Power of the Sprout When you sprout grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, one of the biggest benefits is that this helps decrease the presence of antinutrients. Antinutrients are naturally occurring compounds found in plant seeds that interfere with our ability to digest vitamins and minerals within the plants. How Antinutrients Affect Your Gut The problem with antinutrients is that once we consume them, they can at times create a negative reaction in our guts and trigger autoimmune responses, including leaky gut syndrome. This is why many people react badly to eating certain grains and breads (such as wheat products), especially ones that are not sprouted.
Sprouting grains, nuts, beans and seeds has been a common practice in places like Eastern Asian and Europe for literally thousands of years. In fact, different forms of soaking, sprouting and fermenting seeds have been a part of almost every culture in one way or another. Why? Our ancestors understood the many advantages and health benefits that come along with the sprout. Nuts, beans and seeds can play an important role in many adults’ diets, contributing a range of different nutrients. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines recommends four ounces of nuts and seeds per week for all adults. (1) This is based on studies that show these foods are health-promoting. These can be extremely healthy foods with many nutrients to offer, but this is really only the case when you’re able to properly absorb those nutrients. The reason that humans suffer from indigestion and autoimmune reactions from unsprouted foods is because we aren’t designed to break down antinutrients in plant compounds that lock up or deplete vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Regularly consuming high amounts of antinutrients can significantly impact your health. Luckily, sprouting and soaking seeds can break down antinutrients, make the seeds more digestible and unlock healthy compounds found in plant foods. (2) Certain studies have found that sprouting grains, legumes, beans and seeds increases the availability of nutrients. This includes calcium, iron, zinc and protein. When you sprout seeds you can reduce “antinutrient” content — such as levels of polyphenol, lectin and tannins — by an average of 50 percent! (3) What Is a Sprout? Sprouting is essentially the practice of germinating seeds — whether grains, nuts, beans, legumes or other kinds of seeds — so they are easier to digest and your body can access their full nutritional profile. According to a recent medical review, when comparing sprouted seeds (in this case sprouted grains) to unsprouted grain seeds, the unsprouted grains had “lower protein content, deficiency of certain essential amino acids, lower protein and starch availabilities, and the presence of certain anti nutrients.” (4) What is the best way to eat sprouts? Can you eat raw sprouts, and is it OK to cook them? Many different types of “seed” foods can be sprouted, some that you probably don’t even realize are seeds. Grains, for example, are really the seeds of cereal grasses, so they make some of the best sprouts. Sprouting seeds makes them edible even when raw, but sprouted seeds can also be used in baked and cooked recipes too. Power of the Sprout When you sprout grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, one of the biggest benefits is that this helps decrease the presence of antinutrients. Antinutrients are naturally occurring compounds found in plant seeds that interfere with our ability to digest vitamins and minerals within the plants. How Antinutrients Affect Your Gut The problem with antinutrients is that once we consume them, they can at times create a negative reaction in our guts and trigger autoimmune responses, including leaky gut syndrome. This is why many people react badly to eating certain grains and breads (such as wheat products), especially ones that are not sprouted. Knowing that grain consumption has steadily risen over the past several decades in the American diet and in the diet of most other developed nations too, and that more and more people are feeling sick and tired, many health experts believe that sprouting grains and preparing them in other traditional ways is an extremely important practice that can help many people to feel better. Why do antinutrients naturally exist in plant seeds? Antinutrients actually have a protective property within plants. They help plants survive by warding off pests and insects. Once they’re ingested, the plant’s predators become somewhat sick. Antinutrients also have the job of keeping a seed from sprouting until it’s ripe enough and ready to mature. One of the most well-known and problematic antinutrients found in grains, beans, nuts and seeds is called phytic acid. According to experts from the Weston A. Price Foundation: (5) Grains require careful preparation because they contain a number of antinutrients that can cause serious health problems. Phytic acid, for example, is an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound. It is mostly found in the bran or outer hull of seeds. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss. The modern misguided practice of consuming large amounts of unprocessed bran often improves colon transit time at first but may lead to irritable bowel syndrome and, in the long term, many other adverse effects. Phytic acid also inhibits our digestive enzymes called amylase, trypsin and pepsin. Amylase breaks down starch, while both pepsin and trypsin are needed to break down protein into smaller amino acids. (6, 7) In addition to phytic acid, other forms of compounds similar to antinutrients can also be found in unsprouted foods. These include the antinutrients called:
Polyphenols — These can inhibit digestion of copper, iron, zinc and vitamin B1, along with enzymes, proteins and starches found in plant foods.
