Alfalfa sprouts are often queried in pregnancy, and so are the leaves – but are either safe for pregnant women?
While alfalfa sprouts are not safe when eaten raw during pregnancy, alfalfa leaves and supplements need more study. Alfalfa, in general, contains nutrients that are beneficial for the body but sprouts will have to be cooked and other parts of the plant need more research.
Apart from nutrients, what other benefits does alfalfa offer? What should you look for when buying, and can you take the supplements while pregnant? Read on to learn more!
Are Alfalfa Sprouts Safe During Pregnancy?
Alfalfa sprouts, like most sprouts, are unsafe for consumption during pregnancy, if eaten raw. To ensure safety, they must be cooked thoroughly.
Alfalfa is a perennial herbaceous plant. It emerged from the Middle East and humans have been cultivating it for more than 2,500 years as food for livestock animals.
Today, it is available worldwide, mainly in temperate environments. Humans consume alfalfa – predominantly, the sprouts (source: Inanimate Life) but they are known to grow bacteria.
Alfalfa seeds are the most common type used for sprouting. If you’re wondering why sprouts are more prone to bacterial contamination, here’s why:
During post-harvest, the seeds can easily be contaminated if animal manure is used on the field as fertilizer. This can be a problem when those seeds will then be used for sprouting.
When germination takes place, the heat, moisture, and nutrients created during the sprouting process are what feed the bacteria and guarantee their survival and growth. Home-grown alfalfa sprouts are no safer than commercially grown sprouts (source: PennState Extension).
The CDC explains that sprouts have always been associated with foodborne diseases. Sprouts, including alfalfa, should be thoroughly cooked to destroy pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella (source: CDC).
According to a study, the bacteria Salmonella typhi, Escherichia coli, and Vibrio cholerae all not only survived but also grew on alfalfa seeds and sprouts during the process of germination and sprouting. In fact, alfalfa sprouts played a role in the typhoid fever endemic in Mexico (source: Journal of Food Science).
Alfalfa sprouts have also been linked to an Escherichia coli O157 outbreak which infected eight people in Minnesota and three in Wisconsin. Among those infected, two were hospitalized (source: CDC).
Sprouts were also connected to the Salmonella outbreak where twenty-five people were infected with Salmonella Muenchen and one with Salmonella Kentucky. The alfalfa sprouts were reported to have come from one batch (source: CDC).
The FDA recommends the following when buying and consuming alfalfa sprouts:
- Buy only top-quality sprouts.
- Do not buy discolored or slimy sprouts.
- Cook the sprouts.
- Eat sprouts before their shelf life expires.
- When dining out, ask if your meal (salad, sandwich, and other food items) includes sprouts and opt to have them removed, if so.
- If you have accidentally ingested raw sprouts and have symptoms of foodborne illness, contact your doctor or health professional.
(source: PennState Extension).
Despite these cautions, alfalfa sprouts can still be healthy. In fact, there are many health benefits when consumed safely, including reports of protections against free radical damages, cancer, and diabetes.
Alfalfa sprouts are a rich source of vitamin B-complex, C, E, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, and phytochemicals such as β-carotene (source: NIH).
Vitamin B6 and B12 are particularly important in pregnancy. Vitamin B6 has been given to pregnant mothers since the 1940s to help with nausea. The baby also requires vitamin B6 and B12 to help grow new cells and develop organs.
Vitamin B12 also helps reduce the risk of preeclampsia, low birth weight, stillbirth, and neural tube defects.
Vitamin C helps build collagen which is necessary for skin, blood vessels, and bone formation. It also aids in stress relief. Vitamin E, like vitamin C, helps combat oxidative stress (source: Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute).
The overall positive health effect on the human body includes the risk reduction of oxidative stress, diabetes, obesity, and cytotoxicity (cancer) (source: NIH).
According to a study conducted on rats, alfalfa helped reduce cholesterol as well as blood glucose (source: NIH).
Are Alfalfa Leaves Safe for Pregnant Women?
Alfalfa leaves may be safe, when not taken in high doses long-term.
This is because while pregnant, alfalfa leaves can act like estrogen and may cause unusual changes in the body. It can also cause adverse interactions with some medications such as Warfarin and antidiabetic medications (source: MedlinePlus).
While alfalfa is also available as tea or powder, like other supplements, it is not regulated for safety by the FDA and, therefore, not recommended during pregnancy.
Alfalfa has also been added to galactagogue mixes to promote milk production. However, there are no scientific trials that support this as effective, even though the USDA has labeled alfalfa as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) food (source: Pubmed).
If you want to take any alfalfa supplement, we recommend you first talk to your doctor.
While the benefits of alfalfa may sound enticing, one thing is certain: sprouts are safest to consume when thoroughly cooked.