Have you been noticing more foods made from sprouts at the store? Maybe you’ve noticed sprouted grain breads, sprouted sunflower seeds or sprouted almond butter in the organic and natural foods section.

If you’re wondering what these sprouted foods are all about, here’s a little sprouted foods 101 to help you understand the basics.

What are sprouted foods?

Like the name suggests, they’re sprouts, germinated seeds of grains, legumes, nuts and vegetables that have started to become plants. When a food is in the stage between being a seed and being a full-blown plant, it has unique nutritional benefits.

Benefits of sprouted foods

On her blog The Nourishing Gourmet, MNN contributor Kimi Harris explains that certain nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc are easier to absorb from foods in the sprout stage. When foods sprout, the phytic acid that binds to those nutrients and makes them difficult to absorb gets neutralized.

Sprouted foods are also easier to digest because sprouting changes the starchy part of the food. U.S. News explains that the “starchy portion of the grain will have been digested by the young shoot to fuel its awakening.” Since it’s the starch that makes many grains and legumes difficult to digest and what contributes to the gas that some people get from them, the sprouted versions of foods that cause digestive problems can help alleviate those issues.

Common sprouted foods

Of course, all seeds sprout, but not all of them are good to eat in their sprouted form. If you’re unfamiliar with what is safe and what is not, stick to the tried and true sprouts.

  • Alfalfa
  • Almonds
  • Barley
  • Broccoli
  • Buckwheat
  • Cabbage
  • Chia
  • Corn
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Mung beans
  • Pumpkin
  • Radish
  • Sunflower
Uses for sprouts

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has these simple suggestions for adding sprouts to your diet:

  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Sandwiches (as a lettuce substitute)
  • Omelettes
  • Breads
  • Casseroles
  • Chinese dishes
  • Vegetable dishes
  • Alone as a snack (like sunflower seeds)
Try one of these recipes that use sprouts:
Sprouts and food safety

Foodsafety.gov says that sprouts can carry a risk of foodborne illness and because seeds and beans “need warm and humid conditions to grow,” they are candidates for “the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.”

Although raw sprouts are considered nutritious, they are also more likely than cooked sprouts to make someone sick. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness from sprouts, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune systems should avoid raw sprouts. Cooking sprouts reduces the risk by killing harmful bacteria.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.