Nutrition Bites - Sprouts

In the last few years, popularity of consuming plant sprouts has increased.  Analysis of the nutritional composition of sprouts as compared to their raw vegetable counterparts has demonstrated higher concentrations of several compounds that may reduce the risk of cancer. For example, glucosinolates are shown to be higher in the broccoli sprout than in the mature, raw broccoli vegetable. The enzymes present in gut microflora are linked to converting glucosinolates to isothiocyanates (1). Studies have shown promising inhibiting effects of isothiocyanates on tumor cell growth. Isothiocyanates have the capacity to alter the physiological mechanism of cancer cell promotion and growth stimulation, leading to cancer cell death.  Similarly, DNA damage is prevented and repair is influenced by isothiocyanates (2). 

Plant sprouts, such as broccoli sprouts, are also rich in phenolic acids, and vitamins E, C, A, and K. An added health benefit from sprouts includes minerals, as sprouts readily absorb beneficial minerals from the soil that they grown in (3). In other studies, vegetable sprouts show promising anti-inflammatory effects.  Vitamin C is thought to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Folic acid and vitamin C are at a high concentration as the sprouts grow from seeds to mature vegetables. 

Cancer patients at Johns Hopkins were encouraged to consume broccoli sprouts, as lead research scientists found that the sprouts offered a 20 to 50% increase in cancer-preventing compounds than the mature broccoli did.  Since there have been foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years, the study suggested broccoli sprout powder mix with water as a healthier alternative (4).

Overall, research studies conducted in recent years have suggested that consuming vegetable sprouts such as broccoli sprouts, may have increased levels of nutrients in comparison to the mature plant.  It cannot be concluded, however, that sprouts do in fact offer a significantly higher amount of health benefits, as there have not been many human clinical trials performed.  Comparison and evaluation of anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventing compounds have been the main center of recent research.  Nevertheless, individuals with compromised immune systems are not encouraged to consume raw plant sprouts, as many of the same nutritional benefits can be consumed in cooked or steamed vegetables.

References:

  1. Fahey, J. W., Wehage, S. L., Holtzclaw, W. D., Kensler, T. W., Egner, P. A., Shapiro, T. A., & Talalay, P. (2012). Protection of humans by plant glucosinolates: efficiency of conversion of glucosinolates to isothiocyanates by the gastrointestinal microflora. Cancer Prevention Research, 5(4), 603-611.
  2. Williams, D. J., Edwards, D., Hamernig, I., Jian, L., James, A. P., Johnson, S. K., & Tapsell, L. C. (2013). Vegetables containing phytochemicals with potential anti-obesity properties: A review. Food Research International, 52(1), 323-333.
  3. Medina, S., Domínguez-Perles, R., Moreno, D. A., García-Viguera, C., Ferreres, F., Gil, J. I., & Gil-Izquierdo, Á. (2015). The intake of broccoli sprouts modulates the inflammatory and vascular prostanoids but not the oxidative stress-related isoprostanes in healthy humans. Food chemistry, 173, 1187-1194.
  4. Hopkins, T. J. (2014, October 13). Chemical derived from broccoli sprouts shows promise in treating autism - 10/13/2014. Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/chemical_derived_from_broccoli_sprouts_shows_promise_in_treating_autism

Michelle Chellino, Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis. August, 2016