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While everyone in the Northeast is cuddling with their littles indoors during the Blizzard of 2013 we are all looking for things to do with our overzealous children! My 5 (and 3/4) year old had a great question earlier today, and I quote “will sprouts survive snowmageddon?” I had to chuckle and wonder how she knew the term snowmageddon. With that query aside I had to answer “yes, inside.” That led us to our next activity; sprouting.
My kids love sprouting almost everything, but their favourite is clover because it is fast and furious and rather impressive. But you can sprout just about any bean, legume, seed, pulse or grain. Why would one ever want to do this? Nutrition, of couse! Through sprouting (or soaking) you can turn these small little pieces of nourishment into nutrient dense powerhouses that are much easier for you to digest and are a healthier snack and addition to any recipe. A seed (or grain or legume or pulse or bean) have many nutritional advantages but many of them are inhibited by anti-nutrients (such as phytic acid which is good for you in small amounts but stops nutrient absorption in larger amounts). Once the germinating process begins by soaking the seed the seed has been activated and is a living plant. The anti-nutrients are discarded and the seed has been changed, inside and out. When you eat that seed you are no longer eating just a seed, but a tiny little plant.
The process is simple and the pay off is huge. When you sprout you are:
- Neutralizing phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors
- Aiding digestibility
- Providing additional nutrition
- Alkalizing the body
Neutralizing Phytic Acid and Enzyme Inhibitors
Phytic acid is a phosphorus compound found in most plant foods. When first introduced to the diet, it binds with minerals, particularly calcium, iron, and zinc to form insoluble compounds that are carried out of the body in the stool. This means that it is extremely difficult to assimilate these nutrients and can irritate the digestive system. By sprouting (or soaking or fermenting foods), you prevent the phytic acid from blocking minerals and leaves a little phytic acid for the beneficial effects it has on your body. You will also be neutralizing enzyme inhibitors, which unfortunately inhibit enzymes in the actual seed, and valuable enzymes within your digestive system that are needed for optimum digestion once they have been eaten.
Hot tip: discard the soaking water to your houseplants!
Have you ever heard someone tell you they won’t eat beans or legumes because it causes them terrible, un-scently intestinal gas? There are other changes that take place during sprouting that make it easier for us (and the people around us) to digest these healthy foods.
Phytic acid does not cause the gas from legumes. The carbohydrate found in legumes, which is highly fermentable and hard to break down, causes this. Soaking will help reduce some of the fat content and convert the dense vegetable protein to simpler amino acids for easier digestion. The more complex carbohydrates in the foods will also start to break down into simpler glucose molecules.
Hot tip: add a piece of kombu seaweed or one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar while soaking to ease digestion and flatulence.
Other Nutritional Advantages
Beans, legumes and pulses and whole grains are rich in minerals and B vitamins (especially B2, B5, and B6), and when combined, can provide complete protein for the body. Sprouting increases carotene dramatically, and also creates an abundance of vitamins C, D, E and K, calcium, complex carbohydrates, chlorophyll, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, all amino acids, and trace elements.
Alkalizing to the Body
Some foods are acid forming, and some are alkalizing to your internal pH. We need a balance of acid to alkaline food to maintain the perfect pH levels. The average American diet is acidic and contributes to many ailments and diseases (this is information for another post). By sprouting your grains and legumes, you are creating a more alkaline food you have started the process of making a plant. A little more like eating a plant or vegetable so therefore more alkalizing.
How to Sprout (the basics)
Bean sprouting tops (for standard mason jars) can be bought at your health food store or online. You can also make one from some muslin, cheesecloth or gauze and a preserving ring or rubber band. There are also sprouters available online.
Sprouting is very easy and takes little time and virtually no green thumb:
- Put two to three tablespoons of beans, seeds, or grain in a screw top jar and half fill the jar with warm water.
- Leave to soak overnight.
- Pour off the water.
- Rinse once or twice and stand upside down until the water drains out completely.
- Keep the sprouts in a dark area or cover them with a kitchen towel until you see they are germinating.
- At this stage, bring them into the light to develop their green tips that contain chlorophyll.
- Rinse twice daily until the sprouts are at least 3-cm long or have two baby leaves.
Please remember to drain water out completely, if you leave the sprouts standing in their water they will quickly rot. Also, do not try to sprout too many seeds at once because they increase their size rapidly. Wash the jar thoroughly between sprouting.
Sprouts are best when fresh so try to prepare only as much as you can use in three days. If you need to sprouts will keep crisp for up to a week if stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container. Sprouts are delicious raw in salads, sandwiches, or added to soups and casseroles at the end of cooking. They can be blended with drinks or added to desserts. Sunflower sprouts can be dried in the oven, ground, and added to baking or granola.
Sprouts are particularly useful during the winter months when the supply of garden fresh vegetables is low. Children in particular marvel at the miracle of sprouts and are more likely to eat them when involved in their production!
You can find a chart with a variety of seeds and their sprouting times on my website under Hot Topics.
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In January 2013 I realized I needed to do something to improve my health. I spent 2012 on maternity leave and often neglected taking care of my own health (sleepless nights and caring for a tiny human will do that!). Not to mention the many years before that where health was at the bottom of my list of priorities. Luckily, I discovered Lisa's 30 day green smoothie challenge. The recipes were incredible and a green smoothie drinker was born! But I didn't stop there. Starting each day in such a healthy way led me to consult with a naturopath (it would have been Lisa if we were in the same city), do an elimination diet, and discover that I have sensitivities to wheat and milk. I changed to a whole foods-based diet (most of the time) and took up running. In the span of 8.5 months I went from being tired and sluggish on the couch (literally - I could run for one minute at a time before having to walk) to having enough energy to run the Detroit International Half Marathon. I actually RAN the whole thing! And I lost almost 60lbs along the way! Thank you, Lisa, for being my catalyst. Your challenge kept me interested in a new way of living and saved me! I continue to drink a green smoothie every day for breakfast. What a wonderful way to start each day!
Thank you thank you thank you!!!
Imogen Meloche Windsor, Ontario