Enzyme inhibitors — These are found in plant foods and prevent adequate digestion. They can cause protein deficiency and gastrointestinal upset. Tannins are enzyme inhibitors. So are other difficult-to-digest plant proteins like gluten. Enzyme inhibitors not only cause digestive problems, but they can contribute to allergic reactions and mental illness.
Lectins and Saponins — These are antinutrients that affect the gastrointestinal lining, contributing to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disorders. Lectins are particularly resistant to digestion by humans. They enter our blood and trigger immune responses. Lectins can cause GI upset similar to classical food poisoning and immune responses like joint pain and rashes. Improperly prepared raw grains, dairy and legumes like peanuts and soybeans have especially high lectin levels.
Read Next: Lima Beans Nutrition Benefits Pregnancy, Weight Loss & More Top 8 Benefits of Sprouting 1. Increases Nutrient Absorption — B12, Iron, Magnesium and Zinc According to researchers, sprouting foods for a limited period “causes increased activities of hydrolytic enzymes, improvement in the contents of certain essential amino acids, total sugars, and B-group vitamins, and a decrease in dry matter, starch, and antinutrients.” (8) By sprouting seeds, nutrients, including amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars in the form of glucose, and even vitamins and minerals become more available and absorbable. (9, 10) For example, studies have found that folate increases in sprouted grains up to 3.8-fold. (11) Other studies find that when soaking seeds for about one week, improvements in the concentration of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and antioxidants ferulic acid and vanillic acid can all be observed. For example, a 2012 study found that vitamin C levels, plus phenolic and flavanoid antioxidants, significantly increased in mung bean sprouts when germinated for up to eight days. (12) Another study found that vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) were all barely detectable in the dry grains. However, sprouting the grains increased their concentrations significantly, with peak concentrations of the nutrients observed after seven days of sprouting. (13) 2. Makes Foods Easier to Digest For many people, eating grains, beans, nuts and seeds is problematic when it comes to digestion and frequently causes inflammation. A major benefit of sprouting is that is unlocks beneficial enzymes. These enzymes make all types of grains, seeds, beans and nuts easier on the digestive system. This also helps increase beneficial flora levels in the gut so you experience less of an autoimmune type of reaction when you eat these various forms of seeds. Especially with grains, these methods also help break down complex sugars and starches. This makes the grains more digestible. In recent studies, the digestibility of storage proteins and starches improved due to partial hydrolysis interactions that took place during sprouting. (14) Studies even show that grains become easier to digest and break down for those with diabetes after they’ve been sprouted because of changes in the amount of phenolic acids and enzymes available. Both short- and long-term sprouting helped diabetics regulate amylase-enzyme activity that is needed to properly digest glucose. More research is needed, but this may be helpful in the future as a treatment option for helping those with insulin resistance to properly digest and use glucose (sugars) found in high-glycemic foods. (15) Even more digestive benefits can be found in fermented grains, because these contain probiotics. Probiotics inhabit the gut flora with healthy “good bacteria” while decreasing the presence of harmful “bad bacteria.” This helps digestion, detoxification and nutrient absorption. 3. Decreases Antinutrients and Phytic Acid Sprouting helps drastically cut down on the level of carcinogens and antinutrients present within seeds. Carcinogens, known as aflatoxins, are present naturally within plant foods. This includes peanuts, almonds, corn and other nuts. These can act like toxins within the digestive tract and may cause a range of digestive problems. Antinutrients, including phytic acid, have the ability to leach on to minerals and make them unabsorbable by the body. (16) Another study found that sprouted and fermented nuts contained significantly less tannins, another type of antinutrient toxin, than unsprouted nuts did. Sprouting the nuts freed nutrients from being bound and unabsorbable, while also improving the nutrient content of the nuts to some degree. (17) Because sprouting helps reduce the presence of antinutrients, improvements in digestibility and nutrient absorption are commonly seen when people switch from unsprouted foods to sprouted foods. 4. Increases Protein Availability Depending on the exact seed that is sprouted, proteins in the form of amino acids can become more concentrated and absorbable in sprouted foods. (18) Some studies have shown that an increase in amino acids, including lysine and tryptophan, can take place when seeds are sprouted. However, the protein gluten can also decrease in grains when sprouted. While the concentration of different proteins in sprouted foods seems to vary, most studies indicate that proteins become more digestible when the seeds are sprouted. When a seed begins to sprout, natural chemical changes take place. As a result, enzymes are produced to convert nutrients for the growing plant to utilize. As sprouting continues, complex proteins are converted into simple amino acids, making them easier on digestion. Which sprouts are rich in protein? Examples include sprouted lentils, mung beans, adzuki beans, garbanzo beans and peas.
