The Health Benefits of Sprouts and Microgreens

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The Benefits of Sprouts and Microgreens
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Sprouts of certain seeds and nuts are an inexpensive and simple way to add extra nutrients to the diet. They are easy to grow at home and the ultimate local superfood. Even if you don’t have room for a garden, you can grow a jar of sprouts on your kitchen counter!

I’ve made different types of sprouts on and off for years and had stopped making them for a while, then my doctor recommended broccoli sprouts to help support my thyroid. This renewed my interest in making them, but I was also curious to learn more about them.

What Are Sprouts?

Sprouting is a process of germinating seeds or beans to create sprouts which can be eaten cooked or raw (depending on the type). Sprouts are often added to salads, stir-frys, and other dishes.

Most types of nuts, grains, and seeds can be easily sprouted at home with minimal equipment (tutorial coming at the end of this post.)

The process of sprouting makes beans and seeds (and grains) easier to digest and increases the nutritional profile. I explain why in more detail here, but here’s the idea:

Benefits of Sprouting

Just like the plants themselves, different sprouts have different benefits, but have some health benefits in common:

Lower Anti-Nutrients & Phytic Acid

Sprouting helps break down the naturally occurring anti-nutrients in nuts, grains, and seeds that can make them difficult to digest, especially for those with underlying digestive or autoimmune issues.

Anti-nutrients like phytic acid bind to magnesium, zinc, calcium, and iron, making them harder to digest. In nature, this serves the purpose of allowing the seeds to pass through the digestive system of an animal intact and then grow into a plant.

This is beneficial for the seeds, but not so helpful for those of us trying to utilize the nutrients in our foods!

Sprouting solves this problem by breaking down anti-nutrients, enzyme inhibitors, and lectins. In fact, soaking and sprouting for even one day can reduce the anti-nutrient content by 90% or more.

At the same time, sprouting increases the content of many beneficial nutrients and amino acids by making them more available to the body.

Ever gotten gas from consuming beans? Chances are you won’t notice this problem if you consume properly soaked and sprouted legumes as the compounds that cause digestive disturbances and gas are broken down.

More Beneficial Enzymes

It is estimated that there are up to 100 times more beneficial enzymes in sprouts than in raw vegetables. The rapidly growing sprouts need these enzymes for their own growth and cellular health makes them beneficial for us as well.

Sprouts are also an excellent source of enzyme inducers that protect against chemical carcinogens.

More Vitamins & Minerals

Sprouting increases the vitamin and mineral content of nuts and seeds and increases the nutrient absorption of these foods. Sprouting dramatically increases the content of B-vitamins, carotene, and vitamin C.

Sprouts are considered a good source of (non-complete) proteins, antioxidants, and minerals. One study found a 10x increase in antioxidants like rutin from only three days of sprouting. Sprouting increases the amino acid content of nuts and seeds, especially of certain beneficial amino acids like lysine.

Creates Protective Compounds

Sprouts are high in a variety of compounds that help protect the body. When a person consumes a sprout, he or she is essentially consuming the entire plant and getting all the benefits of that plant.

Sprouts contain antioxidants and enzymes that support healthy cell regeneration and protect against free radical damage. Different types of sprouts support the body in various ways:

  • Broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting compound that has been extensively studied. Sprouts contain 10-100x as much sulforaphane than adult broccoli plants and are often recommended for this reason. (Fair warning: they stink when sprouting!)
  • Alfalfa sprouts are quick growing and a good source of vitamins C and K, as well as B-vitamins. They are also a source of saponins, which are said to help balance cholesterol and support the immune system.
  • Most sprouts are a good source of hydrolytic enzymes that help the body assimilate food.
  • Clover sprouts are a good source of isoflavones.
  • Sunflower sprouts are high in protein, phytosterols, essential fatty acids, and fiber.
  • Lentil sprouts are an excellent source of protein and a great way to consume lentils.

Soaking vs. Sprouting

Soaking is a great way to reduce the harmful compounds in some nuts, beans, and seeds by soaking them in warm water with an acidic substance (like lemon juice) added for a certain amount of time.

Sprouting is an extension of soaking. An acidic medium is not usually used, and a process is followed that allows the seed to germinate and start to grow. Some foods like beans should always be soaked before consuming but don’t necessarily need to be sprouted.

Others, especially seeds and some nuts, benefit from the additional step of sprouting.

What to Sprout?

So, need a cheat sheet? Here’s are my favorite things to sprout:

Best Things to Sprout

  • Most nuts (except pecans and walnuts)
  • Most grains (if you consume them)
  • Most seeds including broccoli, pumpkin, sesame, chia, radish, alfalfa, broccoli, red clover, sunflower, and others
  • Most beans – lentils and mung beans are the most common for sprouting

A few notes:

  • Red kidney beans should not be sprouted as they contain a toxic compound once they sprout. They can be soaked but must be cooked before eating.
  • A few nuts, like pecans and walnuts, do not sprout and are better to soak.
  • Alfalfa seeds are a controversial plant to sprout as they contain canavanine, which some sources say are harmful to humans because it can inhibit the immune system. (Though this article gives a good explanation of why alfalfa sprouts may be perfectly safe.)
  • Chia, hemp, and flax seeds do not typically sprout well, though they can be through very precise methods (I recommend growing them as microgreens instead).

