Alfalfa Sprouts Benefits & How to Grow Them at Home
While the name may make you smile and laugh with thoughts of the “Little Rascals” character, alfalfa sprouts are no joke considering their superfood powers. The sprout of the alfalfa flower seed is full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, yet low in calories — plus its mild flavor makes it easy to use in recipes.
Studies show that due to the ability to fight free radical damage, alfalfa sprout nutrition can combat two of the most common health issues: cancer and diabetes.
Let’s find out just how these flower sprouts are able to prevent chronic diseases, along with all the other impressive alfalfa sprouts benefits we know of.
What Are Alfalfa Sprouts?
Alfalfa sprouts come from germinated alfalfa seeds of the Medicago sativa plant. They make nutritious additions to many meals, including salads, tacos, soups, and sandwiches.
When alfalfa seeds germinate, they create shoots, which are then harvested before the plant matures fully.
Research has demonstrated that sprouts are filled with many of the same nutrients found in seeds, but they’re actually even healthier because the process of sprouting unlocks many nutrients and enzymes.
Seeds contain more “bioavailable” protein, carbs, vitamins, and minerals, as well as a lower proportion of starch, than unsprouted seeds. The starches inside the seeds are turned into simple sugars once sported, and thus they’re easier to digest.
How long have people been eating sprouts?
Sprouting seeds dates back as far as 5,000 years when Chinese physicians used sprouts medicinally. In the 1700s, sailors discovered sprouts’ ability to prevent scurvy, which was the most common cause of death on long voyages.
During World War II, Dr. Clive McCay, a nutrition professor at Cornell University, brought the idea of sprouts into the mainstream Western food culture. During the war, McKay and his team of researchers determined bean sprouts to be an easily cultivated, nutritional food source.
It’s amazing to consider how valuable this discovery was in a time when resources were low and the need for nutritious food was high.
The alfalfa plant itself also has a long, rich history. We typically think of alfalfa as a plant used for animal feed, but it provides many benefits to humans as well.
Alfalfa has a high vitamin content and is sometimes used as a nutritional supplement — and you’ll see why below.
Are alfalfa sprouts a superfood? Many experts would say they are.
They provide a number of phytonutrients, such as phenolic compounds, isoflavonoids (especially daidzein and genistein), and saponins, as well some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin K and vitamin C.
This makes these sprouts a “functional food” or “nutraceutical food,” meaning they positively affect human health beyond basic nutrition. They are also fed to livestock for the same reasons — because they can promote growth, development, and digestive health.
They even contain some protein (amino acids) and small amounts of healthy fats, such as omega-3s.
Approximately 100 grams of sprouted alfalfa seeds contain about:
- 23 calories
- 2.1 grams carbohydrates
- 3.99 grams protein
- 0.69-gram fat
- 1.9 grams fiber
- 30.5 micrograms of vitamin K (38 percent DV)
- 8.2 milligrams of vitamin C (14 percent DV)
- 36 micrograms folate (9 percent DV)
- 0.2-milligram manganese (9 percent DV)
- 0.2-milligram copper (8 percent DV)
- 70 milligrams phosphorus (7 percent DV)
- 27 milligrams magnesium (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin(7 percent DV)
- 0.9-milligram zinc (6 percent DV)
- 1-milligram iron (5 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (5 percent DV)
- 155 IU vitamin A (3 percent DV)
What are the benefits of eating alfalfa sprouts? Here are seven-plus reasons why alfalfa sprout nutrition can benefit your immune system, heart, hormones, and more.
1. May Help Reduce Risk of Certain Cancers
Sprouts in general have free radical-scavenging effects, which help protect against cancer formation.
Alfalfa sprouts are a great source of antioxidants as well as isoflavones and other phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that mimic human estrogen. Studies of consumption of foods with high concentrations of isoflavones have shown positive outcomes in decreasing the risk of death and recurrence in people with breast cancer.
