What Is Alfalfa Leaf?
Alfalfa’s modern superfood status is no surprise considering its history. Though it was originally used as livestock feed, alfalfa (Medicago sativa) was common in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years.
Today, alfalfa is often thought of as an herb because of its bitter, earthy flavor. However, this perennial plant is part of the nutritionally-rich legume family, making it a close cousin of lentils, beans, and quinoa.
Much of the nutritional power of alfalfa comes from its seeds. Essential vitamins like A, C, E, and K are packed into these small plants, not to mention that they are rich in calcium, iron, copper, riboflavin, and phosphorus.
The seeds are commonly sprouted and eaten raw. Alternatively, the green shoots are dried and blended into a supplement powder.
What Are Alfalfa Leaf Benefits?
Alfalfa is often considered a superfood, but why? Here are 10 reasons why you need to get more alfalfa in your life:
1. Fiber and protein-packed
Though it may sound less than appetizing, one cup of alfalfa sprouts packs approximately a gram each of fiber and protein. Keep in mind that the exact nutritional amount is hard to pinpoint since levels vary by seed.
Experts recommend diets rich in protein and fiber to help with weight management and lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. But foods that help you meet this daily dietary recommendation may be hard to find, making alfalfa one of the easiest ways to incorporate plant-based protein and dietary fiber into your routine.
One cup of alfalfa contains no more than six calories on average, making this nutrient-rich food perfect for those on specialized diets or monitoring their calorie intake.
2. Excellent source of antioxidants
For those who are tired of eating their greens, alfalfa may be a solution. One of the main nutritional benefits of leafy greens is that they are full of antioxidants. This fact is also true of alfalfa leaf, whose antioxidant properties are similar to greens like kale and spinach.
Antioxidants are a health buzzword, but why are they important? Simply put, antioxidants are essential for helping the body fight free radicals (harmful molecules linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer), heal inflamed muscles and joints, and support immune functions.
Whether adding sprouts to your meal or taking alfalfa supplements, this plant-based superfood provides another way to reap the benefits of antioxidants.
3. High in Vitamin C
This essential vitamin isn’t found only in carrots and oranges. A single serving of raw sprouted alfalfa seeds provides 8.2 mg of Vitamin C, which accounts for approximately 9% of the recommended daily intake of this vitamin.
Perhaps most well-known for its immunity superpowers, Vitamin C is a supporter of an efficient immune system. Its benefits go beyond the immune system to fight free radicals and support collagen production.
Collagen, another trendy wellness term, is the protein that protects the body’s many delicate systems, including the nervous, bone, cartilage, and blood systems. It is also crucial for healthy nails, hair, and skin, meaning that alfalfa provides the Vitamin C needed to build collagen to help you look and feel your best.
4. Strengthens bones
One cup of alfalfa sprouts accounts for 8% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin K. Not only that, Vitamin K is the most common vitamin in this seed superfood. This Vitamin K is essential for bone health since it helps build bone tissue.
A study conducted on a range of female participants found that the participants with higher daily Vitamin K intake were less likely to break a bone than participants who consumed less of this same vitamin.
For the elderly, those with osteoporosis, or other conditions that weaken bones, alfalfa is an easy way to ensure you have sufficient amounts of Vitamin K in your diet.
5. Source of phosphorus
Though this essential mineral may not be as popular as iron and zinc, phosphorus is crucial for strong bones and teeth, forming DNA and RNA, supporting healthy metabolism, and even fighting urinary tract infections (UTIs).
When treating UTIs, phosphorus reverses the bacterial growth caused by high calcium levels. It does so by binding to the calcium to circulate throughout the body and neutralize the acidic (and infection-prone) bacteria.
Experts predict that phosphorus reduces the likelihood of getting kidney and urinary stones. However, this mineral is not naturally occurring in the body and can only be attained through food.
One serving of alfalfa provides 70 mg of phosphorus. However, this is only 1.7% of the recommended daily intake. This means that alfalfa alone cannot meet the body’s needs.
6. High in iron
Like phosphorus, iron is an essential mineral that is obtained from food. Alfalfa provides 0.96 mg of iron in a single serving, or about 50% of the recommended daily intake requirement. Though iron is not the most prevalent mineral in the superfood, it still packs many health benefits.
Iron is essential for making red blood cells, regulating blood pressure, transforming food into energy (a process referred to as metabolizing), and supporting a healthy nervous system. Iron deficiencies are common, especially among women and pregnant people, and may lead to a variety of health challenges, like iron deficiency anemia in the most severe cases.
However, for most people in the U.S., incorporating alfalfa or other vegetables into your diet ensures your body gets this vital mineral.
7. Helps lower cholesterol
Some studies suggest that alfalfa can support lower cholesterol levels. A 2014 study performed on rats found that increasing their daily alfalfa intake was correlated to reduced amounts of low-density lipoprotein, otherwise known as the harmful type of cholesterol that can be found in the blood.
