Nuts, seeds, grains, and beans are nutritional powerhouses. However, certain natural agents (i.e. anti-nutrients) meant to protect these plants can wreak havoc on our digestive system. Many ancient cultures have found ways to prepare ingredients that make them easier to digest and more nutritious. These methods include soaking, sprouting and souring. Essentially, what this does is convince the seeds that it’s time to begin their growth process (i.e. germination).
What are “anti-nutrients”?
Anti-nutrients are naturally occurring compounds that are found in plants. They interfere with our ability to digest vitamins and minerals because the human digestive system is not designed to break down these components. When consumed, they reduce our absorption and may cause nutrient deficiencies and gut-related problems. They can also contribute to allergic reactions and mental illness. These compounds naturally exist in plants because they actually have a protective role as they help plants to survive by warding off pests and insects. They also keep a seed from sprouting until it’s ripe enough and ready to mature. Examples of anti-nutrients include phytate, tannins, gluten, lectins, saponins, oxalic acid, etc.
Soaking is beneficial on its own but it is also a precursor to other processes. It is characterized as the process of placing seeds, grains, nuts or legumes in double its amount in water for a period of time at room temperature (many also choose to add apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to help soften the ingredient). Soaking is usually only performed for 8 to 24 hours. When a grain is hydrated, it causes an enzymatic action. Seeds soaked in warm water are fooled into thinking conditions are ripe for growth and anti-nutrients are disabled. After the ingredient has been soaked it can be drained, rinsed, and then cooked, dehydrated or sprouted! Soaked nuts and seeds can be consumed raw and even made into milk or butter alternatives. Soaking and sprouting is very easy. The method is exactly the same for nuts, seeds, grains, and beans—only the time required for full germination changes.
Sprouting is essentially the process of seed germination or development. It leads to a complete biological transformation of the seed. This process involves soaking seeds, nuts, legumes or grains for several hours, then repeatedly rinsing them twice a day, and draining them at an angle, until they begin to develop a “tail”. At least 48 hours of sprouting time seems to be best, but this will depend on the food as sprout times vary. The amount of change depends on water pH, length of soaking, and length of sprouting. Note that the majority of nuts do not sprout but can be successfully soaked. Almonds however, can sprout if they are truly raw and not pasteurized or irradiated.
Health Benefits of Sprouting
- Increased Nutrition -> Sprouting increases the amount and bio-availability of some vitamins (i.e. C & B vitamins), minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc), phytochemicals (chlorophyll, carotene), essential fatty acids, fiber and amino acids (lysine and tryptophan). In addition, it is said that sprouting ingredients helps them become a more alkaline forming food!
- Safer -> Sprouted grains may be less allergenic to those with grain protein sensitivities as it helps reduce food allergens (i.e. gluten). In addition, sprouting inactivates aflatoxins, which are potent carcinogens.
- Enhanced Digestibility -> The process of sprouting neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and decreases anti-nutrients. Sprouting also increases and activates enzyme content, helping the digestive process. These enzymes make nutrients more digestible, reducing gas production, while allowing the body to focus on producing other enzymes.
Other Benefits of Sprouting
- They are simple to grow and require minimal space.
- You can harvest your food within about a week of starting the process.
- It is safe, so long as you choose organic seeds and follow sanitary procedures.
- They are inexpensive to make.
After an ingredient is sprouted, it can be dehydrated and ground into flour (as in Ezekiel breads) or prepared as part of a meal. Try sprouts on top of soups, salads or in sandwiches, tacos or pitas. You could also make crunchy granola with buckwheat sprouts, hummus with sprouted chickpeas or no-bake energy bites with soaked almonds!
Ingredients can also benefit by being soured, which is the process of fermentation. Sourdough, is probably the best example of grain fermentation. It is made by using naturally-occurring bacteria and wild yeast. In order to make sourdough, one can allow wild organisms to inoculate a grain and water mixture naturally, or they can choose to use a starter culture.
Much like soaking and sprouting, souring has a range of health benefits. This is a more complete way to pre-digest the grain and neutralize anti-nutrients. The process of fermentation also creates probiotics, helpful enzymes, minerals and vitamins.
So whether you are struggling with digestive difficulties, looking to increase the nutritional content of your meals or simply enjoy trying new things in the kitchen… consider incorporating some of these traditional preparation methods into your routine for optimal health benefits!
- This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -