Tiny sprouts provide big nutrition

Sprouts are easy-to-grow microscale vegetables that are harvested soon after germination and release enhanced nutrients.

Move over baby carrots and petite peas. Even tinier vegetables are catching on as go-to healthy foods.

Microscale vegetables, a growing food category that includes sprouted seeds, are miniature in size yet big in nutrition. Eating sprouts well before they become full-blown plants can crank up certain nutrient levels considerably, said Emily Ho, nutrition professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

“Five- to seven-day-old seed sprouts can often offer more nutrition benefits than the mature plants,” said Ho, who’s known around campus as the “broccoli lady” due to her research on the health benefits of broccoli sprouts.

Mung bean and soybean sprouts, familiar to most as just bean sprouts, have long been used in Asian and vegetarian dishes. Health-conscious people are attracted to sprouted foods for a multitude of health benefits.

Grains, legumes and greens all begin their sprouted life as seeds that begin the process of germination when exposed to moisture and warmth. Within a week, many sprouted plants are ready to eat before their leaves develop. Microgreens are another member of the microscale vegetable category. But these tender, immature greens of arugula, radish, basil and other plant seeds are typically harvested later than sprouts and have a tiny stem and very small pair of leaves that emerge within 10-20 days.

The health benefits of sprouts include improved digestion of both carbohydrates and proteins. Germination stimulates the release of enzymes to pre-digest starch, which may aid in gut health and reduce intestinal gas.