In the life of a plant, sprouting is a moment of great vitality and energy. The seed, after having remained quiet for an often long period of time, becomes more and more active and begins its journey up through the topsoil and into the open air. When it sprouts, a healthy seed activates many different metabolic systems. It converts some of its sugar content into vitamin C, to act as an antioxidant in the new open air environment. It also begins to synthesize a variety of new enzymes, many of them necessary to handle oxygen metabolism in the world above the soil. On a gram for gram basis, sprouts are richer in vitamin C than the older, more mature plants they eventually become, because this moment in their lifecyle calls for a high level of vitality. Sprouts can definitely be good for you!
For you to get the benefit of healthy sprouts, the sprouts need to be very fresh, and carefully refrigerated and handled. Most any kind of seed could also be sprouted at home, using one part seed to three parts water, a wide-mouth glass jar, and a screened lid. Many health food stores and natural foods groceries have sprouting started kits that make the process easy to understand and complete. It's worth noting here that seeds are smart, and some will not do much sprouting in polluted tap water, making a cleaner water source (like bottled spring water or filtered water) a better choice when sprouting. Although mung bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts are the most common commercially available sprouts, equally easy to sprout and healthy are red clover, radish mustard, lentil, adzuki, garbanzo, pumpkin, and sunflower. One word of caution about alfalfa: this seed has higher than usual amounts of an amino acid called canavanine, and some research studies have associated canavanine with worsening of inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune conditions, may want to avoid alfalfa sprouts for this reason.
Sprouts make great replacements for lettuce on sandwiches, and great toppings for salads! While we didn't include them as a separate category in the World's Healthiest Foods, we included many foods in our list that can easily be sprouted and will make a healthy addition to your meals. You will find complete profiles of sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, mustard seeds, garbanzo beans, lentils, rye, and oats in our Foods section, and all of these foods can be sprouted and enjoyed. You'll also find sprouts in our Poached Fish with Chinese Cabbage recipe, and in our Thai Style Snapper in a Bowl.
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