Eating whole grains is better for you. Can you improve on that? Yes. By eating sprouted grains, beans, and seeds to improve digestion and nutrient availability.
To improve our health, we are encouraged to eat more minimally processed, whole foods. One way to achieve this is by consuming more whole-grain products. Grains are actually seeds so they come pre-loaded with nutrients that are needed to support the life of a new plant. When you leave these parts intact before turning grains of wheat into a loaf of bread, for example, they’re considered “whole.”
Not only do foods made with whole grains have more nutrients, they’re also digested relatively slowly, keeping your blood sugar more level and avoiding the highs and lows that make many of us feel bad. This is a benefit of eating many minimally processed foods, and it’s especially important for people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic.
So eating whole grains is better for you. Can you improve on that?
Yes. By eating sprouted grains.
What are sprouted grains?
When a previously dormant seed is sprouted, a transformation occurs that makes it easier to digest and helps free up its nutrients so your digestive system better absorbs them. Once the inedible husk is removed from the seed (or kernel), you’re left with the three edible parts:
- The bran is the outer skin of the kernel that contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber.
- The germ is the embryo that has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
- The endosperm is the germ’s food supply, providing energy to the new plant. It’s the largest part of the kernel and contains carbohydrates, proteins, and traces of vitamins and minerals.
Most types of seeds are protected by a husk and the bran, and growth inhibitors prevent the seed from germinating until the environment can support a new plant, according to the Whole Grains Council. When temperature and moisture conditions are just right, sprouting begins. Enzyme activity within the sprouting seed wipes out the growth inhibitors and transforms the starch of the endosperm into simpler molecules that are easily digested by the growing plant. Just like a baby plant, many people also find these simple molecules easier to digest.
Not only does sprouting make grains easier to digest, it also increases the amount and bio-availability of some vitamins and minerals. A similar process occurs when you sprout legumes (also called pulses), typically beans, peas, and lentils.
What do you do with sprouted grains?
There are two main ways you can use sprouted grains and legumes. You can sprout beans and grains and use them in their sprouted form just as you would use them unsprouted. For example, sprouted kidney or pinto beans in chili or sprouted garbanzo beans in homemade hummus. Alternatively, you can sprout the chosen grain, seed, or bean and use the sprout itself in a salad, on a sandwich, in stir-fry dishes. Use your imagination!
Although eating anything raw carries a potential risk, because seeds need a warm and humid environment in which to grow, they have a greater risk of growing harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and Escherichia coli. Most often the source of contamination in sprouts comes from the seeds. Although pathogen levels are likely very low in the seeds, the process of sprouting provides ideal conditions for pathogenic bacteria to multiply rapidly.
Cooking sprouted legumes and grains thoroughly can significantly reduce your risk of illness. At risk populations — children, the elderly, and people with compromised immunity — should avoid eating raw sprouts, and cooked sprouts should be heated until steaming or they have reached a temperature of 165 F or greater.
How to grow your own sprouted grains
One nice thing about growing sprouts at home is you have control over your environment. For normal-risk people, using a highly sterile process should minimize the possibility of contracting foodborne illness while providing you with a healthful source of protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients. The process recommended for home growers by the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) follows.
1. Buy certified, pathogen-free seed. There are many varieties to choose from to suit your tastes and interests. DANR recommends that you specifically request pathogen-free seed because it’s not usually marketed that way. There are currently two sources: SproutPeople.org and W. Atlee Burpee & Co. Although certified organic sprout seed is available from several additional sources, the term “organic” does not necessarily mean that the seed is pathogen-free or that it has been tested for pathogens. This also does not suggest that organically grown seed poses any elevated risk of illness, DANR adds.
2. Before sprouting, treat your seeds by heating them on your stove in a solution of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (the kind you buy at the drug store) for five minutes. Preheat the hydrogen peroxide to 140 F and maintain this heat using a good cooking thermometer. DANR suggests putting the seeds into a fine-mesh strainer and submerging it into the heated solution, swirling it every minute to achieve uniform treatment. Larger volumes of seed can be placed directly into the pan but should be stirred occasionally to ensure uniform treatment. Discard solution after use.
3. Rinse the seeds in running tap water for one minute. DANR also recommends putting the rinsed seeds in a container covered with tap water plus one inch. Skim off any floating seeds or other debris. Research has tied most contamination to these materials.
4. Sprout the seeds in clean, sanitized containers away from areas of high household traffic, pets, and food preparation. Sanitize your containers using household bleach (don’t use scented laundry bleach). Soak containers in a solution of ¾ cup bleach per gallon of water for at least 5 minutes, then rinse with clean tap water.
Your seeds will sprout and be ready to eat in one to four days, depending on the type of seed and whether you want to eat sprouts or simply sprouted seeds. Refrigerate and consume within two or three days.
February 23, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN