Raw Sprouts: Benefits and Potential Risks
Many people regard sprouts as nutritional powerhouses.
For starters, they’re rich in many nutrients. They’re also said to improve your digestion and blood sugar levels, and possibly even fend off heart disease.
However, sprouts are also frequently linked to cases of food poisoning, which makes people question whether the potential benefits are worth the risks.
This article takes a comprehensive look at the benefits and dangers of eating raw sprouts to help you decide whether they should make an appearance on your plate.
Sprouts are seeds that have germinated and become very young plants.
This germination process usually begins with the seeds being soaked for several hours.
The soaked seeds are then exposed to the right combination of temperature and moisture, and allowed to grow for two to seven days.
The end product is generally a sprout measuring 1/8–2 inches (2–5 cm) long.
Many different types of seeds can be sprouted. Here is a list of the most common types of sprouts available on the market:
- Bean and pea sprouts: Such as lentil, adzuki, garbanzo, soybean, mung bean, black bean, kidney bean, green pea and snow pea sprouts.
- Sprouted grains: Such as brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, kamut, quinoa and oat sprouts.
- Vegetable or leafy sprouts: Such as radish, broccoli, beet, mustard green, clover, cress and fenugreek sprouts.
- Nut and seed sprouts: Such as almond, radish seed, alfalfa seed, pumpkin seed, sesame seed or sunflower seed sprouts.
Sprouts are generally consumed raw, but may also be lightly cooked before you eat them.
SUMMARYSprouts are seeds that have been allowed to germinate into young plants. They are usually eaten raw and are available in a wide range of varieties.
Despite being low in calories, sprouts are a rich source of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Their vitamin and mineral content varies based on the variety.
However, generally speaking, the sprouting process increases nutrient levels, making sprouts richer in protein, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and vitamins C and K than un-sprouted plants
For instance, several studies show that sprouting helps increase protein content. Sprouts also tend to contain higher levels of essential amino acids, with certain individual amino acids increasing by as much as 30%.
In addition, the proteins in sprouts may also be easier to digest. This is likely due to the sprouting process, which appears to reduce the amount of antinutrients — compounds that decrease your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the plant — by up to 87% .
Sprouts are also great sources of antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds .
Moreover, studies show that foods made from sprouted beans may also be more nutritious.
For example, tofu and soy milk made from sprouted soybeans appear to contain 7–13% more protein, 12–24% less fat and 56–81% less antinutrients than tofu and soymilk made from un-sprouted soybeans .
SUMMARYSprouting tends to increase nutrient levels in the grain, legume, vegetable, nut or seed being sprouted. Sprouts also contain lower levels of antinutrients, making it easier for your body to absorb all the nutrients they contain.
Sprouts may also help you keep your blood sugar under control.
Some studies indicate this may be partly because sprouting appears to reduce the total amount of carbs in sprouts. However, not all studies agree .
Another theory is that sprouts may have an increased ability to regulate the activity of the amylase enzyme, which the body uses to properly break down and digest sugars .
One study followed a small group of people with type 2 diabetes. Half ate 60 grams of lentil sprouts per day along with their normal diet, while the other group simply consumed their normal diet.
By the end of the eight-week study, those eating the sprouts had experienced a 10% reduction in levels of hemoglobin A1c, a marker of blood sugar control. On the other hand, these levels increased by 12% in the control group
In another study, people with type 2 diabetes consumed a powdered broccoli sprout supplement for eight weeks, resulting in lower blood insulin levels and insulin resistance.
The authors attributed these improvements to the high amounts of the antioxidant sulforaphane in the supplement .
Despite these encouraging results, it’s worth noting that few studies appear to exist on this topic. More are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
SUMMARYSprouts may help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar. However, more studies are needed to determine why this is and whether these results also apply to people without diabetes.
Sprouts may help you digest your foods more easily.
Studies show that when seeds are sprouted, the amount of fiber they contain increases and becomes more available.
For instance, in one study, grains allowed to sprout for five days contained up to 133% more fiber than un-sprouted grains .
In another, germinating beans until their sprouts were 5 mm long increased their total fiber content by up to 226%.
Sprouting appears to specifically increase the amount of insoluble fiber, a type of fiber that helps form stool and move it through the gut, reducing the likelihood of constipation .
In addition, sprouting appears to reduce the amount of gluten found in grains, which may make them easier to digest, especially for people sensitive to gluten.
Finally, sprouted beans, grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds contain lower amounts of antinutrients than their un-sprouted counterparts. This makes it easier for the body to absorb nutrients during digestion .
SUMMARYSprouts tend to contain higher amounts of insoluble fiber, which can ease digestion and reduce the likelihood of constipation. Sprouts may also contain lower levels of gluten and antinutrients, further improving the digestion process.
Including sprouts in your daily diet may also have benefits for your heart.
That’s mainly because sprouts may reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood cholesterol levels.
