Vegan diets rely heavily on sprouts, which are a good source of protein, B vitamins and other nutrients. These veggies can be a healthy addition to salads, soups and energy-boosting smoothies. Although they're typically consumed raw, cooking them is the only way to prevent foodborne illnesses.
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Are Raw Sprouts Safe?
Remember those experiments in school where teachers asked you to plant seeds in a small pot and watch them produce new leaves or buds? This process is called sprouting, or germination, and can be used for most plants, from beans and peas to wheat, oat, rye and cruciferous vegetables. Not all sprouts are edible, though.
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These superfoods are typically consumed raw or lightly cooked. The downside is that they're susceptible to molds and bacteria, which thrive in warm, humid environments. As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out, raw and lightly cooked sprouts have been responsible for many cases of food poisoning caused by E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens.
To stay safe, rinse them under running water and cook them thoroughly before consumption. Refrigerate them at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. These food safety guidelines are particularly important for children, people who are pregnant, older adults and people with a weak immune system, as they are more prone to bacterial contamination.
Why Eat Sprouted Foods?
Sprouts are considered superfoods due to their high nutritional value. According to February 2019 review published in the journal Nutrients, sprouting increases the fiber content of some grains, such as rice. At the same time, the protein in most grains becomes easier to digest and absorb.
For some grains, germination also tends to increase the levels of certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and vitamin C; although it decreases them in others. The amount of beta-carotene in barley malt, for example, may decrease during sprouting. As the researchers note, these changes depend largely on sprouting time and grain variety.
Another review featured in Nutrients in February 2019 assessed the nutritional value of cruciferous sprouts, such as broccoli, cabbage, turnip and watercress sprouts. Germination appears to increase their nutritional content and potential health benefits. Sprouted cruciferous veggies are low in carbs and rich in protein, fiber and antioxidants.
Broccoli sprouts, for instance, boast large doses of quercetin, kaempferol, phenolic acids and other bioactive compounds with anti-cancer, anti-obesity and antioxidant properties. Kale sprouts may protect against heart disease, diabetes and cancer due to their high content of flavonoids and polyphenols. Brightly colored veggies, such as sprouted radishes, cabbage and broccoli, are rich in anthocyanins, a class of antioxidants that support brain function and may lower the risk of chronic illnesses.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, some of the starch and phytate, an anti-nutrient that blocks vitamin and mineral absorption, are broken down during sprouting. This helps increase the nutritional value of food. Furthermore, sprouts are easier to digest due to the reduction in starch, a type of carbohydrate.
Choose High-Protein Sprouted Foods
Meat, eggs and dairy are not the only high-protein foods out there. Sprouted beans and legumes, in general, are rich in this nutrient too. If you're on a vegan diet, sprouts can make it easier to meet your protein requirements and prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Sprouted chickpeas, for example, have 120 calories and 9 grams of protein per serving (a quarter cup). They also provide 21 grams of carbohydrates, but if you subtract the fiber (6 grams), you'll get only 15 grams of net carbs. These high-protein legumes also deliver 10 percent of the daily recommended iron intake, 7 percent of the daily recommended amount of potassium and 3 percent of the daily recommended allowance of calcium.
The same amount of cooked chickpeas (unsprouted), by comparison, has only 5.8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. You'll also get less calcium and potassium.
A May 2018 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition points out that sprouted chickpeas and green peas are higher in protein compared to their unsprouted counterparts. They are also lower in phytic acid, which may help increase the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals.
Moong nutritional value per 100 grams is pretty high, too. Also known as mung beans, these legumes provide 360 calories, 62 grams of carbs, 15 grams of fiber and a whopping 25 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving, or 100 grams. They're also a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Each serving delivers more than one-third of the daily recommended magnesium intake.
Alfalfa sprouts, quinoa sprouts, soybean sprouts and wheat sprouts are all excellent sources of protein. Here are a few examples:
- Raw pea sprouts — 149 calories, 10.6 grams of protein, 0.8 grams of fat and 32.5 grams of carbs per serving (1 cup)
- Raw alfalfa sprouts — 23 calories, 4 grams of protein, 0.7 grams of fat and 2.1 grams of carbs, including 1.9 grams of fiber per serving (3.5 ounces)
- Cooked soybean sprouts — 76 calories, 8 grams of protein, 4.2 grams of fat and 6.1 grams of carbs per serving (1 cup)
- Sprouted wheat — 214 calories, 8.1 grams of protein, 1.4 grams of fat and 45.9 grams of carbs per serving (1 cup)
- Raw navy beans sprouts — 70 calories, 6.4 grams of protein, 0.7 grams of fat and 13.6 grams of carbs per serving (1 cup)
- Raw lentil sprouts — 82 calories, 6.9 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of fat and 17 grams of carbs per serving (1 cup)
Depending on your preferences, you can either grow sprouts at home or buy them from health stores and supermarkets. Use them in stir-fries, vegetarian wraps, rice dishes, stews, omelets and other nutritious home-cooked recipes. If you prefer sprouted grains, mix them into cookie, waffle or pancake batter to boost your protein intake.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Are Sprouts Safe to Eat?"
- Nutrients: "Sprouted Grains: A Comprehensive Review"
- Nutrients: "Sorting Out the Value of Cruciferous Sprouts as Sources of Bioactive Compounds for Nutrition and Health"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Are Sprouted Grains More Nutritious Than Regular Whole Grains?"
- USDA: "Sprouted Chickpeas"
- International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition: "Effect of Sprouting on Nutritional Quality of Pulses"
- USDA: "Mung Beans"
- USDA: "Raw Pea Sprouts"
- USDA: "Raw Alfalfa Sprouts"
- USDA: "Cooked Soybean Sprouts"
- USDA: "Sprouted Wheat"
- USDA: "Raw Navy Bean Sprouts"
- USDA: "Raw Lentil Sprouts"