Should You Sprout Your Food?
What to know about sprouting grains, nuts, and legumes.
Sprouts may be easier to digest than the unsprouted version of the same food.
Sprouting breaks down a seed. That means less work for your digestive system, says Elisabetta Politi, RD, MPH, CDE, nutrition director at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, N.C.
"It would be a good choice for someone with a sensitive gut," she says. "For people with problems digesting certain foods, sprouted germs might seem better for them, and they are less allergenic to people with grain protein sensitivities."
This was the case for Avery Pittman, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Vermont. In high school, Pittman took methacycline for acne, which she says led to a lot of "gastrointestinal issues." Having tried various kinds of diets, she says that eating sprouts helps her avoid stomach problems that day.
Pittman buys mung beans (a small, greenish legume) and lentils in bulk and sprouts them herself. She eats them in salads and tries to eat them daily.
"They are pretty energizing and I enjoy the taste of them," she says. "I feel better when I eat them. I know some foods cause me to have stomachaches, but these prevent it."
Sprouts, like any produce that you eat raw, carry a risk of contamination with salmonella, E. coli, listeria, or other bacteria.
The warm, humid conditions they need are part of the problem. Bacteria thrive in those conditions, too.
There have been at least 30 outbreaks of food-borne illnesses related to raw or lightly cooked sprouts. These were typically due to tainted seeds, according to the FDA.
The FDA recommends that large-scale growers take sanitary precautions, such as soaking seeds in chlorine to kill any harmful bacteria before germinating.
The FDA's advice:
- Refrigerate sprouts you buy.
- Don't eat raw sprouts. Cook them before eating.
- Children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should not eat raw sprouts.
Sprouting at home? Buy seeds from a certified supplier and sterilize the seeds before sprouting, Jabr says.
Other tips include:
- Use clean water for soaking and rinsing seeds.
- Clean and sanitize containers used to sprout.
- Wash your hands before and after handling seeds.
- Smell test: Sprouts should smell clean. If they have an unusual smell, throw them out.
And remember: Sprouts can be part of a healthy diet, but they're not a miracle food.
"When a food becomes trendy, there tends to be misinformation about it and people think it is magic," Politi says. "With sprouts, there seems to be some health benefits and health risks."