Problems With Sprouts?

Sprouts have gotten some negative attention from time to time for their potential to carry bacteria that cause foodborne illness. In the past, they have been connected to outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli. So are sprouts too dangerous to eat?

Not so fast…

The bacteria that cause illness are often found on the seed itself. Proper preparation and sprouting methods can help avoid problems. It is also possible to find seeds that have been tested for bacteria, which MAY help reduce the likelihood of problematic bacteria.

To reduce the chances of getting sick from eating sprouts (again, a rare occurrence):

  • Wash or sterilize the jar or vessel used for sprouting before each use.
  • Take care to wash hands and any surfaces near the sprouts.
  • Follow a proper rinsing schedule to minimize risk.

I can’t substantiate this, but one source recommends soaking sprouts in a lemon juice and water solution (1 part juice to 6 parts water) for 10-15 minutes before consuming since the pH of the lemon juice helps kill any bacteria on the sprouts.

Bottom line: Sprouts do carry the potential for foodborne illness but they also have a lot of health benefits. Statistically, a person is more likely to get sick from eating meat or eggs, but illness definitely can be caused by sprouts. Do your own research and make sure you understand the risks and benefits before consuming sprouts.

What I do: I personally still feel comfortable sprouting nuts and seeds and consuming them regularly. If you are nervous, you could always simply avoid eating raw sprouts and opt instead for soaked and sprouted grains and beans which are then cooked.

Microgreens: A Better Solution?

I’ve been experimenting lately with growing microgreens, which are essentially very small edible plants (like lettuce, radishes, beets, watercress, spinach, herbs, and greens) that are harvested when they are very young instead of being allowed to grow to full size.

They carry many of the same benefits as sprouts, but since they are grown in soil under normal growing conditions, they don’t carry the risk for illness. This can be done indoors or outdoors and seeds that are normally sprouted can just as easily be grown as microgreens and still contain the extra nutrients.

NPR reports:

The researchers looked at four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals – including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — in 25 varieties of microgreens. They found that leaves from almost all of the microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant. But there was variation among them – red cabbage was highest in vitamin C, for instance, while the green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E.

While sprouts are germinated and grown in just water, microgreens are grown in soil with sunlight or a grow light and contain higher levels of certain nutrients. They are also incredibly easy to grow and I grow them in our kitchen with a simple seed tray and grow light.

As mentioned, some seeds, like chia and flax, are easier to grow as microgreens than as sprouts.

Check out this tutorial on how to grow sprouts and microgreens in your own kitchen!

This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board-certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Ever had sprouts? What is growing in your kitchen?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


26 responses to “The Health Benefits of Sprouts and Microgreens”

  1. corinne Avatar

    I had for years thought that anything sprouted becomes a complete protein. I have lived my life based on that. Now with a quick search I can’t seem to find that info anywhere despite knowing I had read it from numerous sources!! I feel like I’m losing it! Are you certain they don’t become complete?

  2. Lisa Avatar

    It’s important to buy seeds that are specifically for sprouting or microgeeens and not garden seeds. Reputable, organic seed providers have their seed tested for human pathogens ensuring safety. It’s also good to buy from a food safety certified facility; their seed is handled as a food taking all food safety precautions seriously when handling your seed.

  3. Storm Avatar

    can sprout seed be used to grow microgreens, or are they a different type of seed?

    1. Lisa Avatar

      Some can be both while others cannot.
      Seeds like flax, chia, arugula are a gelatinous seed which means you must grow as a microgreen
      Alfalfa is best as a sprout or is bitter as a microgreen.
      Broccoli or radishes can be both.
      There are so many different seeds and options that it’s best to check the packages or suppliers website for proper growing methods.

  4. Mark Avatar

    I am new to the microgreen concept & yet very interested in it’s nutritional value. I recently purchased a variety of microgreen seed and have four 10/20 flats growing under a grow light ( inside ). I have (2) variety of pea(s) growing. They seem to be doing well although some ( a few ) appear to be developing an additional shoot at the top of the leaves. Is this normal?

  5. Maritz Avatar

    Ever hear of a Chis Pet??? Chia, hemp, and Flax are common sprouts/microgreens. Just Saying…

  6. Camille Avatar

    I really like Broccoli, Kale, and Daikon Radish microgreens. The first two are super healthy and I put them in my smoothies. The Radish is really spicy!

    I prefer microgreens because they are a bit safer, especially if you sometimes forget to rinse your sprouts. Bacteria and mold really like the damp environment in sprouting jars so you just have to be more vigilant.

  7. kate Avatar

    I tried the jar method but had mold problems so now I’m using trays which is better and has better germination. I soak my seeds in food grade h2o2 first. I just started and am still learning but homegrown alfalfa is delicious.

