In our quest for the healthiest possible grains and legumes, so far we’ve wrassled yeast into a jar and learned to feed it, coaxed things to sprout in our kitchens, and fiddled around with soaking oatmeal or flours. I hope you are convinced that sourdough preparation is proven to increase nutrients, improve digestibility and neutralize phytic acid in grains. Now for sprouting.
As with most nutritional questions, there are approximately 5,390 sides to this question, many of which are individual to each person, which multiplies that number by 7 billion.
Let’s amble through a little pro/con list, and then I’ll do the evil ending of letting you decide for yourself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Why Sprout Grains (and Legumes and Stuff)?
Of the potential issues with consumption of grains, the most widely recognized is the carb problem. Carbohydrates can be stored as fat too easily, and many would say that carbs don’t give very well-metabolized energy, even whole grain kinds.
Sprouting cuts the carbs. Sprouting also increases Vitamins C and A immensely.
When a seed begins to sprout, many systems kick into place:
- Enzyme inhibitors, there to prevent the seed from germinating (beginning to grow) while in storage, are neutralized and done away with by the soaking action.
- Once the inhibitors are gone, the new plant is able to begin consuming the stored food (in the endosperm – the starch!) and using that energy to grow a sprout.
- Some energy is used in this process, which is why it makes sense that sprouts have fewer calories than the legume or grain in its whole form.
- The growing plant also activates phytase, an enzyme that will help break the phytate bond and dissolve phytic acid. This releases phosphorus, calcium, iron, and other good minerals from their bondage inside the seed.
- Destroys lectins, which trigger inflammation and related problems
Disadvantages to Sprouting
- Some sources say the phytate content is not affected as much with sprouting as soaking
- It takes more pre-planning and a smidge more time than soaking
- If you don’t have at least a grain grinder and preferably a dehydrator, you can’t sprout your own grains for baking
- Sprouted flour, when purchased, is very expensive – so if soaking works for flour, it may feel like a better option
Why Soak Grains?
- Also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors
- May reduce phytic acid’s effect on bonded minerals, more so percentage-wise than sprouting, but still less than sourdough and far less than 100%
- Although using the accelerated fermentation for brown rice can reduce phytic acid by a whopping 96%
- May begin to break down the gluten proteins, helping some people tolerate gluten better
- Some individuals find that soaking really makes a difference in their tolerance and digestion of grains. Some also find that sprouting is the only thing that works! (Perhaps the difference is whether the original problem with grains for that person is phytates, gluten, or lectins.)
Why Not Soak Grains?
- Some sources say phytic acid is actually helpful to our systems
- May break down fiber, which may or may not be healthy (talk about confusing!)
- Doesn’t touch lectins
- May not be as effective when already flour, especially if not freshly ground
Sprouted and Soaked vs. “The Norm”
I would love to find some science that compares the nutrition, enzyme inhibitors and phytates in an amount of beans, and then that exact handful examined after soaking and after sprouting. It’s hard to compare one cup of dry vs. sprouted beans or even one ounce, because I know that sprouting makes beans feel lighter and increases their size simply because they’ve begun growing.
To make the following comparison list, I compared Hard Red Winter Wheat with Sprouted Wheat (both uncooked, I assume) and cooked kidney beans with sprouted cooked kidney beans at Nutrition Data. Here is what I found:
Sprouting kidney beans increases:
- Vitamin A and C (C is incredible – from 2%DV to 59%DV)
- Sodium (4x)
- Protein (by ½)
- Fats (5x)
- Carbs (by 2/3)
- Fiber (almost to nothing)
- Folic acid (by half)
- Vitamin K (to zero)
- Vitamin E (to zero)
- Vitamin B6 in half
- Choline (to zero)
- Total calories (by 2/3)
- glycemic load (by 2/3)
- inflammation factor (considerably in wheat)
The decrease in carbs makes perfect sense, since initiating the sprout effectively changes a seed full of starch into a baby plant, which begins to consume that starch. This may make sprouted beans a better option for diabetics:
When a dormant seed sprouts, its starch is converted into simple sugars, and long chain proteins are split into smaller, easily digestible molecules. Sprouted beans and seeds are like a pre-digested food, one of the most enzyme-rich and nutritious foods known . (source)
In wheat, unlike kidney beans, the protein and fats both decreased by 2/3.
Perhaps although the total amounts of minerals and vitamins seem to be decreased, they are more bioavailable to us post-sprouting?
Here’s what the real researchers found:
One study out of the University of Minnesota found that the nutrient density of sprouted wheat was in some instances hundreds of times higher than in whole wheat, specifically in vitamin C, folic acid, niacin and riboflavin (vitamin B2). (source) These studies have also demonstrated a significant increase in various enzymes, including amylase, protease and lipase. (source)
Handy! Sailors who knew better wouldn’t worry about eating their citrus and saving the rest for later. They could just sprout grains to get their Vitamin C.
UPDATE: I just read this: “Soy and kidney bean sprouts are toxic and should be avoided. Sprouted lentils, black eyed beans, partridge peas, peanuts and vetch retain phytates which cause poor digestion and gas,” here, and although the author doesn’t source his post, he’s right about many of his facts. Besides that, these sprouted lentils DID give me awful gas! (Bet you wanted to know that, right?)
UPDATE: Readers chime in with helpful info! Check the comments, but here’s a highlight: “Kidney bean sprouts may not be eaten raw, due to a high level of phytohemagglutinin. Boiling for 10 minutes destroys this protein structure and makes them safe. (Meaning, probably not the best bean to cook on low in your crockpot.)”
Here is an excellent sprouting guide, with what temp water to use, how long to soak and how long to sprout. It’s what I needed when I was just fumbling around making things up as I went!
What is Germinated Brown Rice (GBR)?
In my eyes, GBR is the link between the proven benefits of sprouting and the practice of soaking grains that I’m exploring.
To germinate rice, you simply soak in warm water overnight, drain and continue to kep moist for a time. Sounds just like sprouting for me!
ABC Science says that “Germinated rice contains much more fiber than conventional brown rice, say the researchers, three times the amount of the essential amino acid lysine, and ten times the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), another amino acid known to improve kidney function.” It also may fight Alzheimer’s and pumps up the zinc in the wheat.
Because of the relatively low phytase content in brown rice and the necessity of phytase to neutralize the phytic acid, you need to make sure you’re finding some phytase somewhere. With my morning oats, I just add a scoop of whole wheat flour. Here is a new way to soak rice. It calls for saving just a bit of the soak water for the next batch of rice, whenever that may be!
The information for this post pretty much comes from my own former posts on the subjects as found in my exploration of soaking grains. They’re all cited well within those individual posts.
I still remain convinced that sourdough is the best way to go for healthy grains, but there’s a big commitment to sourdough, and although the teachers at GNOWFGLINS eCourse can show you how to make (seriously) just about everything with sourdough, there are still some grains (oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa) that you’d eat differently, without sourdough.
So. Maybe a mixture of both is the way to go.