5. Increases Fiber Content Several studies have found that when seeds are sprouted, their fiber content increases and becomes more available. (19) Reports show that sprouting increases concentrations of crude fiber, which is the fiber that makes up the cell walls of plants. When we consume plant’s crude fiber, the fiber cannot actually be absorbed within our digestive tracts. Therefore it helps push waste and toxins out of the gut and regulate bowel movements. Are sprouts useful for reducing your appetite, and can sprouts help you lose weight? It’s possible that because sprouted seeds offer more bioavailable protein and fiber, they may lead you to feel fuller. Increased satiety after eating sprouts can potentially help with curbing your appetite and portion control. 6. Breaks Down Gluten for Easier Digestibility In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers sprouted wheat kernels for up to one week. They analyzed them at different stages to learn the effects of changes in gluten concentrations and other nutrient levels. They found that sprouting decreased gluten proteins substantially. Plus it was also able to increase folate and dietary fiber. (20) Other studies have shown that as time goes on, sprouted flours can further decrease in gluten, while the availability of total amino acids (protein), fats and sugars becomes more easily available. (21) 7. Helps Reduce Other Allergens Found in Grains Aside from decreasing gluten protein concentrations, sprouting grains has been shown to help reduce other food allergens (especially one called 26-kDa allergen) that is found in grains like rice. In one study, researchers found that sprouted brown rice contained much lower levels of two allergen compounds when compared to non-sprouted brown rice. (22) They believed that the reduction was due to certain enzyme activities that took place during sprouting. 8. May Increase Enzymes and Antioxidants According to a 2013 study, sprouting legume seeds can increase their nutritive value by raising phenolic and flavonoid antioxidant levels. (23) When researchers sprouted the seeds, antioxidant levels significantly increased and improved free radical scavenging and anticancer activities when compared to the seeds that had not been sprouted. One 2007 study found that after sprouting buckwheat for 48 hours, concentration of beneficial antioxidant compounds called rutin were increased more than 10-fold. Another antioxidant flavonoid, quercitrin, became newly formed. The researchers then fed rats the sprouted buckwheat for eight weeks. They found significant reductions in levels of dangerous fat buildups stored in the liver, thanks to the positive impacts of the antioxidants. (24) Uses in Traditional Medicine Sprouted seeds are important sources for the preparation of natural remedies and traditional foods. Why? They contain many biologically active compounds. In order to prevent digestive issues, for centuries many cultures prepared staple crops like beans, rice, quinoa, etc., by soaking them for 12–24 hours. Once sprouted, the sprouts were used to make bread, pita, tortillas, natural wild yeast, etc. They were valued due to their high protein and trace mineral content. The sprouts also were widely available, versatile and inexpensive. Bean sprouts (like soy bean sprouts, green bean sprouts and mung bean sprouts) have been popular in traditional Asian diets for hundreds of years. They are still commonly used in a variety of dishes today. This includes stir-fries, rice dishes, wraps or savory pancakes. Most often, sprouts are steamed or blanched and combined with some natural vinegar. Sometimes they are even juiced. Sprouts are included in the Ayurvedic diet because they are easiest to digest and unlock nutrients that are important for overall health. Sprouts are regarded as cold, dry, light, rough and Rajasic (a Sanskrit word that means “activating”). Eating a small to moderate amount of seasonal raw foods, including sprouts, is encouraged in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s believed to help increase energy levels and mental clarity, improve weight loss and one’s complexion, and decrease inflammation. (25) We know from studying traditional diets and recent research that there is an additional way you can help digest grains, beans, nuts and seeds better: by eating seeds/grains/legumes with foods that contain certain antinutrient blockers. These include foods that are high in calcium, vitamins C and D, and carotenoids, which are found in foods like carrots. This means, for example, that calcium found naturally in traditional animal fats, bone broths and raw dairy can help counteract antinutrients’ effects. Similarly, eating vitamin C foods, like leafy green vegetables or citrus fruits, can counteract phytate and increase iron absorption. Foods rich in vitamin A like sweet potatoes (a form of carotenoids) can also help improve iron absorption. Sprout vs. Seedling vs. Microgreen
The term “seedling” is usually used to describe a seed that has just sprouted. In this case, sprouts and seedlings are basically the same thing, although seedlings are slightly more mature (yet not full grown plants yet). A seedling forms when a sprout uses water and nutrients from the soil, along with sunlight and air to grow and mature. (26)
Seedlings often are grown to be transplanted into the ground and grown into more mature plants. Sprouts are grown to be eaten. Most seedlings germinate in two weeks or less and mature into young plants within several more weeks of being planted. (27)
Sprouts and microgreens are similar but not quite the same thing. Microgreens and sprouts develop at different parts of the growing cycle. Sprouts are germinated seeds that tend to grow quickly, usually in about four to six days.