The Nutrition Journal detailed some of the ways nutrition can curb cancer, including nutrients from alfalfa sprouts and related sprouts, by providing sulforaphane, chlorophyll, and antioxidants, such as carotenoids and terpenes — especially types called medicarpin, melilotocarpan, millenarian, tricin and chrysoberyl — that induce apoptosis, a process that kills off harmful cells and prevents tumor growth.
Additionally, there’s evidence suggesting that polysaccharides (types of carbohydrates) and fibers found within alfalfa sprouts may have immuno-protective effects, making the sprouts “potential pharmaceutical agents or functional foods.”
2. Help Minimize Menopause and PMS Symptoms
Thanks to high levels of vitamin K and phytoestrogens, the benefits of alfalfa sprouts include helping women minimize symptoms related to menopause, as well as PMS/menstruation.
Vitamin K is a blood-clotting vitamin, so it may help with excessive bleeding and cramping. The general anti-inflammatory effects of sprouts can also aid in reproductive health, potentially limiting some side effects, such as moodiness and pain.
3. May Help Prevent Osteoporosis
Vitamin K builds bones, which is why it’s essential in preventing and even helping treat osteoporosis. The body needs vitamin K to adequately utilize calcium, which fortifies bones and prevents fractures.
Alfalfa sprouts also contain manganese, an essential nutrient in preventing osteoporosis and inflammation. Overall, alfalfa sprout nutrition offers many nutrients (like fiber, protein, minerals, vitamins, and phenolic compounds) that help promote a healthy body composition and healthy aging.
4. Can Lower Blood Glucose Levels and Help Treat Diabetes
While there is no cure for diabetes, regulating the disease naturally can be achieved through a diabetic diet. A 2015 study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences found that alfalfa sprouts are a successful anti-diabetic due to their ability to lower blood glucose levels.
Regulating blood sugar levels is imperative in treating diabetes, and using food items like alfalfa sprouts helps decrease the dependency on insulin.
5. Chock-Full of Antioxidants and Other Anti-Aging Agents
Alfalfa sprouts are a proven high-antioxidant food, which helps protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants and bioactive compounds found within sprouts promote better health and can prevent a number of diseases and illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows alfalfa sprout’s vitamin K levels not only fight vitamin K deficiency but also help prevent diseases connected to aging, including cancer, artery hardening, bone loss, and others.
6. May Help Combat Cholesterol
Alfalfa sprouts are a successful anti-hyperlipidemic, which means they help reduce the levels of lipids in the blood. Reducing lipid count can have an effect on reducing symptoms of coronary heart disease brought on by high cholesterol levels.
A 1978 study done on monkeys showed the addition of alfalfa to their diets reduced the negative effects of cholesterol, proving alfalfa is one of the better cholesterol-lowering foods.
7. Great Supplementary Source of Vitamin C
A big handful of alfalfa sprouts can offer up to 14 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin C, a vitamin that benefits immune function, skin health, and much more. Because vitamin C is water-soluble, we need to replenish our supply through our diets.
BONUS: May Help With Digestion and Milk Supply
Despite needing more research, many communities believe alfalfa sprouts can also increase milk supply in nursing mothers. There’s also evidence this plant can aid in treating kidney and bladder problems — and help an upset stomach, asthma, and arthritis.
How to Buy and Grow
Purchasing and Using:
Alfalfa sprouts are readily available in most grocery stores and food markets. When choosing them, look for freshness in the roots and stems. They should smell fresh and clean and look bright green without dark gown spots.
Be sure to wash them thoroughly when returning home, and keep the sprouts properly refrigerated. If they begin to smell musty, do not consume them.
Growing at Home
Growing alfalfa sprouts at home are easy and fun, and there are multiple ways to do so in the comfort of your own home.
First off, be sure to buy organic seeds that are not treated with fungicides or any other chemicals. You should only use seeds meant for growing sprouts.
You can grow them in a jar, a clay tray, or other containers.
