In a toe-to-toe comparison of alfalfa sprouts vs. broccoli sprouts we examine flavor, suggestions for consumption, and nutrition profiles. Which one is healthiest? Read on to find out!
What are Sprouts?
Sprouts are new shoots, or the very young beginning of plants. When a seed germinates, it puts forth a shoot which typically looks like two small green leaves. If allowed to grow, this shoot or sprout will eventually become a full-grown plant.
This tiny sprout has enough nutrients packed inside to become a full-fledged plant with just a little sunlight and water. This nutrient density is what makes sprouts so beneficial for your health. During the germination process (when a seed becomes a sprout), nutrients and enzymes that are not available in the seed itself are unlocked and made very digestible in the sprout.
Although broccoli and alfalfa are among the most popular varieties of sprouts, almost any bean or vegetable plant can be sprouted. Common types of sprouts that you may find in the grocery store include mung bean sprouts, radish sprouts, sunflower sprouts, lentil sprouts, mustard sprouts, green pea sprouts or pea shoots, and red clover sprouts.
Sprouts vs Microgreens
The main differences between sprouts and microgreens are how they are grown and when they are harvested. Sprouts germinate in water whereas microgreens are grown in soil. Under proper conditions, most sprouts will germinate in less than a week. Microgreens typically take up to three weeks before they can be harvested.
Growing sprouts and microgreens is easy to do at home, but in general growing sprouts is easier because they do not require soil, are able to grow in very small spaces, and don’t need nearly as much sunlight.
For the purposes of this article we will focus on sprouts rather than microgreens.
Growing Sprouts: Step-by-Step Guide
Sprouts are surprisingly easy (and fun!) to grow at home. They require very little work, grow very quickly, and provide you with a delicious and nutritious reward for your efforts.
- Jar for growing. The easiest method for sprout production is to use this sprouting jar kit (https://amzn.to/3JUF6zY), which is attractive and provides the perfect growing conditions while limiting the risk of mold or bacteria. Alternatively, you may use a mason jar with a mesh lid (https://amzn.to/3Yyw4gb). Both options make it extremely easy to rinse and drain sprouts, which must be done several times a day.
- Alfalfa seeds and broccoli seeds, preferably organic, like these: https://amzn.to/3YwBEQ8 and these: https://amzn.to/3I95hBw.
Steps to Growing Sprouts at Home:
- Cover 1-2 tbsp. of seeds with a cup of water and soak in a dark space overnight for at least 12 hours. Dried seeds are dormant- by soaking them you end the dormant phase and put them into the growth phase. Now they are rich in nutrients as well as enzymes (proteins that speed up chemical reactions) necessary for growth.
- Drain and rinse in cool water using a fine mesh colander. Drain as much of the water as possible.
- Add seeds to the sprouting jar and place out of direct sunlight (indirect sunlight is ok).
- Rinse and drain well at least 3 times per day to prevent mold and bacteria growth. A sprouting system with optimal ventilation and drainage like those listed above is your safest bet.
- Both broccoli and alfalfa sprouts will be ready to harvest in 3-5 days.
- Dry sprouts thoroughly using a salad spinner or towel before storing in the refrigerator. Thoroughly allowing sprouts to dry is critical for preventing mold and bacteria growth.
Safety of Sprouts
You may have heard about the food safety concerns of sprouts typically resulting from E. coli contamination. These reports most often apply to commercially grown sprouts from large production facilities. It is rare to hear about bacterial contamination of home-grown sprouts. Nonetheless, taking precautions to prevent the growth of bacteria is recommended. You can never be too careful!
To ensure the safety of your sprouts, be sure to follow these easy safety guidelines:
- Thoroughly clean the sprouting jar with soap and warm water before and after you harvest each batch.
- Always use clean, cool water for soaking seeds.
- Rinse thoroughly at least three times a day using fresh water and some pressure. Turn the faucet up all of the way for best results.
- Drain thoroughly. Be sure you are using a system designed for proper drainage and ventilation to prevent mold growth.
- Dry sprouts thoroughly after harvest and before storage.
- Wash hands thoroughly prior to handling sprouts.
How to Prepare Sprouts
Broccoli and alfalfa sprouts are different sprouts that can be added to almost any meal and easily substituted for one another. Cooked or raw, they make excellent additions to soups, stews, salads, tacos, sandwiches, wraps, and even smoothies. Fresh sprouts can be lightly salted and eaten as a healthy snack.
