Getting Back To Your Roots

Sprouting for better nutrition
By Cara Lucas

As time goes by, things grow, change, and naturally evolve. This includes nutrition concepts. The more you scrutinize how what you eat affects the way your body functions, the more likely you are to make better choices regarding the food you consume. Nutrition’s evolution inevitably takes it back to nature—back to its roots. This is quite literally the case with the concept of sprouting.

Journey back in your mind to that elementary school science class, where you and your classmates experimented with sprouting seeds, quite possibly in small jars or even milk jugs. You probably threw in a few bean kernels, kept them moist, and watched them grow shoots in just a few days. This is the rudimentary process of sprouting.

Today, people all around the globe are sprouting their own grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Roughly, the process involves soaking seeds for several hours, then repeatedly rinsing them until they begin to develop a tail-like protrusion. Soaking softens the hull, and allows the sprout to grow. They are usually ready to use when the sprout is 1/4 inch long. From the sprouts, you can make a variety of foods like bread, flour, cereal, and pasta, or simply toss them in a salad.

So, why sprout? For most people, it involves issues of digestibility and enhanced nutrition. A small kernel makes a plant, and those plants are often easier to digest than the actual kernel itself. Also, sprouts exhibit a unique nutritional profile, different than that of the kernel or seed.

Nutrition

Many seeds—like barley, nuts, and legumes—evolved to be distributed by being eaten and then expelled. Other seeds, like many types of grain, distributed themselves by falling off the plant, and/or being blown around by the wind. In both cases, the seeds were not meant to be very digestible. They were either meant to pass through the digestive tract uninterrupted, or not to be eaten at all.

At the dawn of agriculture, people farmed many of these seeds, often breeding them to be larger and less easily dispersed. However, the seeds often retained their indigestible properties. But, when sprouted, these seeds become an easy-to-digest plant that is at its peak nutritionally. This happens because, when it sprouts, the seed releases all of its stored nutrients in a dynamic attempt to become a full-grown plant.

When a seed begins to sprout, natural chemical changes take place. As a result, enzymes (a food’s natural, built-in digestive agents) are produced to convert nutrients for the growing plant to utilize. As sprouting continues, enzymes transform carbohydrates into simple sugars, convert complex proteins into simple amino acids, and change fats into fatty acids. All are easily digestible compounds, and make sprouts an easy-to-digest food source—a big bonus for those with sensitive stomachs or various food intolerances.

Research even shows that sprouts may yield cancer-protecting properties. Johns Hopkins scientists found that three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contained 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads, and thus may offer a simple dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk.

Basic Guidelines

Sprouting is relatively easy and cheap to do at home as the germination process only takes a few days and limited supplies are necessary. You can often buy seeds, lentils, beans, and grains in bulk at a good price, as well. And while it is a fairly easy process to execute, it’s important to follow directions to ensure an optimal environment for new and delicate sprouts.

For beginners, first choose the sprouts you want to try. You can sprout one type of seed at a time or try a combination of seeds. You can also choose items that may not sprout at exactly the same time and let those faster sprout tails grow a little longer while you wait for the slower sprouts. Some of the easiest sprouting seeds for beginners are: wheat, sunflower, lentil, mung, and quinoa.

Sprouting can be a great way to incorporate enhanced nutrients into your diet. You don’t have to overhaul your existing diet to benefit from their positive impact either—start by simply trying them as a garnish on a sandwich or salad and go from there.

Happy sprouting!

 

The basic process for sprouting is:

1. Soak seeds overnight in water.

Optimal time for soaking is between eight and 10 hours, depending on the seed. This actually “fools” the seeds into thinking that conditions are ripe for growth.

2. Rinse seeds two to three times daily, and allow them to drain.

This prevents souring, yet keeps the seeds moist. Keep them in a sprouting vessel. You can make one easily, using a jar with a piece of cloth or piece of nylon window screen covering the opening. With any type of vessel, it’s important that water can drain from it easily.

3. Sprouts will be ready in two to four days, when sprouts are about 1/4 inch long. If left for longer, seeds will become “baby greens.”

4. Dry completely, and store in fridge for about three days. This chilling process halts growth.