What are alfalfa sprouts?
Alfalfa sprouts are the young seedlings of the Medicago sativa plant, which is a clover like plant, and member of the Fabaceae (pea) family. If you have ever spent much time around a farm, then this plant is probably very familiar to you. Alfalfa is very tolerant to harsh growing environments, making it an ideal crop for feeding livestock. It is also used to preserve soil, because it provides excellent ground cover and nutrient repletion. I bet you didn’t know that alfalfa plants house beneficial bacteria in their roots, which convert free nitrogen from the air to ammonia. This process is very important for healthy plant development and can replace the need for synthetic fertilizers.
Alfalfa sprouts nutrition
Alfalfa sprouts are considered a superfood due to being low in calories and high in nutrients. In the naturopathic health world, Medicago sativa is considered a nutritive herb. This means that it is known for its high vitamin and mineral content, which makes it very nutritionally dense. Therefore, it is commonly used to replenish individuals who are suffering from malnutrition. This may be due to poor diet, starvation, or insufficient intestinal absorption. Either way, alfalfa is truly one of the most nutritious plants around. A 1 cup (33 g) serving of alfalfa sprouts contains:
- 8 Calories
- 57.8 mg Omega-3 fatty acids
- 77.2 mg Omega-6 fatty acids
- 1 g Carbohydrates (as dietary fiber)
- 1 g Protein
- 51.1 IU Vitamin A
- 2.7 mg Vitamin C
- 10.1 mcg Vitamin K
- 11.9 mcg Folate
- 0.2 mg Niacin
- 0.2 mg Pantothenic acid
- 4.8 mg Choline
- 0.1 mg Betaine
- 10.6 mg Calcium
- 23.1 mg Phosphorus
- 26.1 mg Potassium
- 8.9 mg Magnesium
- 2.0 mg Sodium
- 0.3 mg Iron
- 0.3 mg Zinc
- 0.2 mg Selenium
- 0.1 mg Copper
- 0.1 mg Manganese
Health benefits of sprouts
1. Reduces the risk of cancer
Alfalfa contains the phytoestrogen Coumestrol. Phytoestrogens are plant molecules that are structurally similar to the estrogen found in your own body. Phytoestrogens should not be confused with xeno-estrogens. Xeno-estrogens are toxic man-made chemicals found in pesticides, plastics, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), and hormone injected beef and poultry. They are structurally similar to our estrogen as well, but their action in the body can cause harmful effects on your health. Because phytoestrogens are naturally occurring, they have a symbiotic effect in the body. In general, phytoestrogens can be either anti-estrogenic or estrogen promoting. Research initially started looking at phytoestrogens when it was hypothesized that Asian women got breast cancer less often than American women due to their high consumption of soy, another plant rich in phytoestrogens. One study showed that coumestrol had an inhibitory effect on 3 different types of cancer. Additional studies have concluded the importance of adding phytoestrogens into your daily diet due to their anticarcinogenic effects.
2. Hormone balancing
Consuming phytoestrogens throughout your life can result in estrogen balancing. This reduces the risk of estrogen dominance, PMS, hormonal acne, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and menopausal symptoms.
3. Rich in enzymes
One of the many benefits of consuming sprouts is their high enzyme content. Enzymes help with the digestive process by breaking down food into more bioavailable components. All raw and fermented fruits and vegetables contain enzymes, but there can be up to 10 times more enzymes present when the plant is in sprout form. Enzymes are very heat sensitive though, so once your food has been cooked, the enzymes get degraded. Just another reason why we should consume as many raw foods as possible.
4. Maintains bone and heart health
In addition to cancer prevention, phytoestrogens are also beneficial for maintaining optimal bone health. One of the many important roles of estrogen is to inhibit the excessive breakdown of bone. Estrogen is responsible for the life cycle of osteoclasts, the cells responsible for breaking down bone when the body needs calcium. If you don’t have enough estrogen, then the osteoclasts live longer and are therefore able to break down more bone. This can lead to weaker bones and the development of osteoporosis.
Alfalfa is also rich in vitamin K. Vitamin K is very important for bone health, because it directs the calcium out of the bloodstream and into the bones where it belongs. This is also very important for your arteries. Without proper levels of vitamin K, calcium can build up in the arteries and harden them. Stiff arteries mean an increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
5. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
Alfalfa is a rich source of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants are important because they help protect your cells from oxidative damage. In addition, alfalfa contains other constituents that have been shown to decrease inflammation (3,4).
6. Lowers cholesterol
Multiple studies have demonstrated that alfalfa consumption leads to a decrease in total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides (1,2). This is likely a synergistic effect of the antioxidants, phytoestrogens and fiber contained in alfalfa. Lowering cholesterol is very important, because it helps prevent atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
You may be wondering why so many people rave about sprouts being so much healthier than the full grown plant. Well here is the simple answer. Sprouts contain all of the nutritional elements that the plant would need for its entire life cycle. Since the plant is very young in its sprout form, it means that the nutrients are still very concentrated because they haven’t been used up yet. This is really awesome when you think about it, because it means that you can eat a lot less of them, but gain so much more nutrition. Alfalfa sprouts are by no means the only sprout option either. You can pretty much consume the sprouts of just about any vegetable including broccoli, kale, spinach, radish, beets, lettuce, etc. Collectively, these are being referred to as microgreens.
How to grow sprouts yourself
I recently started growing my own alfalfa sprouts. Many of the grocery stores near me have stopped carrying them due to the risk of mold and contamination. The best part about growing them yourself, is that you really don’t have to worry about that, and they are super easy to grow too. My personal method for growing sprouts requires 32 oz wide mouth mason jars, stainless steel sprout lids, sprouting stands, and organic alfalfa seeds.
- Place 1.5 – 2 tablespoons of dry alfalfa seeds into a 32 oz mason jar and fill half way with clean water.
- Place a sprouting lid on the jar, and leave the jar with the soaking seeds out of the sun on the counter 6 – 8 hrs.
- Drain the water out of the jar, and then add more water to rinse the seeds and drain again.
- Place the mason jar upside down on the sprouting rack at your sink edge or on a paper towel.
- Continue to add water to rinse and drain the seeds 2 – 3 times per day. Each time replacing the jar back on the sprouting rack so that all of the water drains out of the jar in between rinses. This will ensure that your sprouts aren’t sitting in stagnant water.
- On day 5 your sprouts should be finished.
- Remove them from the jar and place them in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with enough water to fully submerge the sprouts. Gently swish the sprouts around to release all of the seed husks. The sprouted husks will float to the top and the unsprouted ones will sink to the bottom.
- Poor the floating husks off of the top, and remove the sprouts and place them on a towel to dry.
- Sprouts can be stored in the refrigerator for approximately 1 week.
Tips for use
I personally think that sprouts have a very mild flavor combined with an enjoyable crunch. I tend to prefer them to lettuce in many cases. Here is a list of some of the ways that I have been using sprouts.
- Sandwiches and wraps
- Added to salads
- Garnish for many dishes
- Soup topper
- Added to my morning superfood smoothie
- On top of a veggie scramble
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