.  Sprinkle yeast, sugar, and ginger over water.  Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about ten minutes.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the whole wheat flour, milk powder, and salt.  Add water, honey, and butter.  Beat one minute.  Add yeast mixture and beat an additional minute.  Add in wheat berries.

Add bread flour, half a cup at a time, beating on low speed until a soft dough forms.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and spongy, about three to four minutes, dusting with flour one tablespoon at a time, just enough to prevent sticking.  Place in a deep container, lightly greased.  Turn once to coat top and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in bulk, one to two hours.

Grease three 8×4 inch loaf pans or two 9×5 inch loaf pans.  Sprinkle the bottom and sides of pans with wheat germ.  Turn the dough out and divide into two (9×5 pans) or three (8×4 pans) equal portions.

Pat each portion into a rectangle and roll into a loaf shape.  Place, seam side down, into prepared pans.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough is level with the rim of the pans, approximately one hour.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and position the rack in the center of the oven.  Bake 45-50 minutes, until the top of the loaves are crusty and golden.  Remove loaves from the pans, transferring to a wire rack.  Brush with melted butter and allow to thoroughly cool.

Whether or not you want to bake your own sprouted bread, I urge you to try your hand at growing sprouts.  They are fun, delicious, and healthy.  What else could you ask of your food?

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