Many health conscious people add alfalfa sprouts to fresh salads, and this legume has been enthusiastically embraced by raw foodists, intrigued by their apparent health properties. What few people realize is that eating alfalfa sprouts has some downsides – including the risk of being exposed to dangerous microorganisms that cause foodborne illness. Are alfalfa sprouts safe and should you eat them?
What are the Benefits of Alfalfa Sprouts?
Alfalfa sprouts are a good source of the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K – as well as the minerals calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. They have a full gram of protein in a single cup – and are a caloric bargain at only eight fat-free calories per cup. Some studies show they help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce water retention and bloating.
Are Alfalfa Sprouts Safe?
One concern about eating alfalfa sprouts is the risk of foodborne illness. In 2009, the CDC and FDA issued a warning about eating alfalfa sprouts after more than thirty people became ill from Salmonella food poisoning. Alfalfa sprouts must be carefully handled during the cultivation process to prevent contamination with bacteria – and not all growers are as meticulous as they should be. The sprouts are soaked in water during the cultivation process, which sets up a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Even if you wash alfalfa sprouts carefully before eating them, you may not remove all of the harmful bacteria. The only way to do that is to cook them.
Other Risks of Eating Alfalfa Sprouts
There’s another reason to be wary of alfalfa sprouts. When researchers tested them in the laboratory, they found that alfalfa sprouts have strong estrogenic activity – greater than natural estrogens produced by the body. Can this increase the risk of estrogen-dependent breast cancers? No one knows for sure, but women who have had breast cancer or are at high risk for the disease should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts until more is known.
Foods can have some pretty powerful properties – including alfalfa sprouts. Some people who eat large quantities of alfalfa or who take an alfalfa supplement have developed a syndrome similar to lupus – with joint aches, kidney abnormalities, fatigue, and evidence of immune system dysfunction. This occurs because alfalfa sprouts contain an amino acid called L-canavanine which stimulates the immune system. People who have lupus or any other autoimmune disease shouldn’t eat alfalfa sprouts.
Are Alfalfa Sprouts Safe?
The health benefits of alfalfa sprouts can be found in other fresh fruits and vegetables – and the downsides of eating alfalfa sprouts are too great. Eat lots of green veggies, but stay away from alfalfa sprouts for now.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Alfalfa”
Web MD. “FDA, CDC: Don’t Eat Raw Alfalfa Sprouts”