Did you know that at the end of the year Nutrition Professionals predict food trends for the coming year? Sprouted grains were thought to be on the “it” list for 2016. I did notice more sprouted grain breads in grocery stores and spotted a few sprouted grain cereals, but other than that, I didn’t notice much of a “sprouted grain wave.” Other nutrition professionals report that sprouted grains have begun popping up in grocery stores as well as on restaurant menus.
Regardless of how much popularity they did (or didn’t) gain, sprouted grains do provide nutrition benefits and are certainly worth taking a closer look at.
What is a sprouted grain?
There is no regulated definition so I will provide definitions from nutrition professionals. According to Food and Nutrition Magazine, “a sprouted grain is the grain kernel or seed that has barely sprouted — where the new plant begins to just peek out of the seed.”
Today’s Dietitian Magazine defines a sprouted grain as “a whole grain that has been soaked and left to germinate.” Not just any grain can be sprouted. For a sprout to grow, the grain must contain all of the components: the bran, germ, and endosperm. The germ is the plant embryo, which feeds on the starchy endosperm when it grows. The bran layers provide additional nutrients and also protect the grain seed from predators until it is ready to begin its growth cycle. Because all of the components are present in sprouted grains, they are classified as whole grains. Today’s dietitian explains that it is not possible to sprout a refined grain. The sprout itself comes from the germ and during the refining process; both the bran (fiber) and the germ are generally removed.
Basically: all sprouted grains are whole grains but not all whole grains are sprouted grains.
How does sprouting a grain provide any nutritional benefits?
For some, grains can be difficult to digest and result in carbohydrate malabsorption. Carbohydrate malabsorption can lead to excess gas and bloating because the undigested food particles sit in your intestine and ferment. What makes some grains difficult to digest is in part due to the amazing way that whole grains are designed. The built-in protection of the seed provided by the bran is designed to resist digestion. Remember, if the bran is punctured and something happens to the seed, the new plant potentially will not be able to grow. Additionally, the seed has natural growth inhibitors that keep it from germinated until optimal growth conditions are attained.
This is where sprouting comes in. You see, during the sprouting process enzyme activity eliminates the natural growth inhibitors and breaks down the long-term-storage starch of the endosperm. As the endosperm is broken down, this results in more simple molecules that are much easier to digest.
In addition to being easier to digest, the sprouting process has been found to increase the bio-availability of many nutrients. This means that our bodies are better able to access, absorb and utilize them. For example, one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that after sprouting millet, iron was 300% more bio-available, and that manganese and calcium also were more bio-available. Furthermore, studies have found that sprouting grains actually increases the amount of certain nutrients such as fiber, folate, Vitamin C, B-Vitamins and antioxidants.
Though cereal grains comprise a large portion of the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.), as well as diets around the world, they are not good sources of protein or amino acids (building blocks of protein). Regular cereal grains have also been found to contain anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, gluten and lectins which interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients. Food Science and Nutrition Magazine found that sprouting of grains causes increased activities of hydrolytic enzymes, which helps our body break down food components for digestion. Additionally, sprouting resulted in increases of certain essential amino acids and B vitamins as well as overall decreases in starch and anti-nutrients. During sprouting, the proteins and starches in grains are partially broken down which enhances digestibility.
Here are the nutrition benefits provided by sprouting:
- A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported that sprouting wheat can increase folate levels by three to four times the original amount. Researchers in the same study also found that sprouted wheat contains more fiber than non-sprouted wheat.
- Sprouted buckwheat has been found to help lower blood pressure and also provide protection against fatty liver as reported by the Oldways Whole Grain Council, a nonprofit nutrition education organization based in Boston.
- The Oldways Whole Grain Council also found that sprouted brown rice can have immune boosting benefits in pregnant women. It can also reduce glycemic impact and can help reduce blood glucose levels.
- The Journal of Nutrition Metabolism published a study conducted on overweight and obese men to see the impact of blood glucose levels with various types of breads. Researchers measured levels after consumption of white bread, two multi-whole-grain breads, sourdough bread and sprouted grain bread. The lowest glycemic impact was from the sprouted and sourdough breads.
As you can see, sprouting substantially increases nutrient-density of grains. This same principle can be applied to nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. These foods also contain anti-nutrients (lectins and phytic acid) which interfere with digestion/absorption as well as built-in mechanisms to resist digestion. Vegetarian times notes that soaking and sprouting replicates germination, which activates and multiplies nutrients (particularly Vitamins A, B, and C), neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes.
Look for sprouted grains, nuts and seeds in your grocery store. Dave’s Killer Bread offers a sprouted grain variety and Food For Life’s Ezekiel Bread is made from sprouted grains. Food For Life also carries a sprouted grain cereal. If you prefer, you can also soak and sprout your own grains, nuts, seeds and legumes in the comfort of your own home! Head over to Vegetarian Times for instructions on how.