What are sprouted foods?
When I was a little kid, we would go visit my grandparents for weeks on end each summer. All of my grandparents loved to garden but my dad's mom seemed to take it to the next level. On top of growing her carrots, blueberries, and a variety of leafy greens behind her apple orchard, she also had a row of jars along her kitchen windowsill. In each jar, I could see little budding sprouts coming out of a variety of seeds!
I remember asking her what those were and she explained that she was sprouting seeds. I never really asked more than that though, I just assumed those sprouts were another version of indoor plants. She was not growing house plants though, she was using those sprouted seeds in her meals, way ahead of her time!
Sprouted foods have been around for quite some time, but it seems like more and more "sprouted" products are hitting the market. Intrigued? So are we! Let's talk through the basics of sprouted foods.
What does it mean for a food to be "sprouted?"
Sprouting is essentially taking a seed and starting the germination process. This involves many variables, including moisture, temperature, and time to name a few. During the germination process, the resources (nutrients) stored within the seed are mobilized to fuel the development of a new plant! These mobilized nutrients can provide nutrition benefits to us when we eat sprouted foods - more on this in a minute!
What foods can be sprouted then? Essentially, any seed can be sprouted, which includes nuts, legumes, grains, and of course foods we traditionally think of as seeds. Sprouted foods can be eaten raw, can be cooked, or can be turned into flour and further transformed into other foods like breads or pastas.
Nutritional benefits of sprouted foods
The sprouting process can have many beneficial nutrition impacts:
The sprouting process can increase the amount of dietary fiber in a seed (remember, that can be a grain, legume, nut, etc.). Dietary fiber plays an important role in preventing constipation, reducing cholesterol, and controlling blood sugar levels.
Sprouted seeds may also have an increased essential amino acid content. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and these essential amino acids are extra important because we cannot make them ourselves, we have to get them through our diet.
Sprouted seeds may also contain higher amounts of antioxidants than unsprouted seeds. Antioxidants help to fight damage caused by free radicals which can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
As if that were not enough, the sprouting process also reduces the amount of phytates found in seeds. Phytates are sometimes referred to as anti-nutrients because they can decrease our ability to absorb important nutrients. Lower phytate levels mean some nutrients like zinc, iron, and calcium are more bioavailable to us when eating these seeds.
In addition to improving the nutritional profile of foods, the process of sprouting can make foods easier for our body’s digestive system to process. It is important to note though that the extent of the beneficial changes that occur during sprouting vary depending on what type of seed you’re trying to germinate, the time a seed is sprouted, temperature, moisture, and much more. In fact, more research is still needed to better understand the optimal conditions needed to get the most out of sprouting each type of seed.
How sprouted foods fit into a healthy, balanced diet
Sprouted seeds can absolutely be part of a balanced and healthy diet. There are countless products on the market so start looking and give them a try! Remember though, there is no one magical food that makes a diet healthy so when you are buying products with sprouted ingredients, be sure to consider the entire ingredient list. As always, continue to focus on eating a variety of foods, prepared in a variety of ways.
Sprouting yourself versus buying sprouted foods
While sprouting seeds is not challenging, there is some risk involved: any time you expose a food product to a moist, warm environment, there is a risk for foodborne illness if it is not properly managed. For that reason, it may be best to leave it to the pros and buy sprouted products at your local store or market! Be sure to check the storage instructions - sprouted foods often require refrigeration.
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