Sprout nutrition and vitamins


Many sprout enthusiasts, including "Dr" Gillian McKeith, talk about the nutritional benefits of sprouts with an almost evangelical fervour. In particular, the seemingly high vitamin content of sprouts is often quoted as one of their main nutritional benefits. Is such enthusiasm really justified? Is there really hard evidence to back up their claims?

When you look into the claims, as this page does, you quickly find a lot of impressive-sounding statements, quite a bit of pseudo science, a lot of badly interpreted data but very little actual science. This page is an attempt to redress the balance, and present the facts.


Please don't misinterpret my aims. I'm not "anti-sprouts". If you want to eat sprouts, then go ahead - but don't do so on the basis of questionable claims about sprout nutrition or sprout vitamin content. If you decide to eat sprouts for some other reason, e.g. you like the taste of them, then that's fine with me.

My concern is specifically with the misleading or false claims made about sprout nutrition, and this page attempts to clarify some of the facts regarding the vitamin content of sprouts (as compared with other food sources).

Claims about sprout nutrition

There is an abundance of claims that sprouts are some kind of "superfood", and have almost magical nutritional qualities, for example this quote from sproutnet.com: "Sprouts are considered as wonder foods. They rank as the freshest and most nutritious of all vegetables available to the human diet." (full text is here) When you look at the facts, you soon find these claims can't be justified with real evidence and you start to wonder if the exaggerated statements are actually just a marketing ploy by those selling the sprouts and related products.

So, let's deal with one of the most-often quoted (and misunderstood) nutritional properties of sprouts: their vitamin content.

Vitamin content of sprouts

Here are some of the claims, taken from Gillian McKeith's books and articles: Similar claims of large increases of the vitamin content of sprouted seeds are quoted on a variety of internet sites, and percentage increases of between 500% and 2000% are often quoted. Sprout enthusiasts often see this vitamin increase as something remarkable, almost magical. A few examples of the types of claims made are given below:

What do all these claims actually tell us?

The plain truth is very simple: the seeds contain extremely small amounts of vitamins, the sprouts contain higher levels. Expressed as a percentage increase it looks impressive, but this figure is irrelevant. The vitamin content of the sprout is still fairly small, but it is bigger than the extremely small levels in the seed. Big deal!

It would be like saying the percentage change in size from the seed to the sprout is 2000%, and using this to imply that the sprout is really large. The percentage change looks impressive, until you realise it just means the seed starts small (say 3mm) and the sprout ends up a little bigger (say 60mm). The only thing that actually matters is what the vitamin content of the food you eat actually is. The percentage change to get to this level is irrelevant. Whether the large percentage increases are deliberately quoted with the intention of misleading people, or whether this just indicates a poor grasp of the science is another question.

So, ignoring the irrelevant percentage increase figures, when you compare the actual vitamin content of sprouts with other fruits and vegetables, things look much more ordinary, as shown below.

Vitamin C - sprouts, fruits and vegetables

So, how does the vitamin C content of sprouts compare to that from other food sources?

The table below ranks the vitamin C content of different food items, including sprouts. Data for sprouts is highlighted in green, fruits in red, vegetables in blue. Using this colour code, it means that there should be lots of green entries near the top of the table if sprouts are indeed such a good source of vitamin C. What do we see? No green entries at the top: the items with the highest vitamin C content are fruits and vegetables, and all the green entries are near the bottom of the table, showing that their vitamin C content is not as high as many fruits and vegetables.

All vitamin C figures are in mg (milligrams) per 100g, unless stated otherwise. All food items raw unless otherwise stated. Where two data sources give different values, the second value is given in brackets.

Food item Group Vitamin C content
Green chilli peppers vegetable 243 (182mg for 75g)
Blackcurrant fruit 155-215
Sweet red peppers vegetable 189 (142mg for 75g)
Kiwifruit fruit 98 (75)
Broccoli (cooked) vegetable 65 (51mg for 78g)
Strawberry fruit57 (58)
Red cabbage vegetable 57 (51mg for 89g)
Orange fruit53 (53)
Lemon juice fruit46
Kale vegetable 42 (27mg for 65g)
Kidney beans sprouts sprout 39
Grapefruit fruit 34 (34)
Radish sprouts sprout29
Mango fruit28 (28)
Pinto bean sprouts sprout22
Navy bean sprouts sprout19
Lentil sprouts sprout17
Soy bean sprouts sprout15
Mung bean sprouts sprout13
Pea sprouts sprout10
Alfalfa sprouts sprout8
Wheat sprouts sprout3

Data sources:


From 10 types analysed, only one type of sprout has more than 30mg per 100g (kidney bean sprouts with 39mg). The average value for sprout vitamin C content is 17mg/100g. The data clearly show that there are many fruits and vegetables with considerably higher levels of vitamin C, some with 3 or 4 times more than in the "best" sprouts. In other words, if you were choosing a food for high vitamin C content, sprouts wouldn't be top of the list.

The best you can say is that there are one or two types of sprouts that have moderate levels of vitamins C (similar to the vitamin C levels of grapefruits and oranges). Most types of sprouts have vitamin C levels considerably lower than this, and so can't be considered as good source of vitamin C.

