Alfalfa sprouts come with some phenomenal health benefits, including enhanced wound healing, support for stronger bones, help with weight loss, regulating cholesterol levels, and more. Alfalfa sprouts can help prevent iron deficiency, detoxify the blood, strengthen the immune system, and provide relief from symptoms of menopause.
Read on to find out about alfalfa sprouts, how easily they can be grown at home, and what they can bring to you in terms of world-class nutrition.
What Are Alfalfa Sprouts?
Alfalfa sprouts are the shoots of the alfalfa plant, also known as Medicago sativa, a flowering plant from the pea family. Alfalfa also goes by California clover, Lucerne, Buffalo herb, purple clover, and Spanish trefoil.
Alfalfa originated and was first cultivated in Asia Minor and Iran, and is endemic throughout the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, North Africa, China, northern India, Siberia, and most of Europe. It has been cultivated for over a millennium, and features small violet flowers when the plant is mature.
Though originally these plants were primarily grown for feeding cattle and livestock, they were later used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat digestive issues. After that, the alfalfa plant was not valued as anything more than forage until the 1960s and 70s, when sprouts became associated with a healthy-eating cultural movement.
Alfalfa Sprouts vs. Bean Sprouts
While alfalfa sprouts have a crunchy texture and mildly nutty flavor, they are too delicate to cook and must be eaten as raw sprouts, perhaps on sandwiches or in salads. Bean sprouts on other other hand, like soybean and mung bean sprouts, tend to be sturdier sprouts that can be cooked in dishes, and often should be cooked for safety. Soybean sprouts contain a toxin that could cause harm if eaten in large quantities, and mung bean sprouts have been associated with E. coli outbreaks.
Alfalfa Sprouts vs. Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli sprouts look and taste a lot like alfalfa sprouts (they don’t taste like broccoli at all), and come with their own set of benefits like anti-cancer properties and detoxification powers. They also contain selenium, a mineral that tends to be low in those keeping vegan diets. Alfalfa and broccoli sprouts can also be grown in much the same way.
How to Grow Alfalfa Sprouts
Soak 1/3 cup of alfalfa seeds in a quart of cool water, letting it sit overnight. The next day, drain your jar or container (a cheesecloth secured with a rubber band works quite well), and rinse the seeds with fresh water before storing them somewhere dark, at room temperature, with the container on its side. You’ll have to drain and rinse them at least twice a day, being sure to keep them damp while not sealing them away from air entirely (leaving the cheesecloth as a lid should work perfectly). You can use the water you drain off for any other houseplants you may have, and within 3-5 days, you will have edible sprouts.
Alfalfa Sprouts: Nutrition Facts
For sprouted, raw alfalfa seeds, the nutrition facts for a 1 cup (33 grams) serving of alfalfa sprouts includes over 3 grams of protein, over 10 micrograms of vitamin K, folate, and calcium, and over 20 milligrams each of phosphorus and potassium. To find out what those nutrients can do for your health, read on!
The Top 10 Alfalfa Sprouts Benefits
Check out the boosts and benefits that can be yours when you eat alfalfa sprouts.
1. Helps Regulate Cholesterol Levels
Due to its high amounts of the plant compound saponin, the alfalfa plant and its sprouts can help lower dangerous LDL cholesterol and improve levels of good HDL cholesterol. Not only that, this compound has also shown strong cytotoxic effects against certain cancer cell lines, though more research is still needed to isolate the potential treatment and prevention benefits. Its cholesterol-lowering effects, however, were shown in one study of 15 participants who ate 40 grams of alfalfa seeds 3 times per day for 8 weeks. In the end, those eating alfalfa showed a decrease in total cholesterol by 17% and a decrease in LDL cholesterol by 18%.
2. Speeds Wound Healing
The vitamin K content in alfalfa sprouts makes it a speedy wound healer. With 13% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K in a single cup of alfalfa sprouts you gain a significant amount of this blood-clotting vitamin. Regular vitamin K intake reduces the risk of hemorrhagic issues in future cases of injury or surgery and helps speed up the wound-healing process.
