Staying healthy is one of my top goals for the year. At my age, this means two things — good exercise and a proper diet. The virus problem is still out there. So for now, there’s a need to add a third component. That is spending more time at home.
A run on the treadmill isn’t as fun as jogging outdoors, but it does the job. The bigger concern to me is food. I’m used to sourcing my daily nutrients at the local food shops.
They offer healthier options compared to ready-to-cook meals I have at home. Food delivery is an option but it’s not sustainable. The only solution is knowing how to prepare my own fresh healthy meals.
Discovering the benefits of bean sprouts is one of the highlights of my food journey. Let me share my learnings with you as I try to answer some of the questions about it.
All About Bean Sprouts
What are bean sprouts?
Bean sprouts are what their name suggests. They are beans that are allowed to germinate or grow for a few days before they are served as vegetables.
All vegetables, in their life journey from seed to harvest, at one point became sprouts. However, only selected beans are edible during germination.
Sprouts have been part of Chinese culture for about 5,000 years. It only gained significant attention in the US during WWII. Soybean sprouts were appreciated for its fast growth, easy preparation, and high nutrition. It was a practical source of protein and Vitamin C during the war. It gave troops based in the arctic access to vegetables all year round.
What sprouts are available in the US?
Alfalfa sprouts are the most common in the US. The country produces some 80 million pounds of it every year. They are often used as toppings for sandwiches and burgers due to their mild flavor and crunchy texture.
Americans consume about 20 million pounds of mung beans yearly mostly as sprouts. About three-quarters of Mung beans are sourced from other countries such as China and Japan. Other popular sprouts are red clover, radish, and broccoli.
What are the benefits of eating legume sprouts?
Bean Sprouts remain high on the list of those looking for a healthier diet. To illustrate, just 100g of mung bean sprouts can provide 41% of daily Vitamin K needs. Bean sprouts are also rich in Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Vitamin K, the levels of which will depend on the variety.
Here are some of the key health benefits we can get from our beloved food.
- Weight loss
A weight-loss diet generally involves counting calories. The feeling of deprivation is real when you have to stop eating upon reaching the calorie limit you have set. Well, I doubt it will be the case with bean sprouts.
A cup of mung bean sprouts has 12 – 31 calories per 100 g. It’s a small fraction compared to ice cream or a burger which have 200-300 calories per 100g. Eat as many bean sprouts as you need and I doubt you’ll bother to count.
Bean sprouts are high in fiber content. Fibers will make you feel full longer. Sprouts have more protein than any other leafy vegetables. A high-protein diet is linked to reduced appetite. With reduced appetite and cravings, you will definitely eat less.
- Protect the heart
Heart problems are usually associated with people in the higher age group. But why wait when bean sprouts can help us delay or avoid getting there.
LDL or “bad cholesterol” are the main culprits for artery plaque formation. Plaques can suddenly rupture and lead to heart attack. Lentil sprouts can lower the total LDL. The same sprouts can increase the HDL or “good cholesterol”. People with high levels of calcium in the blood are prone to heart attacks and stroke. Vitamin K found in bean sprouts help prevent that from happening.
- Stronger bones
Eight million women in America suffer from osteoporosis. That’s 80% of the estimated 10 million cases in the country alone. Past the age of 50, one in two will suffer a broken bone due to the said condition. This is quite alarming especially to women.
Low intake of Vitamin K is linked to osteoporosis. Good thing our trusted bean sprouts are rich in vitamin K. It helps prevent bone loss and promotes the absorption of calcium.
- Reduced anxiety
Research suggests that Vitamin C reduces anxiety while deficiency affects mood and sleep. One cup of Kidney bean sprouts alone can provide 79% of our daily vitamin C needs. It can also increase melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep.
This is one of the benefits I’m surprised at. Estimates suggest 60% of women suffered depression and anxiety at a point in their lives. So if further research proves Vitamin C aids in fighting anxiety, then bean sprouts can help the world have happier women.
Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body, helping it prevent skin cancer in the process. Omega 3 can do wonders for the skin. Clearing blemishes, acne, and even psoriasis are some of the things it can do to the skin by repairing from the inside.
