At An Oasis of Healing, we promote a diet rich in living foods. Sprouts and microgreens are among the most nutrient-dense, enzymatically rich, healing foods on the planet! They are also the closest you can get to eating living foods since they can still be germinating when you put them in your mouth!
Moreover, from a population and environment perspective, sprouts can be a great way to introduce diversity, enhance human diets, grow food sustainably and, more importantly, due to their elevated content of nutrients and phytochemicals, possibly even address nutrient deficiencies worldwide1.
What is sprouting and sprouts?
Sprouting is a traditional processing method that has been used for centuries to enhance the safety and nutritional value of edible seeds, but mainly of cereals and legumes. There are reports from ancient Egypt, around 3000 B.C., of the use of seed sprouting to improve food quality2. When we sprout seeds, we are actually germinating them, and according to the literature, “the process of germination can be grouped into decontamination, soaking, and sprouting stages3.”
On an important note, although germination and sprouting have different meanings, for the purpose of this article both words are used interchangeably. The definitions are as follows:
- Germination – The sprouting of a seed, spore, or other reproductive body, usually after a period of dormancy4.
- Sprouting – An example of germination that involves the soaking of seeds for several hours, leading to the formation of a protrusion5.
What we want to focus on this article is the end and edible product of germination/sprouting. The final product, which we colloquially call “sprouts”, are germinated seeds of plants and are considered a very nutritious and healthy food. Some of the most popular and commonly commercialized sprouted foods originate from a broad range of seeds such as alfalfa, buckwheat, mustard, coriander, red cabbage, and broccoli sprouts3.
What about microgreens?
While sprouts usually take less than a week to mature, microgreens are harvested for consumption within 10–20 days of seedling emergence1.
Microgreens can be “defined as tender, immature greens… larger than sprouts, but smaller than baby vegetables or greens1.” Most crops are grown for sprouts and microgreens, except for beans and some oilseed tree species that are commonly grown as sprouts only1.
Most of the information and health benefits in this article can be associated both with sprouts and microgreens.
Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Sprouts
Consumption of sprouts has been associated with many health benefits, including3:
- Significant amount of protein and dietary fiber. The insoluble fiber present in sprouts helps digestion and contributes to reduced constipation3.
- Rich in Vitamin K, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, Thiamin, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and Riboflavin3.
- Source of minerals like Zinc, Magnesium, Iron, and Calcium3.
- Excellent source of enzymes3.
- Sprouting reduces the amount of antinutrients, improving the digestion and absorption of nutrients3.
- Antioxidant activity3
- Phenolic and non phenolic compounds exhibit antioxidant activities
- Therapeutic potential against free radical damage
- Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid, is a major antioxidant in sprouts
- Glucosinolates in Brassica vegetables, such as broccoli and red cabbage, have radical scavenging properties.
- Cytotoxic activity
- Broccoli and red cabbage sprouts have shown anticancer activity, helping to substantially inhibit the progression of cancer, mainly due to the elevated levels of glucosinolates in young sprouts10,11.
- Bioactive compounds in buckwheat sprouts contribute to the anticancer effect, due to the potential of alteration of gene expression12.
- Buckwheat phenolic compounds, especially rutin and quercetin, have potent anti-tumor and cytotoxic effects: induce apoptosis of cancer cells, cell cycle arrest, prevent cytotoxicity, inhibit migration and progression of cancer cells3,13.
- Alfalfa sprouts also contain potent phytochemicals with cytotoxic and anticancer effects, such as alfalfa L-canavanine, β-carotene, and lutein 3-terpene derivatives and 5-flavonoid14,15.
- Cancer protective
- Improve immune system function
- Help control blood sugar – anti-diabetic effect
- Prevent obesity
- Antiatherosclerosis activity – contribute to heart health
As perfectly stated in the 2022 article Sprouts and Microgreens-Novel Food Sources for Healthy Diets, “sprouts and microgreens are novel functional food sources with great potential for sustainably diversifying global food systems, promoting human health, and facilitating the access of a steadily growing urban population to fresh microscale vegetables. These novel food sources have vivid colors, exciting textures, and diverse flavors and tastes, and they can be purchased in supermarkets or even home-grown for daily harvesting as needed. Furthermore, due to their short growth cycle, these nutrient-dense food sources can be produced with minimal input, without using pesticides; hence, they have low environmental impacts and a broad acceptance among health-conscious consumers. Furthermore, as sprouts and microgreens are usually consumed raw, there is hardly a loss or degradation of heat-sensitive micronutrients or vitamins through food processing1.”
