Seeds are miraculous little things. They come pre-loaded with all the genetic blueprints necessary to fully develop and reseed into future generations. They themselves are the latest and greatest iteration of millennia of evolutionary fine-tuning. But they are also packed with an impressive array of vitamins and nutrients that are necessary to support this incredible process. In fact, in the first week or so before photosynthesis can occur, and before their roots have developed enough to drink life from the soil, these nutrients are all that is needed to awaken the seeds from their dormant slumber. Just add water. It’s during this initial ‘sprouting’ period that the highest bioavailability of nutrients occurs. Sprouts certainly are superfoods in every sense of the word.
It’s a certain kind of magic, and is one that many ancient cultures intuitively identified as well. Asian cultures in particular have long utilized various forms of sprouts for medicinal and nutritional applications. A few centuries ago, westerners first began using sprouts to treat dietary conditions such as Scurvy. Only in the last few decades however, have westerners begun to discover the full potential of spouting. Following, we’ll take a closer look at the health benefits associated with sprouting and how you can begin sprouting these superfoods on your own.
We intentionally begin with digestion, as optimal digestion is critical to provide the nourishment needed to keep all the body’s systems happy and healthy. Sprouts are rich in various enzymes that are critical to a number of metabolic processes, including the physical digestion of food in the gut.
The high dietary fiber content in sprouts helps to bulk stool size, making it easier to pass through the digestive tract. With less strain, digestion takes less energy, leaving more energy available for other purposes. The smooth movement of stool massages the gut and encourages the production of gastric juices that lower the risk of diarrhea, constipation and even cancer.
As we’ll see, improving overall gut health can also provide a huge boost to the immune system while improving the body’s detoxification. This alone can play a role in treating conditions ranging from acne to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Of course, with effective digestion, we also allow the nutritional benefits of sprouts (and other foods we eat) to nourish us at the deepest possible level.
It’s now thought that around 70% of cells making up the immune system reside in the gut wall. The digestive benefits of sprouts help to protect this little-known army from destruction. Unhelpful bacteria also reside in the gut, but can be better managed with good digestion. This provides the body’s first defense from harmful bugs.
We also find that the body more easily absorbs vitamin A and C, both of which are found in sprouts. These vitamins boost the production of white blood cells, which protect us from various infections and allergic reactions.
The high protein content in sprouts means they are also beneficial to general cell health, repair and maintenance. Sprouts are therefore a great staple for vegans who don’t consume any animal protein.
The high iron content in sprouts means they can improve red blood cell production and help prevent anemia. Healthy red blood cell levels can also be associated with improved concentration and fatigue levels.
Interestingly, sprouts are also a good source of plant-based omega-3. Omega-3 is a saturated fat that can’t be produced by the body from other nutrients, but is essential to our wellbeing. It’s up to us to ensure we consume enough of the stuff, particularly if we don’t eat rich animal-based sources like fish. This will encourage the production of HDL (the good cholesterol), which helps the heart by removing LDL (the bad, artery-clogging cholesterol) from the blood.
What’s the ultimate result of improved circulation? By improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the body, we prime them for optimal performance. What could be better for us than health at the cellular level?
How to sprout (safely)
The sprouting process requires both warmth and moisture. It’s not surprising that this is the same environment that bacteria need to flourish. It was this that led to a number of well-publicized cases of foodborne illness that were ultimately traced to tainted sprouts. While many assume this applies only to commercial sprouts, the same risks are in fact present when sprouting at home. So, while sprouting is both fun and cost effective, it’s important to take care. Let’s take a look at a safe and effective way to sprout.
You will need: a canning-jar, a sprouting tray (optional), a kitchen sieve, a clean breathable cloth, a rubber-band.
Choose what to sprout
You can select from a variety of seeds, beans or grains. A few popular choices include alfalfa, broccoli, lentil, wheat and mung beans, but feel free to experiment with almost anything.
Whatever you choose to sprout, rinsing them well is the first step to help ensure they are bacteria-free. Place the seeds in a fine sieve and run cold water over them for one minute while shaking from side to side. Some folks also recommend preceding this step with one to heat and sanitize the seeds. Though not absolutely necessary, this does provide an additional level of safety.
Sterilize a canning jar by submerging it in boiling water for 15 minutes. Place the seeds in the sterilized jar, cover them with water, then add another inch of water to allow for absorption. Cover the jar with a clean, breathable cloth and a rubber band. Allow the seeds to soak for 8-12 hours. This step will ‘activate’ the dormant seeds, bringing them to life. In fact, you can begin consuming your sprouts in ‘semi-raw’ form after completing this step. The soaking process helps to remove non-digestible carbohydrates that can cause gas and other digestive issues.
Empty the seeds into the sieve and rinse well. Transfer the seeds into a sprouting tray, spreading them evenly and thinly. This will ensure that water drains effectively, as too much moisture can allow bacteria to take hold. If you don’t have access to a sprouting tray, you can also use a jar.
To maintain the sterile environment we’ve worked so hard to create, ensure you rinse the seeds at least twice daily as they begin to sprout. It’s okay for the seeds to be left moist, but double check that you don’t have any standing water. It’s normal for ambient air to hold various bacteria, so rinsing and fully draining will ensure that they don’t latch onto your developing sprouts.
Most sprouts will be ready to harvest in 3-10 days. All seeds, beans and grains grow at different rates however, so it’s difficult to specify an exact growth period. What’s the best practice? Experiment, and use your intuition! Happy sprouting.