You can source both the antioxidants and Omega from bean sprouts with an added bonus. Bean sprouts help improve skin elasticity making you look younger longer.
“Should I eat sprouts or beans?”
Germination affects the nutrient composition of the beans. You get more with sprouts compared to eating them as seeds. Let me share with you some of these:
- Vitamin C is up to 38 times higher in sprouted cowpeas
- Riboflavin is higher in sprouts by up to 5 times
- Fiber increase of up to 226%
- Levels of Biotin, Choline and Niacin levels are elevated
- More free amino acids
- More antioxidants
- Higher protein
- Easier to digest
- Fewer calories
- Less phytic acid
“What is phytic acid? Is less of it good or bad?”
All plant seeds have phytic acid. This substance hinders the body’s absorption of minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc. It is sometimes considered an “anti-nutrient” because of this.
Repeated eating of foods with high levels of phytic acid affect the already nutrient-deficient individuals. These are people who most likely have no economic means to diversify their food sources. Vegans may encounter this. They compensate by eating enhancers of mineral absorption such as garlic and onion.
If you are not a vegan, don’t stress yourself on phytic acid. The effect is limited to the current meal. If your next meal doesn’t have it, you are back absorbing those minerals again. Also, avoiding foods with high phytic acid is not the solution. You’ll end up missing many other nutrients your body needs. Phytic acid in beans can be reduced significantly through soaking, sprouting, or fermenting.
As an antioxidant, not all effects of phytic acid are negative. It is suggested that it helps reduce the risk of kidney stones and cancer.
Where to Get Your Bean Sprouts
Can I find fresh bean sprouts in the produce section of the grocery?
Whenever fresh bean sprouts are available in large groceries, they are likely stored in the produce section and stored in plastic bags. They may also be found in refrigerated shelves together with other vegetables. If they are not available in your favorite grocery, check Korean or other Asian groceries.
It’s harder to find fresh bean sprouts now compared to before. This is mainly for two reasons. The first is they easily wilt. They are in good condition for just a few days. If sprouts are not sold by then, they are disposed of. Lower demand, high logistics costs, and lots of discarded products eat up on profit margins which discourage retailers and producers.
The second reason is the risk of foodborne illnesses. Retailers do not want the risk of selling products that can potentially harm their customers. More of this later.
Are canned bean sprouts available in the canned vegetable section?
Canned bean sprouts may be grouped with other canned vegetables, but not always. Sometimes they are stacked in the ethnic items section because of their association with Asian cuisine.
Canned sprouts are relatively cheap. But for people who want their sprouts raw, will be disappointed. It lacks the crispiness and flavor they are looking for. Canned sprouts may also be too wet and mushy for some of the recipes you have in mind.
Where can I get fresh bean sprouts if they are not available in the grocery?
You can grow sprouts on your own. It is very easy to do and no special equipment is necessary. Here’s a quick checklist to see if your home is ready to grow sprouts.
- Can you spare a corner in the kitchen to fit a mason jar?
- Do you have running water from your tap?
If the answer is yes to both questions, congratulations! You can have your home-grown sprouts in your kitchen. The space demand is really small, and you don’t even need windows.
Bean Sprouts Safety
Are there dangers in eating raw sprouts?
There’s a general perception that eating sprouts raw is the healthier choice. They do lose some nutritional value when cooked. Plus, many eaters will claim that sprouts taste better when raw.
Eating raw alfalfa and clover sprouts risks Salmonella and E. Coli infections. Warm and humid conditions that are ideal for germination also encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. These unwanted microbes do not affect the taste and texture of the sprout so they are not easy to spot.
Institutions that cater to people with weaker immune systems are discouraged to serve raw and lightly cooked sprouts. It includes hospitals, nursing homes, and child nutrition programs. The policy is not because the sprouts are bad for kids and sick people, but due to risks of severe complications if they get infected.
Thorough washing under running water can remove some of the bacteria. Proper cooking can eliminate them. The temperature should reach around 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Canned sprouts are safe to eat. They are already heated during the canning process.