According to the Urban Cultivator website, “Microgreens are the result of the cotyledon growth stage, which is when the first couple of leaves from a plant appear.” (28) Microgreen seeds are grown in soil or peat moss, as opposed to in water like sprouts. You can basically think of microgreens as the middle stage between very young seeds (sprouts) and matured seeds (baby greens or full-grown vegetables).
Microgreens take a little longer to grow than sprouts, usually about one to three weeks. They also need light and good ventilation. The leaves and stems of microgreens can be eaten but not the seeds themselves.
Sprouting vs. Fermenting Once sprouting is completed, seeds can benefit even more by being fermented. Fermenting foods is a method in which the seeds naturally become fermented by combining them with wild yeast and an acidic liquid. While sprouting doesn’t always require acid, fermenting does. Fermentation creates probiotics. This increases healthy bacteria, helpful enzymes, minerals and vitamins. It also predigests foods that are hard for humans to break down in the digestive tract. It’s as if fermented foods are partially digested already, even before you eat them. Thus, your body needs to work less to absorb and use the food’s nutrients. Other fermented products like kefir, kimchi and kombucha are made in a similar way. They offer similar health benefits to fermented seeds. Sprouting and fermenting foods increases phytase, the enzyme that breaks down phytate or phytic acid. Humans produce much less phytase compared to herbivores, so sprouting and fermentation help us get the most benefit from our plant foods and potentially avoid nutrient depletion. (29) Some studies have shown that sprouting grains can increase phytase activity by threefold or even fivefold. (30) The most well-known type of fermented seeds are the fermented grains found in sourdough or sprouted breads. Sourdough bread is made by a long fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts. In comparison with breads made with cultivated yeast, it usually has a mildly sour taste because of the lactic acid naturally produced by the lactobacilli. Sourdough bread has been in existence for thousands of years before cultivated yeast existed. Soaking vs. Sprouting Both soaking and sprouting are easy processes that you can do yourself at home. The same types of methods described below are used to create sprouted breads, like Ezekiel bread, and fermented sourdough breads. Wondering what the difference between soaking and sprouting is?
Soaking — This is when the whole seed/kernel is soaked in liquid for a period of time, sometimes in some sort of acidic liquid. When people speak about soaking seeds/kernels of some sort in acid liquid, they usually refer to fermenting and using these two phrases interchangeably.
Sprouting — This takes place when the whole seed/kernel is sprouted, or germinated. After it’s sprouted, it can be dehydrated and ground into flour (which is the case with Ezekiel breads).
Soaking is the process of putting any sprout food (seeds, grains, nuts or legumes) in water for a period of time. Then sprouting allows the soaked item to germinate further. In other words, you first must soak something before you can sprout it. Sprouting takes place after soaking and further enhances the digestibility of the grains/beans/nuts/seeds. Most experts agree that soaking is good, but consensus is that foods that are soaked and then sprouted for a period of time become more nutrient-dense the longer they are able to sit, sprout and grow (assuming they have no mold). How to Sprout/Soak How do you grow sprouts at home, and which are the easiest sprouts to grow? First, you need to get prepared by buying your nuts, seeds, beans or grains. Then get together your containers that you’ll soak and sprout in. Keep in mind that the method for soaking and sprouting different nuts, seeds, grains and beans is the same. Only the time required differs depending on the exact kind you use. It’s important to be careful about how you sprout your own seeds. Raw sprouts have the potential to grow bacteria that can potentially be harmful. According to reports, commercially grown raw sprouts have emerged as a significant source of foodborne illness in the United States. For example, they’ve been associated with the pathogenic bacteria Salmonella and E. coli. (31) Alfalfa, clover and mung bean sprouts have been involved most in these outbreaks, but all raw sprouts may pose a risk of becoming contaminated. Make sure to only sprout seeds in a very sterile environment.