These raw sprouts may look similar but they have some significant differences. Broccoli sprouts have a spicy taste with hints of radish (they don’t taste like broccoli at all, surprisingly!) whereas alfalfa sprouts are milder with nutty undertones. Both have a fresh, grassy flavor and their textures are almost identical.
What are Broccoli Sprouts?
Simply put, broccoli sprouts are the baby version of broccoli plants that are just 3-5 days old. Because they have just germinated, they have nutrients like sulforaphane (more on this later) that are either not available in full grown broccoli or are available in much smaller quantities. Both broccoli and broccoli sprouts are healthy for you, but broccoli sprouts are like broccoli on steroids in terms of their health-promoting abilities.
Health Benefits of Broccoli Sprouts
Help Fight Cancer
Broccoli sprouts contain a phytochemical called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a sulfur-based nutrient found primarily in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Interestingly, broccoli sprouts have a much higher sulforaphane content than the mature broccoli plant, weighing in at 10-100 times more sulforaphane (1). Sulforaphane has been shown to not only prevent, but also to help treat, various cancers including breast, colon, bladder, skin, and oral cancers (2, 3, 4).
Prevent Heart Disease
Broccoli sprout consumption can protect the heart against damage from free radicals and cell death (5). These nutritious sprouts help protect against cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, reducing the buildup of fatty plaque on artery walls, and reducing the risk of diabetes (6).
Improve Gut Health and the Immune System
Broccoli sprouts help improve the microbiome (healthy bacteria in the gut) and reduce inflammation throughout the digestive tract (7). Daily broccoli sprout intake helps fight h pylori infection (a common cause of ulcers) and h. pylori-associated gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) (8).
Protect Cells Against Oxidative Stress
Broccoli sprouts help protect cells against harmful free radicals. They also reduce inflammation and C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a blood marker of inflammation (9).
Support the Liver
Broccoli sprouts provide significant liver support and help to improve liver function (10).
These nutritious sprouts reduce the impact of liver damage by supporting liver detoxification and increasing liver enzyme production (11). Sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts discourages fat from depositing in the liver and thus reduces the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (12).
What are Alfalfa Sprouts
Alfalfa sprouts are simply very young alfalfa plants. Unlike their fully grown counterparts, which are bitter and unpleasant to eat, alfalfa sprouts are nutty with a mild flavor. These baby shoots are both nutritious and delicious, adding crunch and texture to salads, sandwiches, tacos and stir fries.
Health Benefits of Alfalfa Sprouts
Reduce Blood Cholesterol Levels
Alfalfa sprouts help reduce LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), triglycerides, and blood glucose levels, three primary risk factors of heart disease. In addition, these tasty little sprouts can increase your good cholesterol levels (HDL), providing a one-two punch against heart disease (13, 14, 15, 16).
Prevent and Manage Diabetes
As mentioned above, alfalfa sprout consumption can help regulate blood sugar levels and can improve all signs of diabetes (17). In addition, alfalfa sprouts may reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, a condition that includes high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance (18).
Manage Menopause Symptoms
Though healthcare professionals do not all agree on the safety of consuming phytoestrogens in large amounts, there is solid evidence that moderate amounts of phytoestrogens found in foods can help offset menopause symptoms caused by low estrogen, including hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes (21). Everyone is different, so it is important to check with your healthcare provider to see if phytoestrogens are safe for you.
Potent Antioxidant Effects
Alfalfa sprouts are very powerful antioxidants, protecting cells from the dangers of free radicals (22). Antioxidants play an important role in promoting good health and preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
So, Which Sprout is Healthiest?
Which sprout is better for you depends upon your personal health goals. In terms of nutrition, both sprouts offer significant nutritional benefits. Broccoli sprouts are best known for their cancer-fighting properties, whereas alfalfa sprouts gain more recognition for their free radical-fighting and menopause-supporting abilities. The good news is that you don’t have to choose one over the other because both sprouts are healthy and nutritious!
Pam is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s of Public Health and a Certificate in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Passionate about the science of health and nutrition, she loves to share her knowledge to help others live healthy, vibrant lives. When not working, Pam can be found hiking, traveling, and enjoying great-tasting, nutritious food.