Nutrition and Health Benefits of Sunflower Sprouts

Sunflower sprouts after 7 days--grown from seed.

Sunflower sprouts after 7 days--grown from seed.

Sunflower Sprouts are packed with nutrition and are a simple, no-cook way to get more protein, calcium, iron and more into your diet.

But when you think of sprouts, what comes to mind?  A flavorless, dense nest atop a sandwich? The part of a takeout salad that you eat around? 

I'm right there with you, although lately, I've noticed many high-end, local restaurants using sprouts and microgreens in innovative and pleasant ways to garnish dishes--adding freshness and bite without overpowering.  They're delicious!

And part of this sprouting resurgence probably has to do with urban famers like Jen Rosenthal of Planted|Chicago. Jen manages the gardens at restaurants like Lula Cafe and Uncommon Ground and helps them grow more of the food that they serve.

Last month, we teamed up to teach a sprouting workshop at Brooklyn Boulders Chicago called Grow Your Own Superfoods. Jen showed the group how to grow your own sunflower sprouts and then I took the reigns and transformed the sprouts into 2 easy but delicious recipes: a Sunflower Sprout Smoothie and Soba Noodles with Sunflower Sprouts and a Scallion Vinaigrette. The 90-minute workshop included hands-on planting, 2 tastings, and a Q&A with a sassy, knowledgeable, and sprout-loving farmer-chef team. Everyone took home a container with their planted seeds, and--if everything worked out as well for them as for me--they should be enjoying fresh, crunchy sunflower microgreens right now.

Jen Rosenthal of Planted|Chicago demonstrating how to plant sunflower sprouts.

Jen Rosenthal of Planted|Chicago demonstrating how to plant sunflower sprouts.

But why grow or eat sprouts in the first place?

As far as gardening projects go, growing your own sunflower sprouts is one of the easiest gardening projects to start. It only takes 7 days from planting to harvest and it can be done indoors without any special light or equipment.

It's no secret that organic, healthy food can be expensive to purchase.  And while we should certainly work to change the political and social reasons that good food is more expensive and harder to get than the junk stuff, we can also improve our diets right nowon the cheap by growing a little of our own food. If you live in an apartment like me, you can't grow much, but you can have a new pot of sprouts growing each week to supplement your greens for pennies instead of dollars.

Food rapidly loses nutrients after it's harvested.  In general, the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) and minerals stay intact while many vitamins (C, beta carotene, riboflavin, niacin) decrease in the days after harvest. When you snip your sprouts fresh, you are getting the maximum nutrition possible. Week-old, yellowing bag of spinach in your fridge? Not so much.

Sprouts themselves are nutritional powerhouses.  They are high in protein and minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. The nutrients in the sprouts are also more easily digested than in the seeds, since the plant is releasing enzymes to break down this Superfood, indeed.

It's a fun DIY project that can help you get connected to your food and because of its simplicity, it's hard to fail! (As someone with a black thumb, ease is directly connected to enjoyment for me when it comes to gardening.) They are also adorable, fresh, and crunchy and a simple way to elevate a really basic dish at home with minimal effort.  

Inspired to grow your own sprouts or start cooking with them?

Check out my recipe for a Sunflower Sprout Smoothie for a fast, delicious way to get more of these superfoods into your diet.