Sprouting at home is an economical and convenient way to boost your nutrition and avoid the pitfalls of antinutrients in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Sprouts are a juxtaposition between something small with huge rewards. Literally the infant stages of many commonly consumed vegetables, beans, greens and grains, sprouts are rich in nutrients and healthful benefits. While sprouts may not appear on the menu for many American households, they are inexpensive, easy to grow, tasty and well worth the minimal effort.
Sprouts are an excellent source of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. There are two kinds of sprouts.
- Sprouts that are grown until the first two leaves appear, such as alfalfa, sunflower and broccoli. These sprouts are eaten green and provide more nutrients than their fully grown counterparts.
- Grains, nuts, beans and seeds that are sprouted just until tails form. These foods are sprouted primarily to remove or neutralize antinutrients found in unsprouted seeds.
Why you should always sprout nuts, grains, beans and seeds
Seeds are the babies of plants, and plants go through a lot of trouble to make them. In order for these seeds to do their job and grow into new plants, they must resist being digested, and remain in a dormant, viable state until conditions are just right for them to grow. While many seeds, nuts, grains and beans are filled with potential nutrition, nature has bound up these nutrients with compounds that can actually sicken us and cause malnourishment by preventing our bodies from metabolizing certain essential minerals and vitamins.
Germinating the seeds in warmth and water gives the signal that it’s time to transform from one state—the dormant, indigestible and self-protective state—into the plant state. This disables many of the antinutrients and boosts the nutritional content and digestibility of the seed.
Antinutrients such as saponins and lectins are commonly found in seeds. When consumed by humans in this state, health problems with the GI tract may be the result, including leaky gut and damage to the intestines. It is important to note that while these antinutrients are found in many seeds, there are safe ways to reduce or eliminate them.
Sprouting increases the breakdown of harmful antinutrients, neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and inactivates carcinogens found in grains. Sprouting, fermenting or soaking seeds are the most common ways to combat antinutrients without losing the healthful benefits of the intended sprout. In fact, as long as water pH levels and soaking methods are correct, antinutrient levels can be reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Antinutrients act as their name suggests, prohibiting the human body from properly absorbing nutrients found in food. Here are some of the most common forms of antinutrients:
Phytate: Stores phosphorus in nuts, seeds, grain and legumes, phytate is a self-defense mechanism. Phytate blocks zinc, calcium and iron from being absorbed in the GI tract, and in high quantities is known for stunting growth. Foods containing phytate may be cooked, soaked or sprouted to reduce this antinutrient.
Polyphenols: These antinutrients occur in most plant foods, and inhibit the absorption of protein, starch and minerals, copper, zinc and iron. These antinutrients can be decreased by sprouting, but not by cooking.
Oxylate: Various plant foods contain oxalic acid, which inhibits the absorption of calcium. Greens such as spinach are high in oxalic acids making calcium absorption poor. Kale, on the other hand, is low in oxalic acids, making calcium absorption much more effective.
Enzyme Inhibitors: As the name suggests, enzyme inhibitors block the human body from absorbing enzymes during digestion. These inhibitors are commonly found in raw soy and nuts, and can cause GI problems and protein deficiency.
Trypsin Inhibitors: Trypsin is an important enzyme that helps break down protein into amino acids. Sprouting can reduce trypsin inhibitors found in legumes, making them more easily digestible.
What are the health benefits of sprouts?
Alfalfa: Considered the most popular sprout variety, alfalfa is rich in chlorophyll, Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, G, K and U, calcium and iron. Alfalfa sprouts are thought to house every vitamin necessary to support the human body.
Broccoli: Broccoli overall has been named one of the most healthful foods that humans can consume. Not surprising, broccoli sprouts have been proven to have plenty of health benefits including potentially fighting cancer. Broccoli sprouts are rich in nutrients that, according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, can reduce the risk of certain cancers by as much as forty percent.
Radish: Radish sprouts are an extremely rich source of Vitamins A and C. Radish sprouts have nearly 30 times the amount of Vitamin C of milk, and 4 times the amount of Vitamin A. Radish sprouts also are rich in calcium.
Sunflower: Sunflower sprouts are rich in lecithin and Vitamin D, and are helpful in breaking down fatty acids for digestion.
Mung Beans: Raw mung bean sprouts are rich in Vitamins C and K, folate, magnesium, potassium and amino acids. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, these sprouts are particularly rich in Vitamin K, which is an essential part of blood clotting, and contributes to a healthy cardiovascular system.
Grains, nuts and seeds: Lentils are rich in protein, and are considered one of the more environmentally friendly protein options. Lentil sprouts are 26 percent protein, and can be consumed raw or cooked. Wheat sprouts are rich in calcium, potassium, protein, Vitamins C, E and B.