Enjoying a plant-based diet rich in whole foods is one of the best things you can do for your gut and overall health. But there’s quite the controversy over whether or not nuts, grains, beans, and seeds are meant to be eaten in their natural, raw state—which is why the Paleo, Primal, Bulletproof, and Weston Price diets have gained so much traction in recent years.
What if there was a way to make some of these foods better for you? Actually there is—and it’s called sprouting.
What’s Sprouting Anyway?
Nuts, grains, beans, and seeds are little packages of exciting potential—just waiting to grow into full-fledged plants. But in this dormant state, which protects these foods from being eaten by animals before they can mature into plants, many of their health advantages are locked away. Sprouting begins the germination process, which transforms these foods inside and out and releases their full nutritional benefits. Once the process is complete, you’ll have tiny whole plants to eat instead of just seeds—and you’ll receive more nutrition in every spoonful than you could have otherwise.
How Does Sprouting Change Foods?
Because they go through such dramatic physical and chemical changes during sprouting, germinated nuts, grains, beans, and seeds have a very different effect on the body than they would have had prior to this process.1
• Reduction of phytic acid: Phytic acid occurs naturally in many plant foods, but occurs in particularly high concentrations in nuts, grains, and seeds. Because it binds to important nutrients—including iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc—phytic acid actually inhibits the absorption of these nutrients. The end result is that your body can’t make use of all the great nutrition these foods (and the foods you eat with them) contain. Sprouting helps neutralize the phytic acid so you’re able to more fully utilize healthy nutrients in your food.2
• Reduction of tannins: Nuts, grains, and seeds also tend to be high in tannins, which lock away a percentage of the valuable nutrients in these foods. Sprouting lowers tannin content to help you absorb the maximum nutrition from each calorie.2
• Neutralization of enzyme inhibitors to encourage digestive enzyme production: In their ungerminated states, nuts, grains, and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors that block your body’s own digestive enzymes. This makes it harder to digest even bioavailable nutrients. By neutralizing these inhibitors during the sprouting process, your body is freed to produce the helpful enzymes it needs for comfortable, efficient digestion.
• Increased vitamin content: Sprouting nuts, grains, and seeds changes their chemical composition in ways that increase amounts of vitamins C, B2, B5, and B6—as well as carotene.3,4,5
• Reduced gluten content and easier digestion: Sprouting decreases gluten (if it was there in the first place), which can make grains, seeds, and nuts easier to digest.6 Germination also converts certain complex proteins and sugars into simple ones—and that can keep your tummy happy after meals. It’s important to note though that sprouting isn’t guaranteed to completely eliminate gluten, so those who must be on a gluten-free diet to maintain their health can’t count on sprouting as a method to safely avoid gluten exposure.
• Reduction of lectins: Lectins are a naturally occurring defense against insects, pests, and destructive microorganisms, and they help keep seeds intact as they pass through the digestive systems of animals. The trouble is certain lectins can cause digestive discomfort and gut issues. Sprouting reduces lectin content in most nuts, grains, beans, and seeds so you can reap the benefits without the experiencing the drawbacks.
As an added plus, sprouting can even improve your homemade nut milks. When you take the time to sprout nuts, you’ll create a silkier, better-tasting nut milk. And because sprouted nuts become soft, you’ll also extend the life of your blender!
But Things Are Never Quite That Simple…
As remarkable as all the benefits of sprouting are, healthy eating is never quite as cut and dry as we might wish. Certain components of unsprouted nuts, grains, and seeds that are problematic in some ways are also helpful in others! It turns out antinutrients like phytic acid and tannins, which clearly restrict the bioavailability of nutrients of foods in which they’re contained, also provide powerful antioxidant protection to the body, right down to the cellular level.7,8,9,10,11,12
And interestingly, when your gut is in good shape—your body becomes better-equipped to handle the antinutrient properties of phytic acid! Certain probiotic flora convert phytic acid to inositol, which prevents nutrient-binding to make minerals more bioavailable.13,14 This is why it makes sense to care for your microbial community through a gut-healthy lifestyle including natural prebiotic and probiotic foods, exercise, proper sleep, stress reduction, and supplementing with a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-15. Since it can be difficult to get sufficient prebiotic fiber from diet alone, you may also want to sprinkle some organic prebiotic powder into your favorite beverages and foods to feed the trillions of good guys in your gut.
So the bottom line is while it’s wise to use sprouting to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, you can also relax about the phytic acids and tannins you inevitably ingest—since they do the body so much good in other ways. It’s all about balance through a wide variety of whole, natural foods—and of course a healthy dose of gratitude and joy at every meal.
Here’s How to Get Sprouting!
