History of Sprouting
Carbohydrates provide energy needed to drive bodily chemical processes, but our ancestors (dating back to as far as 12,000 years ago) didn’t consume large amounts of carbohydrates. In fact, the simple sugars they consumed were highly nutritious fruits and vegetables and sprouted/germinated grains. Sprouting and germination allow grains to come alive, making nutrition within the seed available. These wheat and barley germinated seeds and the bread made from them were of great importance in ancient times.
Today, for people who cannot properly digest grains, seeds or legumes, the process of soaking and/or sprouting can unlock the goodness of these foods and ensure easy digestion and absorption. Whole grain, sprouted breads are available in health food stores and most modern grocery stores; they contain up to 4 times the protein and fiber compared with conventional white bread. (Note: One company in particular, Food for Life, has almost single-handedly made sprouting a household term.)
Why Soak or Sprout?
Grains and seeds are rich sources of nutrients—but when they are soaked or sprouted, they can become nutritional powerhouses. In a nutshell, here’s why: The germination process (sprouting) produces vitamin C and increases carotenoids and vitamin B content, especially vitamins B2 (riboflavin) , B5 (pantothenic acid), and B6 (pyridoxine). Even more importantly, sprouting neutralizes phytic acid, a substance present in the bran of all seeds that inhibits the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Sprouting also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors present in all seeds. This is important because these inhibitors can neutralize your own precious enzymes in the digestive tract, which is one reason many people seem to get a stomach ache or excess bloating after consuming large amounts of seeds or grains. Sprouting can also inactivate certain toxins found in seeds.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these and how they tie in to overall health:
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which helps strengthen the immune system, helps fight cardiovascular disease by protecting the lining of arteries from oxidative damage, and helps protect the body from smoke and air pollutants.
- Carotenoids: This class of antioxidants includes beta carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Research evidence indicates that carotenoids lower the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, and help to strengthen the immune system.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin which is involved in vital metabolic processes in the body, and is necessary for normal cell function, growth, and energy production.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Pantothenic acid (vitamin B 5) is needed for the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Vitamin B6 is needed for protein metabolism, red blood cell metabolism, and proper functioning of the nervous and immune systems. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is also required for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, and for myelin formation.
Additionally, by neutralizing phytic acid, sprouting assists in the body’s absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc:
- Calcium: Calcium is a mineral which assists in blood-clotting, muscle locomotion, transmission of nerve impulses, activation of enzymes and hormone secretion.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral which helps with muscle relaxation and energy release and is a catalyst for important metabolic reactions. Magnesium is a coenzyme to help your body build proteins and produce serotonin. Magnesium also prevents constipation.
- Iron: Iron’s major function is to combine with protein and copper in making hemoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the tissues which need oxygen to maintain basic life functions. Iron builds up the quality of the blood and increases resistance to stress and disease. It is also necessary for the formation of myoglobin which is found only in muscle tissue. Myoglobin supplies oxygen to muscle cells for use in the chemical reaction that results in muscle contraction. Iron also prevents fatigue and promotes good skin tone.
- Zinc: Called the intelligence mineral, zinc is required for mental development. It is an antioxidant nutrient; is necessary for protein synthesis and wound healing; vital for the development of the reproductive organs, prostate functions and male hormone activity; it governs the contractility of muscles; important for blood stability; maintains the body's alkaline balance; helps in normal tissue function; aids in the digestion and metabolism of phosphorus.
The bottom line: Soaking and sprouting your grains, beans, or seeds prior to use is simple and the nutritional benefits are worth it. Here are some tips for getting started—with whole grains, beans, lentils, raw nuts and seeds.
- For Whole Grains: For millet, brown rice, oatmeal, amaranth, etc. soak desired amount of grain in an equal amount of water to which you have added 1 Tbsp. raw vinegar, fresh lemon juice, or plain yogurt. (Use 2-3 Tbsp. if you are cooking a large amount of grain.) Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 7 hours, preferably longer. When ready to cook, add remaining required amount of water or stock and cook. NOTE: To soak whole-grain flours or pancake mixes, follow the same procedure as above but make sure the flour is mixed well with the soaking water.
- For Raw Beans and Lentils: Soak desired amount of beans in an equal amount of water to which you’ve added 1 Tbsp. raw vinegar, fresh lemon juice, or plain yogurt. (Use 2-3 Tbsp. if you are cooking a large amount of beans or lentils.) Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 7 hours, preferably longer. When ready to cook, discard water; add remaining required amount of water or stock and cook.
- For Raw Nuts and Seeds: Place raw nuts or seeds in a bowl; add 1 Tbsp. sea salt, and cover with water. Leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours. Drain the water. Place nuts or seeds on a cookie sheet and dry on low heat in the oven. You can also air-dry the nuts or seeds on a towel, but it takes longer to dry them this way.