Small But Mighty: Why You Should Be Eating Sprouts

Purple cress sprouts
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Sprouts are the kind of thing you find at a vegetarian luncheonette, or growing in the kitchen of your most health-conscious friend. Learn about their benefits and you may start growing them yourself.

The dainty vegetables boast a hefty nutrient load relative to their size—adding just a quarter cup to a meal really does make a difference. “Sprouts are essentially seeds that have gone through the germination process,” says Catherine Brennan, a Rhode Island–based dietitian. They can be the seeds of radishes, broccoli, lentils, quinoa, mung beans, alfalfa, and more. “The sprouting process can alter a seed’s chemical composition, giving it a different nutrition profile than its nongerminated counterpart,” Brennan adds.

Sprouts have a few advantages over mature plants, says Pamela Fergusson, a British Columbia–based dietitian. Sprouting can increase protein content and micronutrients like magnesium and phosphorus, which help maintain strong bones and repair tissues. Each variety possesses different health benefits. Radish and sunflower sprouts are abundant in phenolic compounds, which are known cancer fighters, according to a study in Food Chemistry. And research from Japan found that just 20 grams of raw broccoli sprouts a day aided digestion, owing to a compound called sulforaphane. You can even buy sprouted-wheat bread, which contains more B vitamins, fiber, folate, and essential amino acids than the unsprouted kind.

Find sprouts at the grocery store, but skip them at a salad bar, as those can harbor bacteria. Or grow them at home in about five days—Chef’n has a $25 countertop kit we like. Sure, your friends may figure you for a health food freak, but you’ll convert them.