Vitamin A - sprouts, fruits, vegetables and animal sources

What about the vitamin A content of sprouts compared to other food sources? Data from this page (note: the original page no longer shows all the data) gives a variety of data for vitamin content of sprouts and vegetables. Note that some of the tables from this page incorrectly give the unit of vitamin A as milligrams per 100g food - in fact all vitamin A figures are quoted in international units (IU) per 100g food. The figures for sprouts range from around 10 to 700 IU. The sprouts with the highest vitamin A content are radish (391) and red pea (712).

So how does this compare with the vitamin A content of other food items? The table below ranks the figures, so again we would expect lots of green entries at the top if sprouts were the best source of vitamin A. In fact, we again see that all the green entries are near the bottom, sothe facts on sprout nutrition show they are not a particularly good source of vitamin A.

All vitamin A figures in IU per 100g. Nutritional data for sprouts is highlighted in green, fruits in red, vegetables in blue, animal sources in yellow.

Food item Group Vitamin A content
Beef liver animal 35680 (30325 for 85g)
Sweet potatoes vegetable 19218 (19218 for 100g)
Carrots vegetable 17200 (13418 for 78g)
Chicken liver animal 16376 (13,920 for 85g)
Kale vegetable 13621 (8854 for 65g)
Butternut squash vegetable 11100 (11434 for 103g)
Spinach vegetable 10481 (9433 for 90g)
Sweet red peppers vegetable 3111 (2333 IU for 75g )
Broccoli vegetable 1967 (1534 for 78g)
Apricots fresh fruit 1925 (1328 IU for 70g)
Papayas fruit 1094 (766 for 70g)
Cheddar cheese animal 1060 (300 for 28g)
Asparagus vegetable 1005 (754 for 75g)
Grapefruit, pink/red fruit 927 (1187 for 128g)
Mango fruit 760 (631 for 83g)
Tangerines fruit 681 (572 for 84g)
Watermelon fruit 568 (438 for 77g)
Whole egg (medium) animal 467 (280 for ~60g) (520 from metzerfarms site)
radish sprouts sprout 391
pea sprouts sprout 166
alfalfa sprouts sprout 155
Whole milk (3.25% fat) animal 122 (305 for 1 cup, ~250g)
lentil sprouts sprout 45
soybean sprouts sprout 11
mung bean sprouts sprout 21
navy bean sprouts sprout 4
pinto bean sprouts sprout 2
kidney bean sprouts sprout 2
wheat sprouts sprout 0

Data sources:


Again it's clear that if you were selecting a food on the basis of high vitamin A content, sprouts would not be top of the list. There are many other vegetables and fruits (not to mention animal sources such as milk, eggs, liver) that have a vitamin A content more than 10 times greater than the "best" sprouts.

Indeed, this waltonfeed.com page openly admits this: "Even though sprouts have over 5 times the vitamin A of the seeds they came from, there is such a small amount of the vitamin that 100gm of sprouts doesn't even give 4 percent of the RDA." (Recommended Daily Amount).

(I'm sure Gillian McKeith would enjoy this quote from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/cc/vita.html: "Animal sources of vitamin A provide the best absorbed form of this vitamin").

Vitamin E - sprouts, fruits, vegetables and other sources

Now lets look at the vitamin E content of sprouts and other food sources. I've used the same colours to highlight the different food sources (vegetables in blue, fruit in red, sprouts in green, other items in yellow). All vitamin E figures quoted are in mg and the amounts of each food source are given in the table.

Yet again, we find that when judged alongside other foods, sprouts do not come out as good sources of vitamin E - they rank at the bottom of the table, with many other food items (particularly nuts) providing vitamin E levels over 100 times greater.

It's interesting to note that vitamin E data was only available (from http://www.sproutnet.com/nutritional_analysis.htm) for 3 of the 10 types of sprout that were analysed. Does that mean the other 7 types of sprout have vitamin E levels that are too low to measure?

Food item Group Vitamin E content
Almonds, dry roasted (1 ounce) other 7.4
Sunflower seed kernels, dry roasted (1 ounce) other 6.0
Corn oil (1 tablespoon) other 1.9
Swiss chard (1/2 cup) vegetable 1.6
Mustard greens (1/2 cup) vegetable 1.4
Spinach (1/2 cup) vegetable 1.4
Kiwi (1 medium fruit) fruit 1.1
Mango (1/2 cup) fruit 0.9
Wheat sprouts (100g) sprout 0.05
Alfalfa sprouts (100g) sprout 0.02
Mung bean sprouts (100g) sprout 0.01

Data sources:


Once again the vitamin content of sprouts is shown to be far lower than other food source. In other words, if you're looking for a food source that's high in vitamin E, you shouldn't choose sprouts. Based on the available data, the "best" sprouts have vitamin E levels that are over a hundred times lower than other common foud sources.

Despite Gillian McKeith's claims that broccoli sprouts are "a good source of vitamin E" (Gillian Mckeith Newsletter 3/12/2004) I can find no data on the levels of vitamin E found in broccoli sprouts to support this. Broccoli as a vegetable is a reasonably good source of vitamin E (1/2 cup provides 1.2mg according to this site), but I can't find any data on broccoli sprout nutrition for comparison.

Last updated April 2011