Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is part of the legume family but is also considered an herb. Although it was originally cultivated in South and Central Asia, it is grown around the world and has long been recognized for its impressive nutritional content and medicinal uses.
Because alfalfa is a good source of nutrients, the seeds or dried leaves can be used as a supplement. You can also eat them in the form of alfalfa sprouts.
Learn about the nutritional profile, benefits, and risks of alfalfa.
What is the nutritional value of alfalfa?
Alfalfa is low in calories and contains a variety of essential nutrients:
7 health benefits of alfalfa
1. Helps blood clotting
A single serving of alfalfa provides about 13% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting. Vitamin K and iron promote blood cell production, which can help prevent or treat anemia, nosebleeds, and bleeding gums.
2. Lowers the risk of chronic diseases
Accumulation of free radicals in the body can lead to oxidative stress and cell damage, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Because alfalfa is rich in antioxidants, it can help fight free radical damage and thus lower the risk of disease.
3. Improves blood sugar levels
Alfalfa is fiber-rich and can therefore help control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of glucose from the gut.
4. Lowers cholesterol
Alfalfa contains plant compounds called saponins that help lower the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines by decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol and increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol.
5. Acts as a natural diuretic
Alfalfa promotes urine flow, which can help flush harmful bacteria from the body. Though it is not a proven method to treat an active urinary tract infection, it may help prevent infection from occurring in the first place.
6. Relieves menopausal symptoms
Alfalfa is rich in phytoestrogens—coumestrol, genistein, and biocanine—that can help combat menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness, night sweats, hot flashes, and low estrogen levels, as well as postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Promotes respiratory health
Alfalfa has been used in traditional medicine for respiratory conditions due to its anti-inflammatory and immune-strengthening properties. It may be helpful in easing symptoms of bronchitis, the flu, and the common cold, as well as other viral and bacterial infections.
What are potential side effects of alfalfa?
Due to the high content of saponins and canavanine, raw alfalfa sprouts can have adverse effects on the body when consumed in excess. You should talk to your doctor if you are:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding: Documented adverse effects of alfalfa during pregnancy include possible uterine stimulation. Moreover, raw alfalfa sprouts and supplements come with the potential risk of E. coli, salmonella, and listeria contamination.
- Suffering from autoimmune disease: Alfalfa can cause the immune system to become overactive, which can worsen symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Taking anticoagulants (blood thinners): Alfalfa contains high amounts of vitamin K, which can interfere with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin.
- Extremely sensitive to the sun: Alfalfa can increase your sensitivity to sunlight. When taken along with medications that make you photosensitive, you may be more prone to sunburns, rashes, or blistering.
- Immunocompromised: If you are immunocompromised due to chemotherapy, human immunodeficiency virus infection, or an organ transplant, you should avoid eating raw alfalfa.
How to sprout alfalfa at home
Fresh alfalfa sprouts are a delicious addition to sandwiches and salads and can be used as a garnish for soups or tacos. To sprout alfalfa at home, follow these steps:
- Add approximately 2 tablespoons of seeds to a bowl or jar of water.
- Let it sit for 8-12 hours.
- Drain the seeds and rinse them off.
- Remove as much water as you can and let them sit at room temperature in a sunny area for at least 3 days.
- Rinse and drain them every 8-12 hours.
- After 3 days, move the seeds to a spot with indirect sunlight and continue to rinse them periodically.
- They should be ready to eat after 5-6 days.
Take precautions to ensure safe growing conditions in order to prevent the risk of bacterial contamination.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
WebMD. Health Benefits of Alfalfa. https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-alfalfa
Staughton J. 9 Wonderful Benefits of Alfalfa. Organic Facts. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/other/alfalfa.html
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alfalfaAlfalfa herbal supplements are taken for several conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, indigestion, and asthma, but there is little scientific evidence to support these uses. Common side effects of alfalfa include increased volume and frequency of bowel movements, loose stools and diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, intestinal gas, light sensitivity, and pancytopenia (a blood disorder). Do not use alfalfa supplements if pregnant or breastfeeding.
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