Updated: Apr 13
There's no time like the present to work on supporting your immune system, and there's no tool quite like what ends up on your plate every day to help make that happen! While supplementation is a powerful vehicle for ensuring your body gets potent, bioavailable forms of nutrients, your food is still the most impactful daily choice within your control to help boost your immune system's fighting power - with the added bonus of getting to avoid swallowing another capsule.
Enter sprouting. In the store, organic sprouts, such as my absolute favorite and star of this post, broccoli sprouts, are sold in small containers for $5 and up. While there's nothing wrong with this option, this can get pricey quickly. With the days ahead stretching long with more time at home thanks to social distancing, this opens the door to new food prep strategies that are both nutrient-packed and budget-friendly. Sprouting at home can cost only $5-35 dollars to start off and requires infrequent purchases of bags of seeds to continue indefinitely. Sprouting can be done with the use of a sprouting lid placed on a mason jar you likely already have hiding in your pantry, or with a multi-tier sprouting tower which allows you to take care of multiple groups of sprouts at once. Heck, you can even just secure clean, breathable fabric to a mason jar with a rubber band.
Sprouts, firstly, are delicious and easy to throw into a number of dishes. They add crunch to sandwiches and salads, mix well with stir-fries, and even go great in omelets. More importantly, they're nutrient PACKED. Being sprouted, this essentially means enzymes are activated in the plant to breakdown the natural "don't eat me" defenses seeds use to survive your digestive tract and live to fight another day. Because of this, they're easy to digest. In general, sprouts are also amped up in a number of different nutrients compared to their fully-grown counterparts, such as minerals, Vitamin C, B Vitamins, amino acids, and fiber.
Is Sprouting Safe?
If done correctly, absolutely! As long as you keep your sprouting materials clean, continually use clean water, keep them in an area where they have continual airflow like on your counter, and make sure you only touch them with clean hands, there should be no issue! In all honestly, I'd recommend touching them only with your hands unless they're headed for your next meal (I opt for using utensils, instead). If you want to be extra cautious, once fully grown sprouts can be put in the freezer (an effective tool for halting unwanted bacteria) and pulled from there as needed. Interestingly enough, the micro-tears that freezing causes in the sprouts actually helps to increase antioxidant levels, upping your nutrient benefit. They can also, of course, be cooked. When in doubt, if something looks funny with your sprouts (or, even more telling, SMELLS funny) there's no shame in scrapping that batch and starting again. But personally, I haven't run into any issues growing at home as long as I keep up with my clean growing environment.
Which Brings Us To About My #1 Favorite Nutrient Powerhouse: Broccoli Sprouts
If you've worked with me before, you know I'm a fan of the antioxidant sulforaphane. Found in cruciferous vegetables, this powerful compound is anticancer, antimicrobial, and antiinflammatory. And guess where it's found in, by far, the highest amounts? Broccoli sprouts! Sulforaphane helps the body to rev up production of the enzymes that help neutralize damage-causing free radicals. It's a common recommendation I make for any patient worried about a family history of dementia, as it's been proven to be neuroprotective. In patients suffering from mood disorders, depression, or other neuro-inflammatory connected conditions, sulforaphane has shown promise in helping to prevent or minimize depression episode relapse by working to prevent inflammation-related depression symptoms. And as many acquired illnesses, such as viral infections, have been shown to be exacerbating in individuals with lower levels of antioxidants, it's a win/win/win for so many reasons to throw this into your diet.
My choice for sprouting is usually USDA Organic Broccoli Sprouts (check for the seal!) like these.
Sulforaphane and COVID-19
A recent mouse study found that 4 weeks of sulforaphane use helped to reduce lung inflammation, fibrosis, and remodeling (which essentially is when the soft, pliable tissue we want to be there is replaced with harder stuff), helping to prevent changes that later result in pulmonary dysfunction. The study points out that sulforaphane was explored in the first place because it has known cardioprotective capabilities. The fact that COVID-19 causes so much distress to the lung system and seems to impact individuals with cardiovascular disease more severely is two great reasons to add broccoli sprouts to your immune-supportive daily routine.
How to Sprout At Home
First, clean your supplies and wash your hands!
Next, whether you're using a mason jar for the long haul or planning on growing your sprout-babies in a tower, start out with a mason jar. Most seeds sprout with the same general guidelines, but these are geared specifically towards broccoli sprouts, so feel free to explore the world of google for specific recommendations for other seeds you're trying out. If you're following my lead, add 2 tbsp of broccoli seeds to your jar and cover them with about 2 inches of water. Leave them uncovered if you'd like, but I usually throw on a sprouting lid or at least a paper towel to stop anything from falling in.
After 2 hours, drain the water. Add in some new water and then rinse that out, too (which is where the sprouting lid comes in handy.) If you're sticking to just a mason jar, Wholefully has a great step-by-step guide you can follow, but essentially you're filling up new, clean water and then dumping as much out as you can. To keep the draining going, you're then placing your sprout lidded or cloth-secured mason jar in a bowl so it's at a continual tilt and any residual water can drain as it sits.
If you're using a sprouting tower, after draining and refilling your jar, skip dumping the water in the sink and instead dump the whole contents into your chosen tier of the tower. The tower is set up to make sure the draining business is attended to, allowing the water from one tier to drain down into the next so all of your sprout tiers are taken care of.
For the next 4-5 days, your new hobby is visiting your jar or tower twice per day and repeat this water-refreshing process. To keep the water changing ritual around 12 hours apart, I keep my tower on the kitchen counter and refill the water at breakfast and dinner time. If you're using a tower, don't forget to dump out the residual water that ends up in the bottom collection tier.
And really, that's it! Once sprouts are done, you can transfer them to a paper towel-lined glass container and kept in the fridge for up to 7 days, or kept in the freezer for a few months.
Important tip: if you look at your sprouts and are suddenly very concerned about mold, look closer. If all your equipment is clean and your sprout station has good airflow, it's likely just the tiny roots that broccoli sprouts will throw out when they're getting thirsty. If there's no foul smell coming from your containers and the tiny, fine "hair" looking protrusions disappear as soon as they're well-watered, it's nothing to worry about!