  8. Leslie Avatar

    I buy Citric Acid in bulk for cleaning toilets and other surfaces since it will dissolve rust and dark stains from water. On the label it said for rinsing sprouts, I assume to keep mold from growing in them. I have used H2O2 or peroxide as well but I am thinking I do need to make sure the surfaces of my jars and the screens are free of organisms as well.

  9. Julia Avatar

    I too have tried sprouting beans and seeds several times, but they always molded. Since I live in Alabama, I read somewhere that it is too hot and humid here. Has anyone else heard this?

    1. Yasoob AlHayat Avatar
      Yasoob AlHayat

      My city very hot, so I sprouted seeds in area around 20-25 C temperature and successfully 😉
      Actually I put them in Cooler, Ice Chest … changing ice chest if needed.

  10. Lisa Avatar

    Nicely written. I do sprout and happen to be the GM for the largest supplier of quality organic sprouting seeds from Canada. Our seeds are sent to the lab for testing of bacteria such as salmonella, ecoli and listeria. Very critical process.
    Did you know in Canada that GMO foods cannot be certified organic?

    1. jaYne Avatar

      hi Lisa
      i was wondering if i could order seeds from your company and if possible could you add the company address or phone number ?
      thank you !

  11. Laura A Avatar

    Good morning! Also looking for a link to the video please. AS always, a great and thorough article. Thank you for sharing with us all.

  12. Ally Avatar

    Great article! No matter how small your garden or kitchenn, there is always room for a tray, jar or bag of microgreens or sprouts 🙂 MY favourites are buckwheat, quinoa, chia and lentils. Yum!

  13. cristina Avatar

    I’ve just started learning about sprouts and microgreens and ready to give them a try. What a timely and informative post! Thanks for sharing… 😉

  14. Kathryn Avatar

    Just curious about quinoa — do you ever sprout them or grow them as microgreens?

    Thank you 🙂

  15. Deb Avatar

    Just tried growing micro greens after buying at a local market. The market greens were delicious but a bit pricey. I am using a tablet and don’t see the link for the video. Thanks

  16. Vicky Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    I used to sprout different types of seeds a few years ago- mung, sunflower, broccoli, etc… I started off well the first few times, but then the seeds would get mouldy. Now that I’ve read your article, I’m wondering if I need to sterilize the jar instead of just washing it in the dishwasher. Could this have been the problem? Regardless, your post has inspired me to give it another try!

    1. MARIA Avatar

      Hello… Does anyone have suggestions on good breakfast for toddlers without having to cook for an hour
      since grains and oatmeal have been sited as causing tooth decay due to phytic acid.
      Many thanks

    2. Rahul Avatar

      I use 5 drops of activated Chlorine Dioxide (MMS) to quickly sterilize all my growing trays, and jars. It’s fast and easy and things are sterilized within a few minutes. Plus, you can also spray or pour diluted chlorine dioxide directly on the sprouts to clean them.

  17. Elysia Avatar

    One note about kidney beans… When I was learning about sprouting beans (to make a tummy-friendly slow cooker chili), I did read about kidney beans containing a toxic compound and therefore needing to be boiled for 10 minutes before transferring to the crockpot. Nowhere did I read that kidney beans should not be consumed at all once sprouted. I have since made two large batches of wonderful chili and no one who has eaten it has had any problems – quite the opposite in fact! Besides being super delish, we all experienced the chili to be significantly easier to digest and had none of the discomfort we often encounter with beans. Anyway just wanted to note that for people before they rule out sprouted kidney beans! 🙂

    1. Carol Avatar

      If you read the part about the kidney beans, she was saying that kidney beans should never be sprouted to CONSUME RAW, but MUST be COOKED in order to destroy the harmful toxins. You clearly sprouted them then COOKED them.

      1. Elysia Avatar

        Actually in the article she says, “Red Kidney beans should not be sprouted as they contain a toxic compound once they sprout. They can be soaked but must be cooked before eating.” All I was saying is that from my research and experience, they can actually be sprouted (not just soaked) as long as you cook them. I was just offering a tidbit of clarity for people interested in sprouting beans for chili, etc.

  18. Leslie Avatar

    Great article! I read every word! On my counter, I currently have mung beans growing, and three stages of my favorite combo of seeds: red clover, crimson clover, broccoli, brown mustard and radish. I get them from Mountain Rose Herbs…YEA!! I live in Mountain Rose’s home town! I pour from my bags of seeds one by one to create this mix, in dry wide mouth quart jars and line up three to four at a time. Every two days I start a new batch soaking.

    We had kale microgreens from the garden last year, just thin and rinse the roots…so easy. This year, actually several weeks ago, we had radish microgreens from the garden and tossed them into a stir fry at the last minute. They were so cute in there and since the grandkids helped our daughter plant the seeds, (Ben, the 2 year old) and thin and harvest, (Hannah the 8 year old), and cook up the stir fry, (Gianna the 10 year old), all the kids thought the dish was wonderful and tasty!!

    Thanks for clearing up some sprouting details Katie!

  19. Bethany Avatar

    Do I have to use an acid if I am just soaking something? I make a lot of Dahl and have just been soaking the split beans in cold water beforehand. Thanks!

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