Alfalfa, scientific name Medicago sativa, is a very common plant that has been cultivated for thousands of years. The plant, also known as lucerne, is not usually consumed by humans, being an excellent animal feed with an optimal content of proteins, vitamins and minerals.
The species is normally viewed as an herb, even if it's actually part of the legumes family. It has been cultivated for a very long time around the world so its origin is obscure, but it might have been native to Central or South Asia. While animal feed remains its main use, it is also known for its benefits in human medicine. Commercial supplements are produced from the dried leaves and seeds, while the sprouted seeds known as alfalfa sprouts are edible in raw form.
Germinated alfalfa seeds turn into edible sprouts, which have a very high nutritional content. The young shoots must be harvested and consumed early after germination, before they have the chance to mature. They are a very common ingredient in Asian cuisine and have also become popular in the Western world, as an addition in salads, soups and sandwiches.
While the seeds are very nutritious, sprouts are considered to be even better due to the concentration of enzymes produced during germination. The amount of starch is lower than the one found in seeds, while the content of vitamins, minerals and proteins increases. The starch turns into sugars with a simple structure, which are quickly digested.
The use of alfalfa is very old, being attested in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 5000 years. It became very popular with sailors in the 1700s, as a method to prevent scurvy. This lethal disease caused by the lack of vitamins was very common on long sea trips.
Alfalfa sprouts supply large amounts of antioxidants and phytoestrogens. These bioactive compounds have an anti-inflammatory effect and can restore hormonal balance. They reduce the risk of cancer by limiting the creation of new blood cells.
Women can especially benefit from including alfalfa sprouts in their daily menu, since they alleviate mood swings and other symptoms of menopause by balancing the levels of estrogen and other hormones. This is due to the high content of phytoestrogens. They are also very rich in vitamin K, which helps blood clot faster and limits bleeding.
Phytoestrogens have a chemical structure that is similar to the one of the female hormone estrogen. Once inside the body, these compounds have an effect comparable to the one of the hormone, which is very useful during menopause.
Alfalfa sprouts can significantly alleviate the symptoms of menopause and have other benefits for health. However, their role is not fully understood and phytoestrogens remain controversial in the medical world.
Besides reducing menopause symptoms, the estrogen-like compounds influence other body functions as well. For example, women who included alfalfa sprouts in their diet during treatment for breast cancer were less affected by insomnia.
In the traditional Ayurvedic medical system of India, alfalfa was used as a general purpose antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It is known to be very effective at neutralizing the dangerous compounds known as free radicals, limiting their damage. Modern studies have confirmed the strong antioxidant properties of the plant.
Alfalfa sprouts can protect tissues from the destruction caused by free radicals, reducing DNA damage and the rate of cell death. It has a double effect: it neutralizes free radicals and optimizes metabolism so a lesser amount is produced. Alfalfa sprouts might even speed up recovery after brain damage or strokes, according to the results of a study on mice.
These green sprouts are perfect for weight loss diets, since they have a very low content of calories but are high in fibers. They can make you feel full, while the actual calories intake is almost zero. They also supply a good amount of vitamins that help you lose weight by providing an energy boost and stimulating your metabolism to burn more fats, even when in a passive state. Alfalfa sprouts can keep your weight in check if you include them in the daily salad, but be careful not to consume a high quantity due to the potential toxic effects.
Alfalfa sprouts are packed with quality natural fibers that are an excellent weapon in the fight against diabetes and the prevention of this disease. The balance between insulin and sugars is regulated by fibers, so a proper diet can prevent the blood glucose spikes that are the most important threat for people with diabetes. Including alfalfa sprouts in your regular diet can also reduce the occurrence of some diabetes symptoms like the metabolic syndrome.
This plant has been investigated by scientists since 40 years ago as a potential food for people suffering from coronary heart diseases. Studies have revealed that alfalfa sprouts is a good choice because it lowers cholesterol levels. The bad cholesterol, or LDL, causes the very dangerous plaque deposits that clog up main arteries as well as minor blood vessels. These cause lethal conditions like strokes, heart attacks or atherosclerosis.
Like many other plants, alfalfa is very rich in vitamin C and one portion of sprouts provides 15% of the recommended daily intake. Such a dose will immediately boost your immune system, by accelerating the production of killer cells, which reduces the risk of inflammation and infections. Vitamin C is also needed for the production of collagen, so it improves the development and repair of tissues.
Fibers play many roles inside the body but the most important one is in digestion. They bulk up the stool and regulate digestion by optimizing bowel movements. The fibers found in alfalfa sprouts can treat many digestive issues, for example diarrhea or constipation. They also help against colorectal cancer and any other serious problems of the stomach or intestines.
The amount of proteins found in alfalfa sprouts is unusually high for a plant, which makes it such a great animal feed. A serving of 100 grams supplies almost 10% of the daily protein requirement. Proteins are the building block of the body, being needed for the growth and repair of all tissues, as well as the expansion of muscle mass.
Alfalfa sprouts are also a great source of vitamin K. Its main role is to speed up the healing of wounds by accelerating blood clotting, which reduces the risk of infection and stops pathogens from entering the body. The dosage of this vitamin must be carefully planned, since too much of it makes the blood clot excessively, causing cardiovascular issues. However, a normal amount of alfalfa sprouts is perfectly safe.
The plant is recommended for the structure of bones, since it provides a decent amount of all of the required nutrients like vitamin K, magnesium, iron and calcium. This is especially helpful for women, who can include it in their menu to prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
Alfalfa sprouts are packed with B complex vitamins that are involved in stimulating metabolism. These regulate all of the various metabolic functions, such as the production of hormones, enzymatic reactions or energy usage. The lack of one or more of the B vitamins is common, especially for people exposed to stress, and can have negative consequences.
These green vegetables are included in the group of foods with a high antioxidant potential. They are known to reduce the effects of aging, preventing the development of skin blemishes, spots and wrinkles while maintaining skin elasticity. A moderate amount of antioxidant foods can neutralize the destructive action of free radicals. This will be immediately visible on your skin and make it look younger.