When you put seeds into water, they germinate, causing the skin to burst and out pops a little shoot (remember growing beans in a jar at school anyone?). When this shoot grows, it consumes some of the nutrients from the seed, changing the nutritional balance of the food. The good news is that some of the starch is used up, hence increasing the fibre and protein content of the seedling. As the starch content is lowered, it also results in a lower glycemic index, making it better for controlling blood sugar levels - good news for diabetics.
In addition to this, levels of certain minerals and vitamins like folic acid and vitamin D are also said to be increased.
One of the biggest advantages of sprouting grains is that it can help to degrade the ‘anti-nutrient’ phytic acid. Phytic acid (or phytate) is found in high quantities in grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Unfortunately, phytic acid can bind with minerals like iron and zinc before they are absorbed so it prevents the uptake of these beneficial nutrients. In fact, phytic acid can reduce the uptake of iron by 50%. This is a reason that many vegans, despite often eating more iron than meat-eaters, may suffer from iron-deficiency anaemia.
One of the reasons many of us may avoid beans and legumes is the unpleasant side effect of a gassy digestive system! Sprouting can help by reducing levels of enzyme inhibitors in the gut, making foods like beans and whole grains more digestible.
How to sprout
The easiest and safest option is to buy sprouted products from your local health food shop, farmer’s market or supermarket as these will have been regulated for safety aspects. But you can sprout at home, as long as you follow strict safety precautions (there have previously been concerns over the growth of harmful bacteria like e-coli in the warm, damp sprouting conditions).
If you do want to sprout, follow this simple process:
1. Soak seeds/grains overnight (6-12 hours) in water. Optimal time for soaking is between 8 and 10 hours.
2. Rinse seeds 2-3 times daily, allow them to drain via sprouting jar* or in tilted bowl.
3. Sprouts will be ready in 2 to 4 days, when sprout is ¼ inch.
4. Dry completely, and store in fridge for about 3 days.
*It’s recommended that you use a specific sprouting jar with a mesh screen covering the top - this allows you to drain the water regularly.
NB. The Food Standards Agency (UK) currently recommends cooking sprouts thoroughly before using to reduce risk of any harmful bacteria and pregnant women, elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system should avoid sprouts completely.
NB. The Food Safety Information Council of Australia recommend that people in the 4 vulnerable groups (young children, people 70+, immune-compromised or pregnant) should not eat uncooked sprouts of any kind.