3. Aids Weight-Loss Efforts
Alfalfa sprouts are low in sugar, fat, and calories and rich in dietary fiber and a fair amount of protein. That means that eating alfalfa sprouts can contribute to satiety and muscle-building in those attempting to lose weight, without introducing unnecessary calories or sugar. Moreover, the fiber in alfalfa sprouts helps to inhibit the release of ghrelin, commonly known as the “hunger hormone” because it triggers appetite.
4. Helps Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia arises from reduced hemoglobin production. Without enough iron supplies, the body produces fewer red blood cells, and without a robust supply of red blood cells to deliver oxygen throughout the body, symptoms of anemia like fatigue, breathlessness, and brittle hair and nails set in.
Some segments of the population are more prone to iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia, particularly pregnant women and women and girls who have especially heavy menstrual flows. Alfalfa is a wonderful source of iron, and potentially more effective than iron-only supplements due to its additional nutrients like vitamin K and chlorophyll. Not only can eating alfalfa sprouts improve blood production, but it can also help in remedying bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
5. Boosts Bone Strength
The blood-circulating protein osteocalcin requires vitamin K for activation. The vitamin K in alfalfa sprouts can help not only in matters of blood health, but also in bone strength, as osteocalcin aids calcium absorption, which goes a long way towards preventing osteoporosis, reduced bone mineral density, and the weakening of your bones.
6. Strengthens the Immune System
With high concentrations of phytonutrients like L-canavanine and chlorophyll, alfalfa sprouts help to boost the body’s resistance to infection by strengthening your immune system. By acting as antioxidants and eliminating free radicals and toxins from the body, alfalfa sprouts help prevent the DNA damage that can be caused by free radicals. The compounds in alfalfa sprouts also bring improved phagocytosis (the ingestion of harmful bacteria or foreign microbes by phagocytes), and thus better resistance to diseases and their resulting health problems.
7. Improves the Health of Hair
Due to the amino acid content of alfalfa, eating alfalfa sprouts may help promote hair growth. As alfalfa sprouts also contain the B vitamins B1 and B6, they may help prevent hair loss and hair thinning. Silica too is present in alfalfa sprouts, and has been studied in relation to baldness prevention. Alfalfa sprouts also deliver a good amount of vitamin C, which, by improving blood circulation to the scalp, can help boost hair follicle health and collagen synthesis.
8. Helps Treat Symptoms of Menopause
Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens that can counter some of the most unpleasant symptoms of menopause in women, including mood swings, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and decreased libido. As estrogen production rapidly declines, the phytoestrogens in alfalfa sprouts can help relieve discomfort and ease the transition of menopause by generating estrogenic effects.
The less drastic the changes of menopause are, the better the health and well-being of the woman. In fact, relief from some of these physiological symptoms could even improve mood, mental health, and overall temperament during the process. One study even found that alfalfa extracts completely resolved hot flashes and night sweats in 20 women.
9. Aids Proper Digestion
This was the first known use of alfalfa sprouts for their health benefits, and that is most likely due to the high levels of digestive enzymes contained within, such as coagulase, invertase, lipase, amylase, pectinase, peroxidase, and proteases. Each of these enzymes brings its own unique functional value (amylase breaks down carbs, sugars, and starches; lipase breaks down fat; protase goes for protein; etc.), but together they promote excellent digestive functioning and reduce the likelihood of stomach upset. In addition, the potassium contained in alfalfa sprouts is an essential electrolyte, which helps promote digestive regularity, a helpful feature for anyone with chronic constipation.
10. Removes Toxins from the Blood
The detoxification effects of alfalfa sprouts make them in a sense a blood purifier, assisting in toxin removal, kidney health, and liver function. Blood poisoning is the result of too much bacteria accumulated in the bloodstream, a serious and often life-threatening condition. The risk of such an outcome is less likely with a regular intake of alfalfa, as its antimicrobial activity combined with its detox aid could help prevent such a situation as blood poisoning from arising.
The Alfalfa Advantage
Alfalfa has been good for humans and animals for over a thousand years, and the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids it brings might be beneficial to start including in your regular diet. Not only that, growing alfalfa sprouts yourself is an easy and fun activity you can even do with kids, encouraging green thumbs and good health all around with this most medicinal plant.