Researchers do not have evidence proving the connection between alfalfa and lower cholesterol. However, the superfood checks many of the American Heart Association’s dietary recommendations for managing cholesterol and heart health. Some tips include eating fruits and vegetables with meals and relying on plant-based proteins like legumes.
8. May help relieve symptoms of menopause
Alfalfa seeds are a natural plant-based source of phytoestrogens, a chemical compound similar to the hormone estrogen. For some people, adding alfalfa into their diets can help provide relief from menopause symptoms.
Menopause is part of the body’s aging process and marks the end of the body’s fertile period. During this transitionary period, estrogen and progesterone levels change, triggering a wave of responses as the body tries to rebalance.
Since the dip in hormones often triggers uncomfortable menopause symptoms, the estrogenic levels of alfalfa leaf suggest may help balance the body’s overall hormone levels.
This means that consuming alfalfa seeds, whether raw or as alfalfa tablets, may offer a way to manage common menopause symptoms, including mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, and night sweats. For people in menopause, the appeal of this superfood is undeniable.
9. Linked to healthy weight management
Whether you’re trying to shed a few pounds or looking for ways to maintain a healthy weight, alfalfa provides numerous weight management benefits. This seed is very low-calorie, making it great for weight loss.
However, alfalfa leaves are filled with fiber, which helps you feel full for longer without sudden cravings sneaking up later. Aside from its obvious appeal for people on a diet, experts also love the metabolism-boosting benefits of alfalfa.
A study done on rats supported this by showing that alfalfa may help boost the body’s energy levels and metabolism so that the body burns fat even while inactive. Although there is yet to be data confirming the alfalfa’s metabolic effects on the human body, scientists believe that the effects are similar, if not the same.
10. Diabetes management
Many experts believe that the high-fiber content of alfalfa helps slow the absorption of glucose in the body’s digestive system. Not only does this help regulate healthy blood sugar levels, but experts suggest that it may help manage diabetes if taken as a dietary supplement.
Though there is no evidence from studies done on humans, animal testing suggests that the chemical composition of alfalfa naturally lowers the body’s blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides (fats) levels.
Of course, there are fewer chemically-complex benefits of alfalfa on diabetes. Weight management and a diet focused on plant-based foods are foundational for helping people with diabetes live healthy lives and reduce future health problems.
11. Cardiovascular Health
Flavonoids, which are plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, are abundant in alfalfa leaves. Flavonoids have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by protecting the arteries from oxidative stress and inflammation. Alfalfa leaf may also help individuals with hypertension.
Similarly, saponins found in alfalfa leaf bind to cholesterol and reduce its absorption into the bloodstream. Because of its beneficial properties, alfalfa can help protect cardiovascular health and promote cleaner blood flow, lowering the risk of heart disease and other circulatory disorders.
12. Blood Pressure and Circulation
Alfalfa leaf contains a good amount of potassium, an important mineral that can help promote healthy circulation and blood pressure. Increased potassium levels can aid in the reducing high blood pressure, lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. On the other hand, sodium has the opposite effect and can raise blood pressure.
Alfalfa leaf can help reduce the risk of circulatory disorders and high blood pressure by promoting healthy blood circulation. It may also increase oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues and improve overall energy levels.
13. Cognitive Function
Vitamin E, vitamin K, and folate are all nutrients found in alfalfa leaf that can help maintain cognitive function. Vitamin E contains antioxidants that protect the brain from free radical damage, and vitamin K has been linked to improved memory and mental performance. Similarly, folate may aid in the prevention of cognitive decline in older adults.
Because of its neuroprotective properties, alfalfa leaf may help maintain healthy brain function, especially in those suffering from age-related cognitive decline. While more research is needed, a proper nutritional and mineral balance can protect the brain and cognitive function.
14. Skin Health
Alfalfa leaves are high in nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and chlorophyll, all of which are necessary for healthy skin. Vitamin C promotes skin firmness and elasticity by assisting with collagen production, whereas vitamin E provides antioxidant effects and protects the skin from free radical damage.
Furthermore, alfalfa leaf’s zinc and chlorophyll content help reduce skin inflammation and severe acne, promote wound healing, and combat premature aging. By supplying these essential nutrients, alfalfa leaf may support healthy skin and reduce inflammation.
15. Cancer Prevention
Phytochemicals found in alfalfa leaf, such as saponins, coumarins, and flavonoids, have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. These compounds can help protect the body’s cells from damage and may help prevent cancer cell growth.
Furthermore, alfalfa leaves contain chlorophyll, which may aid in the prevention of the development of certain types of cancer cells. While more research is needed to fully understand alfalfa’s anti-cancer properties, it may help prevent and reduce cancer cell spread.
How much alfalfa leaf should you take per day?
There is no firm recommendation for how much alfalfa you should eat. However, know that people who are pregnant, using blood thinners, or with a compromised immune system may want to limit or avoid alfalfa. Raw sprouts have a higher risk of bacteria that may cause serious foodborne illness.