Sprouting is actually really easy and inexpensive. All you need is a little patience—and a few basic supplies:
• 1 quart mason jar
• 1 sprouting screened lid (or a cheesecloth and rubber band)
• Colander or strainer
• 2 bowls
• Acid medium such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
Then just follow these simple steps:
1. Put the grains, nuts, or seeds you’d like to sprout into a colander or strainer. Rinse well and drain.
2. Move the grains, nuts, or seeds to a bowl and add enough water to cover them by a few inches along with about a spoonful of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Allow to soak overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
3. Pour the soaked grains, nuts, or seeds into a colander or strainer again, rinse thoroughly, and drain.
4. Transfer to a mason jar, and cover with a sprouting lid (or cheesecloth and rubber band).
5. Turn the jar upside down, and place it in a bowl to catch draining water.
6. Place the jar/bowl somewhere out of direct sunlight, where the temperature is between 68° and 75°.
7. About every 12 hours, pour clean water into the jar and swish it around before draining it off. This will keep everything fresh and clean. Within one to five days you should begin to see little sprouts blossoming—each food has its own unique time frame.
8. Once you’ve got sprouts, rinse and drain them again, and then store them in the fridge for up to a week. If they become slimy or develop an unpleasant odor at any point, this means they’ve spoiled and should be discarded.
To really get the maximum nutrient absorption and digestibility possible, it’s beneficial to also ferment your grains and beans. And as an added bonus, when you enjoy these foods fermented, you’ll be introducing your microbial community to lots of new friendly probiotics!
Sprouting is an easy, fun, and budget-friendly way to improve the nutritional value and digestibility of nuts, grains, and seeds. And the added bonus is you get to witness the living potential revealed in what seemed to be lifeless substances—a wonderful learning experience to share with your whole family. Happy sprouting!
1. Chavan, J. K., Kadam, S. S., & Beuchat, L. R. (1989). Nutritional improvement of cereals by sprouting. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 28(5), 401-437. doi:10.1080/10408398909527508
2. Gupta, R. K., Gangoliya, S. S., & Singh, N. K. (2015). Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(2), 676-684. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-0978-y
3. Devi, C. B., Kushwaha, A., & Kumar, A. (2015). Sprouting characteristics and associated changes in nutritional composition of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata). Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(10), 6821-6827. doi:10.1007/s13197-015-1832-1
4. Burkholder, P. R., & McVeigh, I. (1942). The Increase of B Vitamins in Germinating Seeds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 28(10), 440-446. doi:10.1073/pnas.28.10.440
5. Hübner, F., & Arendt, E. K. (2013). Germination of Cereal Grains as a Way to Improve the Nutritional Value: A Review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 53(8), 853-861. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.562060
6. Stenman, S. M., Venäläinen, J. I., Lindfors, K., Auriola, S., Mauriala, T., Kaukovirta-Norja, A., … Mäki, M. (2009). Enzymatic detoxification of gluten by germinating wheat proteases: Implications for new treatment of celiac disease. Annals of Medicine, 41(5), 390-400. doi:10.1080/07853890902878138
7. Suzuki, T., Nishioka, T., Ishizuka, S., & Hara, H. (2010). A novel mechanism underlying phytate-mediated biological action-phytate hydrolysates induce intracellular calcium signaling by a Gαq protein-coupled receptor and phospholipase C-dependent mechanism in colorectal cancer cells. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 54(7), 947-955. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200900279
8. Shamsuddin, A. M. (2002). Anti-cancer function of phytic acid. International Journal of Food Science and Technology, 37(7), 769-782. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2621.2002.00620.x
9. Fox, C., & Eberl, M. (2002). Phytic acid (IP6), novel broad spectrum anti-neoplastic agent: a systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 10(4), 229-234. doi:10.1016/s0965-2299(02)00092-4
10. Graf, E. (1990). Antioxidant functions of phytic acid. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 8(1), 61-69. doi:10.1016/0891-5849(90)90146-a
11. Booth, B. W., Inskeep, B. D., Shah, H., Park, J. P., Hay, E. J., & Burg, K. J. (2013). Tannic Acid Preferentially Targets Estrogen Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer. International Journal of Breast Cancer, 2013, 1-9. doi:10.1155/2013/369609
12. Yildirim, I., & Kutlu, T. (2015). Anticancer Agents: Saponin and Tannin. International Journal of Biological Chemistry, 9(6), 332-340. doi:10.3923/ijbc.2015.332.340
13. Norwich BioScience Institutes. (2014, February 13). How gut bacteria communicate within our bodies, build special relationship. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 16, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140213122358.htm
14. Markiewicz, L., Honke, J., Haros, M., Świątecka, D., & Wróblewska, B. (2013). Diet shapes the ability of human intestinal microbiota to degrade phytate- in vitro studies. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 115(1), 247-259. doi:10.1111/jam.12204
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.