- Ebert AW. Sprouts and Microgreens-Novel Food Sources for Healthy Diets. Plants (Basel). 2022 Feb 21;11(4):571. doi: 10.3390/plants11040571. PMID: 35214902; PMCID: PMC8877763.
- Abdallah M.M.F. Seed sprouts, a pharaoh’s heritage to improve food quality. Arab Univ. J. Agric. Sci. 2008;16:469–478. doi: 10.21608/ajs.2008.15018.
- Aloo SO, Ofosu FK, Kilonzi SM, Shabbir U, Oh DH. Edible Plant Sprouts: Health Benefits, Trends, and Opportunities for Novel Exploration. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 21;13(8):2882. doi: 10.3390/nu13082882. PMID: 34445042; PMCID: PMC8398379.
- Heslop-Harrison J. “germination”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Aug. 29, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/science/germination, accessed Feb 8, 2023.
- Difference Between Germination and Sprouting. Sept 16, 2017. https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-germination-and-vs-sprouting/, accessed Feb 8, 2023.
- Gan R, Lui W, Wu K, Chan C, Dai S, Sui Z, Corke H. Bioactive compounds and bioactivities of germinated edible seeds and sprouts: An updated review. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2017;59:1-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2016.11.010.
- Zhang Y., Xiao Z., Ager E., Kong L., Tan L. Nutritional quality and health benefits of microgreens, a crop of modern agriculture. J. Future Foods. 2021;1:58–66. doi: 10.1016/j.jfutfo.2021.07.001.
- Elliott H, Woods P, Green BD, Nugent AP. Can sprouting reduce phytate and improve the nutritional composition and nutrient bioaccessibility in cereals and legumes? Nutr Bull. 2022 Jun;47(2):138-156. doi: 10.1111/nbu.12549. Epub 2022 Apr 21. PMID: 36045098.
- Sandberg AS. The effect of food processing on phytate hydrolysis and availability of iron and zinc. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1991;289:499-508. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4899-2626-5_33. PMID: 1654732.
- Drozdowska M., Leszczyńska T., Koronowicz A., Piasna-Słupecka E., Domagała D., Kusznierewicz B. Young shoots of red cabbage are a better source of selected nutrients and glucosinolates in comparison to the vegetable at full maturity. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 2020;246:2505–2515. doi: 10.1007/s00217-020-03593-x.
- Gawlik-Dziki U., Jeżyna M., Świeca M., Dziki D., Baraniak B., Czyż J. Effect of bioaccessibility of phenolic compounds on in vitro anticancer activity of broccoli sprouts. Food Res. Int. 2012;49:469–476. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2012.08.010.
- Giménez-Bastida JA, Zieliński H. Buckwheat as a Functional Food and Its Effects on Health. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Sep 16;63(36):7896-913. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02498. Epub 2015 Sep 3. PMID: 26270637.
- Guo X, Zhu K, Zhang H, Yao H. Anti-tumor activity of a novel protein obtained from tartary buckwheat. Int J Mol Sci. 2010;11(12):5201-11. doi: 10.3390/ijms11125201. Epub 2010 Dec 17. PMID: 21614202; PMCID: PMC3100852.
- Gatouillat G, Magid AA, Bertin E, Okiemy-Akeli MG, Morjani H, Lavaud C, Madoulet C. Cytotoxicity and apoptosis induced by alfalfa (Medicago sativa) leaf extracts in sensitive and multidrug-resistant tumor cells. Nutr Cancer. 2014;66(3):483-91. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2014.884228. Epub 2014 Mar 14. PMID: 24628411.
- Almuhayawi MS, Hassan AHA, Al Jaouni SK, Alkhalifah DHM, Hozzein WN, Selim S, AbdElgawad H, Khamis G. Influence of elevated CO2 on nutritive value and health-promoting prospective of three genotypes of Alfalfa sprouts (Medicago Sativa). Food Chem. 2021 Mar 15;340:128147. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.128147. Epub 2020 Sep 23. PMID: 33032148.
- Turner ER, Luo Y, Buchanan RL. Microgreen nutrition, food safety, and shelf life: A review. J Food Sci. 2020 Apr;85(4):870-882. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.15049. Epub 2020 Mar 6. PMID: 32144769.
Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.