Alfalfa is a plant that has been cultivated for centuries, it is often used as high-quality food for cows and has been since the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, but it is also eaten by humans. Alfalfa sprouts are often eaten in Asia and are becoming more and more popular in the West.
Main Health Benefits Of Alfalfa Sprouts
There are a few evidence-based health benefits of alfalfa sprouts, you need to decide for yourself whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks of long-term consumption.
Alfalfa Sprouts Are High In Protein And Low In Calories
A 100g serving of alfalfa sprouts contains just 23 calories, of those 23 calories protein makes up 70% (16 calories from 4g of protein). There is only 2.1g of carbohydrate and 0.7g of fat per 100g serving. Obviously, 4g of protein isn’t exactly a lot, but the protein to calorie ratio is insane.
The combination of being high in protein and low in calories makes alfalfa sprouts an excellent food for anyone looking to lose weight. That’s because protein can increase satiety. A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that high protein diets were very effective at increasing satiety (how full you feel after a meal) .
So, think about it, you’ve got a food that is very low in calories but can also help you feel full afterwards. This means that you can eat less in between meals yet still feel full. A great way to reduce calories during the day.
Protein is also important as a macronutrient while dieting, this is because it can help to protect muscle. Usually, when your body is in a calorie deficit it will eventually burn muscle tissue for fuel. This can (obviously) lead to a small amount of muscle loss. Studies have shown that maintaining a high protein intake while dieting can protect your muscle mass for longer
Alfalfa Sprouts Can Lower Cholesterol
There appears to be some evidence that alfalfa sprouts, and the alfalfa plant in general may have an effect on cholesterol. A 1978 study by Malinow et al looked at the effect of adding alfalfa to the diets of cynomolgus monkeys (more commonly known as crab-eating macaque) . The study found that those monkeys who had been fed alfalfa had seen a marked reduction in atherosclerotic plaque and a reduction in atherosclerosis.
Another animal study performed in 2015 found that after four weeks of alfalfa sprouts being added to the diet total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) levels were significantly lower .
A 1987 study published in the journal of Atherosclerosis found that patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia saw a 26% drop in total cholesterol and a 30% drop in LDL cholesterol after consuming three meals of alfalfa seeds per day for eight weeks .
There appears to be quite a large body of evidence that alfalfa sprouts do lower cholesterol levels, but it seems that the medical community is not convinced. Possibly more research is required, or more likely, the potential side-effects outweigh the benefits.
Alfalfa Sprouts Are A Good Source Of Fiber
A 100g serving of alfalfa sprouts contains 2g of dietary fiber, about 10% of your recommended daily intake. There are many advantages to increasing your fiber intake, it can help improve bowel health and reduce the risk of bowel cancer. It can help lower cholesterol levels (possibly the reason why alfalfa sprouts have been linked to lowered cholesterol in people with hyperlipoproteinemia?), increase longevity, and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Finding a food that is both low in calories and high in fiber can also help you while dieting, as (like protein) fiber has been shown to increase satiety. Helping you to feel fuller for longer. Meaning that you can snack less between meals, eat smaller portions, and not suffer from intense hunger.
Alfalfa Sprouts Are A Good Source Of Vitamin K
You can receive 29% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin K in a 100g serving of alfalfa sprouts. There is some evidence that vitamin K can help to promote strong bones, particularly in post-menopausal women who are at risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin K may also prevent calcification of the arteries, lowering the risk of atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. Increasing your vitamin K intake may help to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The Risks Of Alfalfa Sprouts
Alfalfa sprouts can pose a small risk to your health. If you only eat them occasionally then they will have benefits, but long-term there may be some negative effects. According to MedlinePlus.gov long-term use may lead to a reaction that is “similar to the autoimmune disease called lupus erythematos” . The website also claims that alfalfa sprouts can lead to increased sensitivity of the skin to sunlight.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid alfalfa sprouts (though pregnant women tend to be told to avoid nearly everything!) as are women who are breast feeding. There are also warnings against diabetics, people with kidney diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and anyone with a hormone sensitive condition such as breast cancer to avoid alfalfa sprouts.
There appear to be a few benefits to consuming alfalfa sprouts, though the evidence for each benefit is quite sparse. On the other hand, the potential adverse effects of long-term alfalfa consumption seem to be more convincing.
Should you eat alfalfa sprouts? Well, if you are purchasing them from a reputable source and eating them sparsely then yes. You should be absolutely fine to eat them. You may even see some small benefits.
However, alfalfa sprouts are particularly at risk of contamination from E. coli or salmonella. They have also been linked to several illnesses.
Is it worth risking these side-effects or even death (yes, we are being rather dramatic here) for a plant that is not particularly enjoyable to eat or healthy? That’s a judgement call for you to make, but in our opinion … probably not.
Alfalfa sprouts are not particularly healthy, they are not going to improve your life, they aren’t particularly fun to eat, and they produce no endorphin high. So why bother?