Are Sprouted Beans, Grains, and Legumes Good for You?

Reviewed on 1/23/2023

How many kinds of sprouts are there? 

You've probably had bean sprouts in a stir-fry or other dish, but did you know you can sprout most other seeds too? Sprouted beans, grains, and legumes are highly nutritious and easy to grow at home or pick up at your local grocer or farmers' market.

Sprouts are a traditional food in many countries and cultures. In the U.S., they gained acceptance in the 1980s with the movement toward healthier foods. Scientists today are working on:

  • Developing better sprouting methods
  • Ensuring that sprouts are safe to eat
  • Better understanding the health benefits of sprouts

Let's start with legumes. This protein-rich class of plants includes beans, peas, and lentils. They're eco-friendly crops because they can convert nitrogen from the air instead of removing it from the soil or requiring fertilizer. Some forage legumes, like alfalfa and red clover, are commonly used as livestock feed, but you can also sprout them.

Grains are the seeds from cereal crops like wheat, barley, and rye. You can sprout almost any whole grain. You can eat grain sprouts raw or use them in cooking. Look in your local bakery or grocer for sprouted bread, or bake your own. 

You won't go wrong if you choose the most popular sprouts, but why not experiment a bit too? Try these varieties:  

  • Beans. Mung beans are the most commonly sprouted, but you can also sprout soybeans, pintos, aduki, and broad beans, sometimes called fava beans. Don't sprout kidney beans, as they contain a toxin that only cooking can destroy.  
  • Other legumes. Besides beans, other commonly sprouted legumes include lentils, green peas, alfalfa, red clover, and chickpeas, sometimes called garbanzo beans. 
  • Grains. Common choices include barley, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, and millet. You can also sprout wheat berries, the intact kernels of wheat. Try wheat varieties like kamut and spelt too.

Sprout lovers also use the seeds of vegetables like broccoli and radish. 

What nutrients do sprouts contain?  

Different sprouts have different nutritional profiles, but most are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron, calcium, and vitamin C. They're low in calories and high in protein, with one serving typically supplying 10 to 25 calories and 2 grams of protein. 

During sprouting, seeds undergo changes that affect nutrition. The protein and carbohydrates in the seeds break down, making them easier for your body to use. 

Many plants contain substances called antinutrients that bind with minerals, preventing your body from using them. Sprouting is one way to break down antinutrients, allowing absorption of important minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium. 

What are the health benefits of sprouts?

Sprouts also contain substances called phytochemicals, which have many health benefits. Studies suggest that phytochemicals can:

  • Act as antioxidants, preventing some types of cell damage
  • Slow the growth of cancer cells
  • Help stabilize blood sugar levels
  • Reduce cholesterol levels
  • Fight atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries
  • Help the body resist viral infections

Is it easy to grow your own sprouts? 

Growing sprouts at home is simple and inexpensive. A common method is to use jars with mesh lids you can turn upside down to drain. Your sprouts will be ready to eat in around three to six days, and you can store them in the refrigerator for about five days. Don't start a batch if you're going to be away from home, as you need to rinse the sprouts at least twice daily. 

Do sprouts have any health risks?

Many outbreaks of foodborne illness have been traced to eating sprouts. Here's what you need to know:

  • From 2000 to 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received over 50 reports of sprout-related illnesses.
  • Either Salmonella or E. coli caused most outbreaks. 
  • The outbreaks caused 179 hospitalizations and 5 deaths.

Seeds can be contaminated by bacteria in animal manure or agricultural water, along with other sources. In the warm, moist environment needed for sprouting, bacteria can grow rapidly. Cooking can destroy bacteria, but most people prefer to eat sprouts raw. 

Health authorities say that most outbreaks involve alfalfa or red clover sprouts, but bacteria can grow on any type of sprout. If you grow your own sprouts, they could still make you sick, as most problems start with contaminated seeds.  

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How can I eat sprouts safely? 

The FDA recommends that you cook sprouts before eating, but most sprout lovers find that cooking destroys the flavor and crunch, especially with thin sprouts like alfalfa. Sprouted beans are sturdier and can be quick-cooked. You shouldn't risk eating raw sprouts if you're a child, elderly, pregnant, or lacking a strong immune system

If you buy sprouts in the store, look for sell-by dates, and use the sprouts promptly. Wash them before using, and don't use sprouts unless they look and smell fresh. 

If you grow your own sprouts, you can reduce your chances of getting a foodborne illness by following these steps:

  • Sterilize your sprouting containers.
  • Use filtered or bottled water for soaking and rinsing.
  • Rinse your sprouts often, at least twice a day.
  • Be sure that there is no place in your sprouting container for water to collect.
  • Choose a cool spot, not a sunny one, for your sprouting operation.
  • When you harvest your sprouts, rinse them and let them dry thoroughly before storing them.
  • Don't eat sprouts that are more than a week old.

What is the bottom line on sprouts?

Many people, including 9 out of 10 Americans, don't eat enough vegetables. Sprouts can be an easy way to up your intake of healthy greens. You don't have to eat a lot to get significant benefits. You can grow them yourself even if you don't have a garden spot. Many people enjoy their slightly sweet taste and crunchy texture. Still, it's important to know how to safely use sprouted beans, grains, and legumes. 

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References
SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Tiny sprouts provide big nutrition."

Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence: "Sprouts."

Food & Nutrition: "7 Tips for Growing Safe Sprouted Grains."

Nutrients: "Edible Plant Sprouts: Health Benefits, Trends, and Opportunities for Novel Exploration," "Sprouted Grains: A Comprehensive Review."

PennState Extension: "What You Should Know About Sprouts."

Rocky Mountain Health Plans: "Sprouted Grains 101."

USA Pulses: "General Properties of Dry Peas, Lentils & Chickpeas."

Vegetarian Society: "Sprouting: How to sprout at home."

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