No, it’s not a new nutrition fad that is sprouting up! Sprouted grains have made their way into the mainstream and actually have a great deal of science supporting their popularity with their many health benefits. Sprouted grains provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and are also low in calories, fat, and sodium. Placing sprouted grains near the top of the list of healthy foods to be included regularly in our diets.
Research surrounding the health benefits of sprouted grains is new and growing but the results point to a variety of positive health outcomes including:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Reduced oxidative damage
- Improved fasting blood sugars
- Reduced total cholesterol
- Increased HDL (good) cholesterol
- Lower rates of depression and fatigue and improved immune function in nursing mothers
- Anti-inflammatory benefits
- Protection against fatty liver disease
- Easier digestibility
- Increased key nutrients
It is important to note, that there is not a clear definition of what a sprouted grain is across all of the studies, but nonetheless, the possible benefits of including more sprouted grains appear to be many! Improving heart health, reducing diabetes risk, and improved digestion are some of the main reasons that are leading more and more people to turn to sprouted grains.
Sprouted grains are whole grain seeds that have just begun to sprout. You can find a variety of sprouted items including whole wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, alfalfa, amaranth, clover, farro, mung bean, and millet. The cereal grains we typically consume are actually dormant seeds. These seeds are capable of growing new plants and hold an untapped supply of nutrients. When a grain is sprouted it is basically transforming the dormant seeds into a living plant.
According to the Whole Grain Council, when a grain sprouts it goes through biochemical changes that impact the macro-and micronutrients, making them more bioavailable for both the budding plant and for us. Research dating all the way back to the 1940s reveals that compared to an unsprouted grain a sprouted grain can have up to 300% more vitamin A and more than 500% increased vitamin C!
Sprouted grains are full of nutritional benefits. In a dormant grain, the carbohydrates are in the form of starch which provides long-term storage. When the seed begins to sprout, this starch is transformed into simple sugars which are more easily digested. Protein within the grains goes through a similar transformation where enzymes are activated to transform storage proteins into peptides and amino acids. Both of these changes help make these grains easier to digest.
For individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivities, sprouted grains may be better tolerated. The enzymes in a germinating seed break down the gluten, basically “pre-digesting” it, making these grains less reactive for those with gluten sensitivity. One research study found that the sprouting process decreased gluten proteins substantially, while increasing folate. Individuals without gluten sensitivity who still find regular grains difficult to digest may find that sprouted grains are easier on their digestive tracts.
The researchers also determined that longer germination times led to a substantial increase in dietary fiber, with soluble fiber tripling and insoluble fiber increasing by 50%. Insoluble fiber passes through the digestive tract relatively unchanged which helps with the movement of food through the system. This helps to improve constipation and enhance regularity. It also attracts water into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. Insoluble fiber also supports insulin sensitivity and can help reduce your risk for diabetes.
Soluble fiber breaks down in water and creates a gel in the digestive tract which helps keep you feeling full. It is also known to help maintain healthy blood sugar and improve cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber attaches to cholesterol particles in the digestive tract and helps to remove them from the body, reducing overall cholesterol levels. Since soluble fiber isn’t really absorbed in the body, it helps to reduce blood sugar spikes. The increased benefit of this type of fiber in sprouted grains can help improve diabetes control and risk, heart health, and promote a healthy weight.
Phytates, a form of phytic acid, are also broken down in sprouted grains which allows for increased absorption of vitamins and minerals. The increased nutrients available for the body include phosphorus, iron, magnesium, zinc, folate, vitamin C, and protein. It is thought that iron absorption may be increased by 50% in sprouted grain bread due to the decreased phytic acid.
Each grain type will vary in its nutrient levels. Some grains are higher in iron, while others are higher in protein. When going through the spouting process, each grain type will have different nutrient changes which are determined by factors such as temperature, light, and time.
To make sprouted grains farmers harvest the grains after they begin to sprout but before the seed grows into a full-sized plant. Whole grain seeds are soaked and grown in environments with controlled warmth and moisture. The moist environment can promote bacterial growth, which is why you may have heard the warning to not eat raw sprouted grains. By cooking the grains before eating, you will kill the bacteria that can be present within the grain.
When sprouting grains, it is important to stop the growth of the sprout when it is only as long as the grain kernel itself. If it has grown too long, the sprout will use up the beneficial nutrients that were stored inside the grain which will decrease the nutrients available to the person eating them.
Sprouted grains are made into products using two different approaches:
1. The Dry Approach: Grains are sprouted, then dried. The dried sprout can be used in cooking or milled into sprouted grain flour.
2. The Wet Approach: Wet sprouts are masked into a thick puree which can be used to make breads, muffins, tortillas, etc. You will often find these products frozen and marketed as “flourless.”