Can I safely eat raw bean sprouts if I grow them in my kitchen?
Even if the sprouts are grown in your kitchen, it doesn’t mean there are zero risks in eating them raw. The seeds themselves could be contaminated at any point during the production and distribution process.
Possible sources of contamination:
- Typical agricultural inputs such as agricultural water and animal manure
- Rodents, wild and domestic animals roaming around the farm
- Worker with poor hygiene practices
- Containers, transportation, and storage facilities
Isolated contamination can spread throughout the rest of the seeds during harvest. The produce is also exposed to various dust and debris in the process. Salmonella can survive under the dry storage conditions of seeds for several weeks. Any remaining pathogen in the seeds will thrive during the sprouting process.
Can we decontaminate the beans to make safer sprouts?
Soaking in calcium hypochlorite in a 20,000 ppm solution seems to be the best bet. However, sprout growers claim that it affects germinations and yield. In the end, if you end up not getting the sprouts due to the decontamination process, then why bother.
How do I store bean sprouts?
Store your newly purchased bean sprouts in a refrigerator.
For mung beans sprout:
- Do not wash them before storage. Wash them before use.
- Optional step: Cut the hair-like tail for mung beans. This provides better texture and taste when eaten. Unfortunately, this is done by hand so do this if you have the time and patience. Use scissors if you have grown the mung beans sprout in trays and are perfectly aligned. You’ll be able to cut multiple sprouts at a time.
- Put the sprouts in a plastic bag. Add paper towel linings to the bag. Spread sprouts in 2 layers separated by another paper towel. Leave it open. The idea is to keep them dry but with good air circulation.
Mung beans may last up to 4 days in the fridge with this process. Freezing the sprouts will let them last longer. This will compromise the texture so it is not recommended.
Are there other benefits of growing my own sprouts?
You can choose to grow your own sprouts even if it is sold in your neighborhood market. Here are some reasons why should still do it:
- You’ll have a convenient source of fresh sprouts.
- You are aware of how sanitary the sprouts are grown.
- You have access to cheaper vegetables during winter.
- It can serve as a nice hobby.
- It is a nice activity for the young ones
Make sure to properly disinfect the trays or and other tools before starting the next batch.
What do I need to start growing my sprout?
There is special home equipment that you can buy to make your life easier. But I assure you these are not needed to start. You can use almost any container. Trays, plastic bottles, and milk carton boxes are fine as long as you can properly drain it.
If you’re sprouting commercially packed beans, buy the ones that are meant to be eaten. Some seeds are intended for forage and are not safe for direct consumption. You can also check with online sellers who know that the seeds you ordered are for sprouting.
Testing for Salmonella and E. coli are some of the many extra steps they do to ensure you receive safe products. Below are some good sources for your kitchen seeds.
“Everything is prepared, how do I sprout?”
Step one. Add room temperature water into the container you prepared. Pour or scoop the seeds into the container. Stir so that all the seeds are wet. The seeds will eventually sink but the bad will float.
Step two. Soak for 24 hours but rinse every 8 hours. Keep the lid open or secure with breathable fabric. While rinsing, let the floating bad seeds drain out of the bottle. You can collect the discarded liquid and use it to water your plants.
Step Three. After the third rinse, do not refill with water. Store in a cool, dry place. Store it in a way that will allow excess water to continuously drain but not the seeds to pour out. Rinse once a day.
Step Four. Sprouts are ready for after 5 or 6 days. Optional step on the last day. Place in a sunny window for 12 hours. This encourages the sprouts to green up and give a final boost to its length.
Step Five. Harvest and rinse thoroughly with tap water. Cook or store in the refrigerator after draining.
The steps may slightly differ depending on the seed you’re using. A very important reminder. Don’t lose your sanity when missing the schedule by an hour or two.
Overall, the nutritional benefits of eating sprouts far outweigh the small risks involved. Besides, the risks are easily mitigated by proper cooking and a balanced diet. So go grab your sprouts or beans and join me in developing a healthier version of ourselves.