HOT NEW HABIT: Sprouting 

Sprouts are oxygen-rich, living foods but if you’re buying them from your supermarket, you’re most certainly overpaying – they are so easy and cheap to grow at home

You can sprout almost any grain, seed or bean you would ordinarily eat, and you can grow these tiny nutritional powerhouses in just a few days, on just a few inches of counter space for just a few pennies,

Here’s why you should do it

  • Sprouting significantly amps up the nutritional profile of the underlying seed and the sprouts will generally have their highest concentration of nutrients after about a week. 
  • Sprouting also increases the protein content of the underlying seed, with some amino acids rising by as much as 30%.
  • Sprouts contain a high number of living enzymes that help in the digestive process, contributing to the break down of food and the absorption of nutrients.
  • The dietary fibre in sprouts can help you feel fuller for longer, plus it inhibits the release of the hormone ghrelin, commonly known as “the hunger hormone.” Ghrelin, which is produced in the stomach,  is the hormone responsible for signalling to the brain that we need to eat.  
  • Sprouts are a great source of omega-3 and are abundant in antioxidants which help prevent premature ageing.
  • The increased vitamin C content in sprouted seeds is what gives them their immune system boosting properties.
  • Sprouting also increases the chlorophyll content which has a host of benefits including helping to detoxify the body and decreasing the risk of cancer.

Sprouting and soaking seeds, nuts, legumes and grains is actually an ancient piece of wisdom, left behind in the rush to make food into a mass-market commodity. In her book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon tells us that the Chinese are to be credited for discovering the value of sprouted seeds and germinated legumes.

“They carried mung beans on their ocean-going ships, sprouted them throughout their voyages and consumed them in sufficient quantities to prevent scurvy. The Chinese instinctively knew that an important factor missing in non-germinated seeds would be produced during the sprouting process – that substance is vitamin C.”

A bit about the science

Unsprouted nuts seeds, legumes and grains contain Phytic Acid and Enzyme Inhibitors

Phytic Acid In Plants: Phytates (phytic acid) are antioxidant compounds (particularly high in grains) that keep the seed safe until the right conditions are presented for germination.

Phytic Acid In Humans: Phytates can bind to minerals (magnesium, calcium, zinc, copper and iron) in our intestines, slowly blocking their absorption and carrying them out of the body.

Ruminants, such as cattle and sheep, are the only animals that can digest the phytic acid found in the cereal grasses that they eat. In humans, too much phytic acid can cause digestive issues and mineral deficiencies. This is something to consider if you are consuming a high amount of nuts, seeds, legumes and grains as part of your diet. Research has linked phytic acid consumption to anaemia, bone density loss, tooth decay, compromised immunity and inflammation.

Enzyme inhibitors In Plants: Enzyme inhibitors are useful to plants as they prevent the seed from sprouting too early.

Enzyme Inhibitors In Humans: Enzyme inhibitors found in unsprouted seeds can interfere with the activity of Trypsin – an enzyme produced in the pancreas which helps breakdown the many different types of proteins we consume.  

Sprouting can significantly reduce phytic acid content and the biological activity of  enzyme inhibitors

Here’s what you need to get started

With the right sprouting jar, it’s super easy.

Excellent drainage and ventilation is the key to success, and I’ve been using these Eschenfelder Glass Sprouting Jars for two years with consistently excellent results.

Always choose an organic seed supplier like Premier Seeds Direct and use filtered water to grow the seeds. Mung beans are a great place to start for first-time sprouters. I suggest purchasing a small packet of seeds to begin with as you only need a tablespoon each time. Once you’ve successfully harvested your first crop and feeling confident, you can move on to broccoli, radish, and fenugreek. After that you could try sprouting chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, adzuki bean… there are so many to try!

The one seed to be careful of is alfalfa sprouts, despite it being one of the most prevalent in supermarkets. Sally Fallon’s research highlights tests that show “alfalfa sprouts inhibit the immune system and can contribute to inflammatory arthritis and lupus. Alfalfa seeds contain an amino acid called canavanine that can be toxic to man and animals when taken in quantity.” This came up time and again while I was studying to be a natural food chef.

So let’s do this!

Step 1

Place one tablespoon of seeds into the glass jar and put the perforated lid back on. Fill the jar with filtered water, through the perforated lid, just enough to cover the seeds. Briefly swill the water around and tip the jar upside down to drain out as much of the water as possible. Place the jar in it’s specially tilted (45-degree angle) stand for the remaining water to drain out into the tray and leave to sit at room temperature (avoid direct sunlight).

Step 2

Repeat the watering process morning and evening and watch your crop grow! The sprouting time varies for different seeds, nuts, grains and beans so use this chart as a guide. 

Step 3

Once ready, lay your crop out on a plate with kitchen paper underneath to dry thoroughly (this may take a couple of hours). If you are growing broccoli sprouts, you will need to wash them in a bowl of filtered water first, allowing the hulls to rise so you can remove them with a spoon.

Step 4 

Once dry, store the sprouts in the fridge in a glass container, sandwiched between two fresh sheets of kitchen paper. As a rough guide, they will keep for the same number of days as they took to sprout.

What can go wrong?

The most common mistake is overwatering. Stick to twice a day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night and you should get a perfect crop! Don’t be alarmed if they form a clump – that’s fine, but look out for cotton wool type growth/mould which is a sign you have overwatered them. If that happens, throw them out and start again. It’s essential to look out for this as contaminated sprouts may contain harmful bacteria.

The cancer-fighting properties of broccoli sprouts

Broccoli sprouts have gained a reputation as a potent cancer-fighter, with studies supporting the mechanics of their chemoprotective abilities. If you follow me on Instagram Stories, you will know that broccoli sprouts are a regular feature in my kitchen. That’s because they contain sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane (SFN) is part of a group of plant-based disease-fighting phytochemicals called isothiocyanates. In the body, sulforaphane stimulates the production of essential enzymes that neutralise free radicals. Studies link sulforaphane to many health benefits including the ability to combat cancer.  

Broccoli sprouts are the turbocharged way to get sulforaphane into your diet. Even 3-4 day old broccoli sprouts can have up to 100 times the amount of sulforaphane than mature broccoli.

I like to add a thick layer of them to my egg and mayo open sandwich using one of Biona’s many different sliced organic rye bread options, for a quick protein-rich lunch.

When you harvest your broccoli sprouts, place your crop in a bowl of filtered water and swill them around to allow the brown hulls to rise to the top, which you can then remove with a spoon. Don’t be put off by this extra step – it only takes a minute or two, and it’s worth it for the powerful health benefits.

Let me know how you get on in the comments below, and if you are already an avid sprouter, I’d love to hear any tips and tricks you can share (I read every single one!) 

This blog provides general information about health and health-related subjects and the content and links are not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, please do not delay in consulting with a healthcare professional. 

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