Because a portion of the starches are broken down to sugar during the sprouting process, sprouted grains are often a bit sweeter than their traditional counterpart. But even though they are sweeter, they appear to have a favorable impact on blood sugar. One small study in Canada found that sprouted wheat bread had the mildest glycemic response in overweight males when compared to other types of bread including 11-grain, 12-grain, sourdough, and white bread. This is likely due to its higher fiber and protein content.
Even though many of us are new to sprouted grains, the process of sprouting grains dates back to before the 1900s. Sprouted grains are becoming increasingly popular and you can more easily find them at your local grocery store, farmers market, or bakery. Sprouted grain breads, tortillas, crackers, muffins, cereals, and pizza crusts are all options you could choose from to reap the benefits of this nutritious trend. Cooked sprouts and sprouted grain baked goods should be kept refrigerated. The exception to this is sprouted quinoa or rice flour, which can be kept safely in the pantry.
Not all sprouted grains are 100% whole grain. Make sure you read the ingredients and don’t assume that because it says sprouted grain that it can be counted towards your daily whole grain targets. If the ingredients list refined, enriched flour first but sprouted grains are mentioned until toward the bottom of the ingredient list, you are actually getting very little sprouted grains and mostly processed white flour. Ezekiel bread is a popular type of sprouted grain bread that contains both sprouted whole grains and sprouted legumes, it has beneficial whole grains and a great source of plant-based proteins.
When cooking or baking with sprouted grains, there are a few important things to know. Because they have already begun to break down, intact sprouted grains cook quicker than intact whole grains. Swapping out sprouted grains for a conventional flour is very simple as it is a 1:1 substitution. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of flour, you would use the same amount of sprouted grain flour. Sprouted grain flour will absorb more moisture in a recipe than traditional all-purpose flour, so you may need to add a little more liquid or water to your recipe. If you are using sprouted grain flour for a dough that requires kneading, you will spend less time kneading as the sprouted wheat forms stronger gluten bonds. The active dough also ferments rapidly, eliminating overnight proofing and pre-fermentation, a big timesaver.
If looking to jump on the sprouted grain trend, use these shopping tips to keep your sprouts fresh and safe to eat:
- Refrigerate or freeze sprouted grains immediately you bring them home from the store.
- Do not consume them past their shelf-life.
- Sprouts should be crisp when you are ready to eat them.
- If making your own sprouts at home, be sure to use a clean jar or container, it is recommended to soak with hot water and a splash of bleach for 2 minutes to ensure it is free from bacteria. Also, use filtered or bottled water since tap water could introduce contaminants.
- To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, sprouts should be cooked before eating them. Roasting in the oven until brown and crisp is recommended before adding to stir-fries, stews, and soups.
- Don’t let sprouts sit in the refrigerator for longer than 10 days.
- Consume frozen products within 3-6 months.
It’s important to remember that a healthy diet includes a variety of foods and that putting all your faith into one nutrition trend is not a quality of a healthy or enjoyable diet. Sprouted grains appear to provide the body with a great variety of nutrients and may help with the management and risk for certain health problems, like gluten sensitivity and diabetes. If you enjoy the taste of sprouted grains, I would encourage you to try to include them as a regular part of your diet. Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating is excited to now offer sprouted grain bread on our menu! You will find it on our new breakfast offering, Sprouted Grain Avocado Toast.
New to sprouted grains and looking for a recipe to try. Check out this easy recipe from King Arthur Flour for Healthy Homemade Sprouted Grain Crackers from dietitian blogger Sally Kuzemchak at Real Mom Nutrition. You could also add a salt-free seasoning blend in place of the sea salt to the crackers to add additional flavor and decrease the sodium. These crackers are good on their own or dipped into hummus or spread with soft cheese.
Healthy Homemade Sprouted Grain Crackers
- 1 ½ cups sprouted wheat flour
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup cold unsalted butter
- ¼ cup milk
- Olive oil and sea salt for topping crackers, optional
1. Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder.
2. Work in the cold butter until the mixture resembles wet sand.
3. Add the milk and stir until the dough becomes cohesive.
4.Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a clean surface, and knead until it becomes smooth, about 1 minute.
5. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a rectangle and wrap them in plastic. Set the pieces aside to rest for 30 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll a piece of dough out on a lightly flour work surface as thinly as possible, 1/16" or thinner, or roughly 16" x 8" to 10"; rolling the dough on a piece of parchment paper is very helpful here.
8. Cut the dough into 1" to 2" squares and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet; if you've rolled the dough out on parchment, simply transfer the parchment to the baking sheet.
9. Lightly brush the crackers with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt, if desired, then bake them for 12-15 minutes, until crisp and lightly golden.