Managing to eat breakfast before work (let alone a nutritious one) sometimes feels like an achievement. Packing a salad lunch instead of opting for the vending machine and cooking a healthy homemade dinner rather than eating eggs on toast is serious #adulting. And as much as we’d love to whip up these perfectly-balanced meals, more often than not, we just don’t have the time.
So if we told you that instead of popping your packet rice in the microwave or stirring up some quinoa, you should be leaving your grains to soak for hours (if not days), we wouldn’t be surprised to receive a few eye rolls in return.
But according to Jayta Szpitalak, founder of health food brand Fermentanicals that specialises in sprouted and fermented products, we really should be sprouting our grains. Not only does it make them easier to digest, it can also increase their nutritional profile. We sat down with the sprouting enthusiast to find out more.
So what even are sprouted grains?
All grains are considered seeds, and sprouted grains—which are grains that have been long soaked—differ from regular grains because they have been germinated and begun the ‘growth’ process of becoming a plant.
What this means is that the digestive barriers that generally coat seeds (and traditionally wreak havoc on your digestive system) such as phytic acid, gluten, and lectin, etc. are broken down and neutralised.
What are the benefits of sprouted (vs. non-sprouted) grains?
Though sprouting is a new trend, the growing body of research suggests that sprouted grains have far more nutritional benefits than their non-sprouted equivalents.
Through the germination process, the nutritional composition of the grain changes. Although each grain is unique, studies have found that the removal of digestive inhibitors and the deactivation of anti-growth enzymes increase the micronutrient elements of the grains, often doubling the antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It can lead to increased folate, higher levels of vitamin B & C, and higher levels of important minerals such as magnesium and iron. Take sprouted buckwheat for example, research shows that the sprouted version may help decrease blood pressure and that it can assist with fatty liver.
The process also results in a reduction of carbohydrates and an increase in complete amino acids and proteins. They often contain fewer calories than their non-sprouted equivalents and the grain itself becomes more alkaline.
Essentially, sprouting pre-digests the grain, so it breaks down complex sugar molecules, making it more bioavailable.
What implications does this have for people suffering from gluten sensitivity or digestive problems?
They may be more tolerable for people with grain sensitivity as they have lower levels of phytates, gluten and up to three times more soluble fibre than their non-sprouted equivalent. Those who suffer from gas and bloating from grains may find relief with sprouted grains as the harmful digestive barriers are broken down.
Sprouting grains can potentially benefit the gut too as healthy bacteria are created during the sprouting process that can aid the microflora.
Are certain grains more beneficial than others when sprouted?
As a sprouting and fermenting enthusiast, this question is hard to answer. Each grain has a unique nutritional composition, and sprouting certainly enhances each grain in a unique way. While I believe each grain should be consumed in its sprouted form, I truly think sprouting does amazing things to both flax and chia. Both these grains are an amazing source of healthy fats such as omegas, fibre, and antioxidants.
The problem with both grains when non-sprouted is that they are coated in phytic acid, which makes them very hard to break down, absorb and digest. As such, we are traditionally told that we should mill flax, for example, to help aid digestion, and this is simply not true. Milling does not remove the digestive barriers, so often these seeds are just passing right through you without your body benefiting from its potent nutritional elements. Also, imagine the morning chia puddings that have become so popular. You are essentially soaking the chia overnight and the harsh acids coating the seed simply spread through the liquid you added.
Sprouting not only removes these digestive barriers, but it also doubles the antioxidants which also protect the high lipid content found in these seeds from going rancid as quickly. So, not only are the nutrients and minerals tripled in flax and chia, it also increases the shelf life as well. You can still use both these seeds the same way you would as traditional flax and chia.
What are the disadvantages of sprouting grains?
A potential disadvantage to sprouting is the warm, moist condition needed to germinate and sprout grains is the same environment that also facilitates bacterial growth. Due to this, you could have potential unwanted harmful bacteria found within your DIY sprouted grains. This concern can be mitigated however by either consuming sprouted grains from a brand that grows the sprouts in a controlled environment and heavily tests each batch and takes measures to prevent contamination or by cooking the grains as the heat will kill any bacteria.
Another potential concern is that sprouting does break down gluten in grains that have gluten, such as wheat, however it does not completely eliminate it. So those who suffer from a gluten sensitivity should still be careful when consuming those grains.