What's your opinion of sprouts? I've heard
mixed things about alfalfa sprouts. Do you eat them? Are some sprouts
better than others?
Thanks for your question.
In the last few years, raw commercially grown sprouts have increasingly
been recognized as a source of food-borne illness in the United
States. After numerous outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli infections,
the California Department of Health Services issued a statewide
advisory about the potential risk of illness from sprouts, particularly
in children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune function.
Recent reports have found toxic parasites including Cryptosporidium
and Giardia in some commercially sold sprouts. As a result, many
commercial sprout companies now rinse their sprouts with chlorine
This concerns me. I tend not to buy commercial sprouts, and I particularly
avoid sprouts sold in open containers, and also foods sold in restaurants
that contain sprouts. I adamantly steer clear of sprouts kept under
bright lights in restaurant salad bars.
In our home, however, we make our own sprouts. This has many advantages
compared to purchasing them:
It's far less expensive.
We are able to eat the sprouts at their peak of freshness.
We make fewer trips to the store.
It's fun, particularly if kids get involved.
We know the seeds used are organic.
We know the sprouts aren't contaminated.
We know no chlorine has been used.
You mentioned alfalfa sprouts. I rarely eat them, because they contain
an amino acid called canavanine, which is a natural toxin. In excess,
it causes a chronic inflammatory disease similar to lupus. The concentrations
of canavanine found in alfalfa seeds are greatly increased in alfalfa
sprouts, which might be a natural defense to prevent animals from
Because of these and other toxins, Dr. Andrew Weil says that he does
not eat raw alfalfa sprouts, lentil sprouts, or mung bean sprouts.
My feeling is that for most people occasional consumption of small
amounts of these sprouts is probably fine, although for those who
are susceptible to autoimmune diseases, it may be best to avoid them
On the other hand, there is a particular type of sprout which seems
to have many advantages. Broccoli sprouts contain extremely high concentrations
of a helpful enzyme called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane was discovered
in broccoli in 1992 by Paul Talalay, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University.
Because concentrations of sulforaphane and other cancer-fighting substances
are from 20 to 50 times higher in three-day-old broccoli sprouts than
in mature plants, Talalay says that "small quantities of broccoli
sprouts may protect against the risk of cancer as effectively as much
larger quantities of mature vegetables of the same variety." Broccoli
sprouts, he believes, "offer a simple dietary means of reducing cancer
Talalay founded the Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory at Johns Hopkins,
which may be the only medical school department in the world devoted
to a particular vegetable. This brings to mind Thomas Edison's prediction:
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine; but instead will
interest his patients in the care of the human frame; in diet; and
in the causes and prevention of disease."
Broccoli sprouts don't taste like broccoli, by the way. They taste
(and look) more like alfalfa sprouts. They detoxify carcinogens and
protect against chemically induced cancers. They also contain significant
amounts of selenium, a mineral that is sometimes low in vegan diets,
particularly in England. (Brazil nuts are another good source of selenium.)
Not all broccoli varieties are equally beneficial when sprouted. Some
are far higher than others in sulforaphane and other protective substances.
Seeds that carry the Brassica Protection Products Seal have been designated
by Johns Hopkins University to have the highest levels of sulforaphane
and other anti-cancer compounds. One source for such seeds is Caudill
Seed Company (800-626-5357). They sell a pound of organically grown
seeds (enough to make many gallons of sprouts) for $10 (plus shipping).
To make sprouts you soak the seeks overnight. Then you rinse and drain
them two or three times a day. After a few days, voila, you have sprouts.
You can eat them then, or store them for a few days in the refrigerator.
For about four dollars you can get a set of Sprout-Ease Econo-Sprouter
Toppers (830-257-6020) which screw onto wide-mouthed canning jars.
In our home, we also sprout hulled sunflower seeds, eating them 36
hours after they are first soaked.