Dr. Courtenay Boer
Sprouting 101: Health Benefits of Sprouted Foods + A Tutorial
What are sprouted foods?
Simply put, sprouted foods are seeds, pulses or grains which have been allowed to germinate and put out shoots. Through a soaking and rinsing process, the grains, seeds or pulses begin to grow, but don’t reach full maturity, resulting in a sprouted food.
You’ve likely seen alfalfa sprouts in the supermarket, and sprouted grains are quickly growing in popularity! Many foods can be sprouted, including:
Grains: barley, spelt, oat, wheat, corn, rice, rye
Legumes: alfalfa, clover, mung bean, soybean, lentils, peas, chickpeas
Seeds: hemp, chia, sesame, almond, sunflower
Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, radish, broccoli and many others
The process of sprouting is also very easy to do at home, and requires just a little bit of patience. Wondering if it’s worth your time? Read on to find out if you should try sprouting, and how to do it!
Health Benefits of Sprouts
There are several benefits to eating sprouted foods, one of which is that they have a more stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels than non-sprouted foods. Through the germination process, the starch within the seed is broken down, changing the food’s nutritional profile. Proportionately, sprouted foods contain higher amounts of protein and fibre, lowering their Glycemic Index (a relative measure of how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels). For example, sprouted grain breads have been shown to elicit a lower blood sugar response than both white and whole-grain breads of the same carbohydrate content (1).
The germination process mentioned above also makes the seeds and grains easier to digest, due to the breakdown of starch and protective seed coat. This makes sprouts a particularly wonderful food for those that have difficulty digesting grains, and can decrease the gas and bloating associated with eating legumes. In addition, a compound within seed coats called phytic acid is also partially degraded. Phytic acid binds metal ions in foods, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium, decreasing their bioavailability, and is thus considered an “anti-nutrient.” Sprouting decreases levels of phytic acid in the sprouted foods.
Sprouted foods are also packed with nutrients! They are high in Vitamin C and contain trace B-vitamins, which are significantly increased through germination (2), and have higher levels of zinc and iron (which may partially be due to the phytic acid degradation). Mung beans have been found to be high in potassium, while clover sprouts are higher in calcium. Sprouting rye has been shown to increase the levels of folate (Vitamin B9) by up to 3.8 times (3)!
How To Sprout
The process of sprouting is very simple and fun to do!
You’ll need :
A wide-mouth mason jar (I used a 1 litre jar)
A sprouting lid, screen, or cheesecloth (I made my own from an embroidery sheet I bought from Michaels and cut to size)
Sprouting seeds (I used this mix from Organic Matters)
There are two basic steps in sprouting: soaking and sprouting (rinse/drain cycles). Different legumes, nuts, and seeds will need different lengths of time for both soaking and sprouting. A quick google search will bring up lots of resources and tables outlining these, and I’ve also included a table below of some of my favourite sprouted foods.
1. Soaking: To begin the sprouting process, add the seeds, beans, legumes or grains to our widemouth mason jar. How much you add will depend on how many sprouts you want to end up with. I’ve found that 1 tbsp. of sprouting mix yields approximately 1 cup of sprouts, so I would recommend 1-2 tbsp. of seeds. Cover with filtered water, at least 2-3 cups, and put the sprouting lid/screen/cheesecloth on the jar, securing with the metal ring or a rubber band. Allow the mix to soak for the appropriate time (see the table above).
2. Drain & rinse:
After soaking, drain the water out through the top of the sprouting lid. Pour fresh water through the lid and over the seeds, shake the jar to rinse thoroughly, and drain again. Repeat this process one more time. After draining, you want to let the seeds sit and sprout while continually draining. With the lid on securely, turn the jar upside down and place it in a bowl at a 45 degree angle to let any remaining water drain out.
3. Sprouting: Repeat the rinsing and draining process 2-3 times per day (about every 8 hours), for the number of days outlined in the table above. Many foods begin sprouting on day 1 (you’ll see a small “tail” coming out of the seed). You’ll know they’re ready when the tails are at least the length of the seed, often between ½ cm – 5 cm in length.
Ensure the sprouts are fully drained after their last rinse. It’s recommended to eat your sprouts right away, but they can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days, in a sealed container. I like to use mine as toppers on salads, in a stir fry, or on wraps/sandwiches.
A few Words of Caution
Contamination: The sprouting process relies on a warm, moist environment – the kind of environment bacteria tend to love! It’s therefore important to keep your tools, sprouting environment, and hands clean during the sprouting process. It’s best to keep the sprouts away from other food preparation areas and aim to keep them at room temperature.
Cooking sprouts has been recommended as a way to kill bacteria like E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. In general, if you are using good, clean technique and eat your sprouts within a few days of sprouting them, you should be fine. That being said, raw sprouts are not for everyone: young children, pregnant women, and the elderly, as well as those with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts.
Phytic acid: I mentioned this compound of seed coats earlier, and while sprouting does degrade some of the phytic acid in seeds and legumes, some will still remain. Therefore, it’s important not to eat too many sprouts. That being said, these would have to make up a large part of your diet before it became problematic!
So, there you have it! Sprouts are a fun and easy way to grow nutrient-rich foods right at home. Will you try sprouting?
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me!
1. Mofidi, A. et al. (2012). The Acute Impact of Ingestion of Sourdough and Whole-Grain Breads on Blood Glucose, Insulin, and Incretins in Overweight and Obese Men. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2012: 184710.
2. Burkholder, P. and McVeigh, I. (1942). The Increase of B Vitamins in Germinating Seeds. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 28(10): 440-446.
3. Kariluoto, S. et al. (2006). Effect of germination and thermal treatments on folates in rye. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 15(54): 9522-9528.