— by Cate Stevenson, BA
Nutritionists have jumped on the sprout bandwagon these days, recognizing that sprouts are one of the few complete foods out there. The reason sprouts are so healthy is that each one contains all the nutrients to nourish the growth of the plant they come from. These nutrients only fade away after the new plant takes root. For this reason, sprouts must be harvested early and consumed before nutritional reserves are absorbed by the seeds.
Most grocery stores do not sell sprouts because of this short nutritional window. Likewise, many Americans do not add sprouts to their diets because they seem like a “fad” food that is hard to find and difficult to keep fresh.
This is unfortunate, because sprouts are extremely versatile. They can be added to appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and even desserts. Sprouts take on the flavor of the foods they are added to, giving an extra nutritional boost. Raw sprouts can be blended into vegetable juices that are quite tasty. Some sprouts are bitter, while others are quite sweet. Sprouts come in all different varieties: mung, alfalfa, lentil, mustard seed, radish, and sesame are just a few. Sprouts come in three different types — seed, grain, and bean. Grain sprouts tend to be sweet and can be used in baking. Grain sprouts are rich in vitamin E and protein. Bean sprouts are a staple of Oriental cuisine and contain high doses of vitamin A and C, as well as calcium, phosphorus, and iron.
Because sprouts contain so many nutrients — from 50% to 2,000% more than the average vegetable(!) — they are thought to help in preventing many diseases. Lately, sprouts have been noted for their potential cancer-preventative properties.
Researchers at the University of Michigan were well aware that the existence of cancer stem cells in breast cancer had profound implications for cancer prevention when they set out to perform a recent clinical trial. They wanted to determine if “sulforaphane,” a natural compound derived from broccoli sprouts, could inhibit the growth of breast cancer stem cells. They found that sulforaphane decreased the cancer stem cell population by 65% to 80% in human breast cancer cells and reduced the size and number of cancer cells by eightfold to 125-fold and 45% to 75%, respectively. The research team concluded that these findings support the use of sulforaphane for the chemoprevention of breast cancer stem cells.
Never tried eating sprouts before? Did you know that sprouts are actually quite easy to grow? Mung beans have the shortest growth cycle. Check online about how to sprout these and other legumes, seeds and grains. Place the sprouts in plastic bags and refrigerate after harvesting. They’ll keep fresh in the fridge for up to 10 days. One thing to remember: if you don’t want to eat sprouts raw, they’ll retain their natural flavor best when simply sauteed in olive oil. You can also steam, bake or toast sprouts.