Several animal studies show that eating sprouts may increase “good” HDL cholesterol and reduce total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
Researchers also note that rats given sprouts may benefit from blood cholesterol improvements similar to those resulting from taking the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin.
Similar results have been observed in humans. In one study, 39 overweight and obese people with type 2 diabetes were split into two groups. One was given 60 grams of lentil sprouts per day, whereas the other received no sprouts.
At the end of the eight-week study, the group that had consumed the lentil sprouts had 12% higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and 75–84% lower levels of triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol, compared to the control group.
In another small study, people with type 2 diabetes who were given 10 grams of broccoli sprout powder per day for four weeks benefited from an 18.7% decrease in triglyceride levels and significantly higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
In comparison, those given lower amounts of broccoli sprout powder or none did not benefit from significant changes to their levels of triglycerides or HDL cholesterol.
Finally, another group of researchers reported that eating 100 grams of fresh broccoli sprouts per day for one week decreased LDL and total cholesterol in men and increased HDL cholesterol in women (21).
Although these results appear promising, few studies have been done on this topic and more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
SUMMARYSprouts may improve heart health by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels, while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
One issue often linked to eating sprouts is the risk of food poisoning. The fact that sprouts are generally consumed raw or only slightly cooked adds to this risk.
The reason raw sprouts are especially risky is because they must be grown in warm, humid conditions in which harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella also happen to thrive.
Over the last two decades, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has linked 48 outbreaks of foodborne illness to raw or lightly cooked sprouts .
If food poisoning occurs, symptoms may appear 12–72 hours after eating the sprouts, and can include diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting .
Such symptoms are rarely life-threatening. However, children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with generally weaker immune systems are recommended to thoroughly cook sprouts or avoid them completely.
The following tips should help you further reduce the risk of contamination:
- Buy chilled sprouts: Only buy fresh sprouts that have been properly refrigerated.
- Check their appearance: Avoid purchasing or eating sprouts with a strong smell or slimy appearance.
- Store in the fridge: At home, keep sprouts refrigerated at temperatures under 48°F (8°C).
- Wash your hands: Always wash your hands properly before handling raw sprouts.
SUMMARYSprouts are prone to contamination with harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weak immune systems should consider avoiding raw sprouts.
Sprouts can be eaten in a variety of ways and are easily incorporated into a variety of dishes. For instance, you can eat them raw in a sandwich or tossed into a salad.
Sprouts are also easy to add to warm meals such as rice dishes, stir-fries, omelets, soups or freshly made burger patties.
Other interesting uses for sprouts include blending them into smoothies and pancake batters, or grinding them into a paste to spread on bread, crackers or vegetables.
SUMMARYSprouts can be eaten raw or cooked. They are also easy to add to a wide variety of meals and snacks.
Sprouts are very nutritious. They may also offer a variety of health benefits, including easier digestion, improved blood sugar levels and a lower risk of heart disease.
However, keep in mind that they are also associated with a risk of food poisoning.
That said, for the majority of healthy people, the benefits of eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts likely outweigh the risks.
The Nutritional Value of Sprouted Lentils
Sprouting seeds and beans increases their vitamin levels, according to David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D. at the University of Cleveland Claremont College. Sprouted lentil beans contain vitamins A, B, C and E, all of which are important to your overall health. Sprouting lentil seeds is not difficult to do at home, but make sure your purchase seeds meant for sprouting. Dried lentils that you find in the rice and bean aisle at the supermarket will not work. One cup of sprouted lentil seed sprouts are a healthy and tasty addition to sandwiches, soups, stews and salads.
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Sprouted lentils are naturally low in calories and, as opposed to other sources of protein like meat and poultry, they have no fat, saturated or otherwise. A 1-cup serving of sprouted lentils has only 82 calories, making them a wise choice for people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
The vitamin C in sprouted lentils is a powerful antioxidant, which helps combat the signs of aging and aids in the prevention certain cancers. It also helps manufacture the protein collagen, which is necessary to the production of blood vessels, cartilage, ligaments, skin and tendons as well as for the repair and maintenance of your teeth and bones. Vitamin C is also crucial to wound healing and supports your immune system. Each cup of sprouted lentils contains 14 percent of the daily value for this vitamin.
Folate and Potassium
A 1 cup serving of sprouted lentils contains 77 g of folate, a B vitamin, which is crucial to iron production and in making new cells. Sprouted lentils are also packed with 248 mg of potassium, which is necessary to muscle function, as well as being crucial to the healthy functioning of your heart.
Protein and Carbohydrates
Sprouted lentils are very high in protein, though they are missing the amino acid methionone and must be combined with eggs, dairy or nuts to be a complete protein. Protein is important as far as building and maintaining your muscles. One cup of lentils contains 17 g of carbohydrates, but because sprouted lentils have a low glycemic index, they are not “bad” carbs. Eating sprouted lentils with brown rice gives you a complete protein and carbohydrates for energy without causing an insulin spike and resulting drop in blood sugar that causes hunger pangs.