North Carolina State University recommends this method for growing sprouts at home:
- Wash seeds (about 2 ounces), and soak in lukewarm water for 6 to 8 hours or overnight at room temperature.
- Next, put the seeds in a jar covered with cheesecloth after the soaking process.
- Continue to keep the seeds sprinkled with water at least 2 to 3 times each day. The sprinkling may be done once early in the morning and again before retiring to bed at night. It helps to roll the jar (container) around during each sprinkling to allow for easy lengthening (growth) of the sprouts until they’re 2.5 to 4 inches long and ready to eat.
- For best results, use only non-chlorinated water, such as well water, spring water, or distilled water, because the chlorine in city water can cause poor sprouting. Sprouting is best done at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in a dark place. It will take 3 to 7 days to obtain mature-sized sprouts, depending on the temperature.
- Place mature sprouts in a water-filled container, and wash to remove seed coats and fibrous roots. The seed sprouts will sink to the bottom, and the seed hulls will float to the top. Gently skim the seed hulls off by hand or with a small wire strainer. Allow sprouts to drip drain.
- Sprouts are best when used immediately after washing but can be stored for several days in the refrigerator (38 to 50 degrees F) in closed glass and plastic containers or freezer bags.
- The size of mature sprouts varies. Allowing the sprouts to grow too long (over 4 inches) may cause them to become bitter.
How to Use/Recipes
Alfalfa sprouts can be added to almost any meal. For example, they’re commonly found in Asian dishes, usually added to soups, on top of sandwiches, and with salads. Here are a few of my favorite recipes:
- Alfalfa Sprout Omelette
- Vegan Sushi
- Egg Foo Young
Risks and Side Effects
Are alfalfa sprouts safe to eat? Alfalfa is typically well-tolerated and “generally recognized as safe” as a food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
While they’re nutritious and easy to grow yourself, there are some precautions that come with these seed sprouts, since they can be home to bacteria in some cases.
Why do markets sometimes stop selling alfalfa sprouts? Sprouts have a reputation in connection with certain foodborne illnesses. Because they’re consumed raw or lightly cooked, they do carry a risk of carrying harmful bacteria that can cause illnesses in some cases, although the risk is relatively low.
Sprouts need a warm and humid environment to grow, which is also the environment ideal for bacterial growth.
The bacterial problem with sprouts usually begins with the seed. There are a number of techniques to kill harmful elements on alfalfa seeds, but nothing is proven to eliminate all bacteria.
Growing sprouts at home also do not guarantee they’re any safer, as the problem lies in the seed.
The FDA has advised that children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid consuming raw sprouts.
Also, because of high levels of vitamin K, individuals taking blood thinners should avoid alfalfa sprouts.
There are concerns about how the levels of canavanine found in alfalfa sprouts affect the human body, specifically the immune system. WebMD issues this warning about alfalfa sprouts and those suffering autoimmune diseases: “Alfalfa might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. There are two case reports of SLE patients experiencing disease flare after taking alfalfa seed products long-term. If you have an auto-immune condition, it’s best to avoid using alfalfa until more is known.”
More studies are needed to determine exactly how and why certain disorders are affected by alfalfa sprouts, but the following individuals should avoid alfalfa sprouts until more is known:
- Diabetics use other herbal supplements and medications known to lower blood sugar
- Individuals using medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight
- Individuals using immunosuppressants
- Estrogen-sensitive conditions
- Health benefits of alfalfa sprouts include fighting aging, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, high cholesterol, and menopause symptoms, along with providing high levels of vitamins and minerals.
- They’re easy to sprout at home, though keep in mind there are certain precautions you should take since they can at times accumulate dangerous bacteria.
- People with weakened immune systems or those taking estrogen or diabetes medications should use caution when eating sprouts.
- As long as you keep precautions in mind, alfalfa sprouts make a great addition to many recipes and provide a delicious, low-calorie, nutrient-dense option to your diet, considering they’re high in antioxidants, and vitamin K and more.