When buying nuts/seeds/beans/grains, look for the raw kind. If possible, select kinds that are labeled “certified pathogen-free.” Suppliers of this type of seed include Burpee and Sprout People.
Sometimes even if nuts and seeds are labeled “raw,” they have actually been pasteurized and irradiated. These types will “activate” with soaking and improve in terms of digestibility but will not physically “sprout.”
When you have your seeds/kernels ready, rinse seeds for one minute and add enough water to cover them.
Remove floating debris, especially possibly contaminated fragments of the shells that may be floating around.
Sanitize your sprouting containers first to make sure they are completely clean.
Use raw, unsprouted nuts, grains, seeds or legumes that haven’t been roasted, blanched or prepared yet at all in any other way.
Place them in a bowl covered with several inches of water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let them sit for anywhere between 5–48 hours depending on the kind. Refer to the chart below for directions on each specific kind.
If you soak for more than 12 hours, rinse the grains, nuts, seeds or beans every 12 hours to change the water. Use fresh water, and completely discard the water you had been soaking in previously.
Do this every 12 hours for up to 48 hours.
You’ll notice how much they’ve expanded at this point as they’ve soaked up a lot of water. That’s a good thing!
Keep in the refrigerator, and use within the next few days since they now have the potential to spoil.
After the soaking process is completed, then you can choose to sprout your grains, nuts, beans or seeds. Directions to Sprout
Strain them and leave them out in a dish or shallow bowl, on the counter top, or somewhere where they will be exposed to air.
You can keep them slightly damp by adding just a small amount of water to the bowl/dish. You don’t need them to be covered in water completely. Try adding just 1–2 tablespoons of water.
Leave them out for anywhere from one to several days depending on the kind you’re sprouting (see the chart below).
Sprouts vary from 1/8 inch to 2 inches long. When ready, rinse sprouts well, drain and store in a jar or container.
Keep in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Every day you need to rinse the sprouted grains, beans, nuts or seeds and put them in a fresh bowl. You want to do this to avoid having any mold or harmful bacteria grow.
Which Nuts and Seeds Are Best to Sprout? Below is a list of recommended nuts, seeds, legumes and grains to sprout: Nuts
Almonds: Need 2–12 hours for soaking. Sprout for 2–3 days if truly raw. The length you choose depends on what you want to use them for. For example, 48 hours of soaking allow the skins to fall off.
Flax, chia and hemp seeds are difficult to sprout so most people avoid trying this. However, you can sprout these small seeds by following the directions below and using a shallow dish — try a terra cotta drainage dish if you have one — and less water. These seeds absorb water and take on a gel-like texture during the process of sprouting. This is normal and results in sprouts within a few days.
Macadamia nuts and pine nuts also normally don’t need to be sprouted unless the recipe tells you to do so.
It’s not recommended to sprout red kidney beans as they contain a very toxic lectin called phytohaemagglutinin.
To sprout chia, hemp and flaxseeds: Sprouting small seeds, sometimes called “mucilaginous seeds,” is a bit of a different process than most larger seeds from nuts, grains, beans and legumes. Smaller seeds form a mucilaginous coat. This gives them a gel-like consistency when soaked in water. They can’t be sprouted using the usual method and do better when sprouted in a shallow dish, such as on terracotta, clay or ceramic dishes or trays. To sprout these seeds:
Fill a shallow dish with a slight amount of water. Add about a teaspoon or so of seeds. Let the seeds soak for several minutes. Then drain them.
Sprinkle your seeds back onto the dish. They should be evenly spread and only in a single layer. There should be space between seeds to allow them to spread while growing. Cover with clear glass or a plastic bowl. Place in a sunny spot.
Spray the dish twice a day with a small amount of water. Try to keep the surface of the dish wet at all times if possible. The seeds absorb water and plump up, so keep them moist. The sprouts should take about 3–7 days to appear. They will be about 1/2–3/4 inch high when they’re ready.