Why sprout?

Many people find they cannot tolerate grains, seeds, nuts and legumes, or products such as breads, cakes or bean dishes made from them. Do you suffer from indigestion, flatulence, heaviness and other maladies after eating them?

Virtually all dry grains, seeds and legumes contain enzyme inhibitors, which keep them dormant until they are soaked and start to sprout. They also contain phytic acid (an organic acid in which phosphorous is bound) in the outer layer or bran. Both the enzyme inhibitors and the phytic acid make dry grains, seeds and legumes virtually indigestible. Phytic acid also reacts with many essential minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc, and stops their absorption in your intestines. A diet high in grains that have not been sprouted or soaked can lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Breads and other products made from flour that has not been risen or soaked for at least seven hours have a similar effect. Most commercial breads, pastries, biscuits etc are made from un-soaked flour.

Soaking neutralises the enzyme inhibitors present in dry grains, seeds and legumes, and starts the production of numerous beneficial enzymes. As they soak, the enzymes, Lactobacilli and other helpful organisms break down and neutralise the phytic acid. As little as seven hours soaking in warm water removes most of the phytic acid. Soaking, fermenting and sprouting also breaks down gluten and other difficult-to-digest proteins into simpler components that are more easily absorbed.

Commercially baked bread made from milled dry grains and fast acting yeast is prepared and baked in less than a few hours. No Lactobacilli are involved, only one strain of yeast is used, and the conditions are not suitable for neutralising enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid.

Sprouts are a living, enzyme-rich food, natural and low in calories. Their vitamin A content will usually double, various B group vitamins will be 5 – 10 times higher, and vitamin C will increase by a similar order. Their protein content becomes easily digestible, and rich new nutrients such as enzymes and phytochemicals are created. They contain significant amounts of bio-available calcium, iron and zinc.

When a dormant seed sprouts, its starch is converted into simple sugars, and long chain proteins are split into smaller, easily digestible molecules. Sprouted beans and seeds are like a pre-digested food, one of the most enzyme-rich and nutritious foods known.

What you can sprout ?

Most seeds sprout easily, as do many legumes. Nuts are more difficult to sprout. I recommend soaking all the nuts, legumes and grains that you consume, which then become a wonderful, highly nutritious and essential component of a living food diet.

Fresh, alive seeds in good condition sprout the best. If a seed will not sprout, this is an indication that it is "dead" and the enzymes in it have been destroyed. It may be old, rancid, cooked, irradiated, sprayed or physically broken or damaged.

My best sprouting results have been with garbanzo beans (chic peas), wheat and rye berries, sunflower seeds and mung beans. This may be a reflection of the local conditions and suppliers.

You should treat raw legumes with caution. Chic peas (also known as Garbanzo beans) are the most digestible of the beans, and the only raw bean I recommend using in quantity. When sprouted with 1-2 cm tails, most of their enzyme inhibitors are inactivated or washed away. This is why they are the most widely used raw bean in several traditional cuisines, particularly around the Mediterranean as a base for humus.

Mung beans make an excellent sprout, used widely in Chinese cooking. However, they primarily use the sprouts and not the beans, and the sprouts are often stir-fried.

Soy and kidney bean sprouts are toxic and should be avoided. Lentils, black eyed beans, partridge peas, peanuts and vetch all have high levels of enzyme inhibitors which cause poor digestion and gas.

Alfalfa sprouts are mildly toxic – do not eat them every day, and avoid them if you are a cancer patient, have a weak immune system or suffer from inflammation.

Most raw sprouts contain hemagglutinins, which inhibit the absorption of proteins and fats. The worst are soybeans and kidney beans, followed by Pinto, Navy, Black eye, Lima, Black beans, Aduki beans, lentils and peas Hemagglutinins are destroyed by cooking.

Some people are more sensitive to raw sprouted legumes, and need to cook them. This is no reason to avoid the nutritious and enzyme-rich sprouts of other seeds.

How to sprout ?

To sprout a grain, seed or bean, first wash them and then soak them in cool to tepid, preferably spring water. Soaking time varies between 4 and 12 hours, depending on the size and hardness of the seed. Large hard beans such as garbanzo beans need 12 hours, whereas small soft seeds like buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa and many vegetable seeds only need 4 hours. Ideally, rinse them and change the water every couple of hours while they soak.

Successful sprouting depends on a number of factors, discussed in Grow Youthful:

● The freshness of the seeds and how "alive" they are. Many seeds, especially if they have been imported, have been irradiated. Others are just old

● Whether the seeds are broken, discoloured or chemically treated

● The water's pH, mineral and salt content

● The water's temperature. Cold climate grains such as oats can even be sprouted in your refrigerator

After the initial soaking, keep the seeds damp. I put them in a large sieve, and rinse them under the tap a couple of times a day. You can also put them in a jar, with a piece of material over the top, tied on with a string or rubber band. The seeds need to be kept damp and aired, but not wet, otherwise there is a chance of mould or spoiling. Some seeds, such as sunflower, start to sprout in a few hours. Others take more than a day. Within 2 - 5 days most seeds and beans are ready. They are ready when the root (not the shoot, which is longer) is the length of the seed.
I have had sprouts starting in 8 hours using top quality sunflower seeds. At the other extreme, large cannellini beans can take two or more days to begin.

Delicious uses of sprouts:

Always keep at least two containers of sprouts in your fridge. They can be sunflowers, lentils, alfalfa, pea or garbanzo sprouts, for example. They are the base for all sorts of delectable pates and raw food recipes, and provide a colourful and living addition to any dish - particularly salads.

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