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Sprouts: A Genuine Super Food

Sprouts are tasty, nutritious, and versatile, from their familiar use in salads to baking sprouted-grain breads to making excellent quick snacks by the handful. Their virtues were discovered by the Chinese millennia ago and modern research continues to uncover their benefits.

Legumes such as beans, peas, and soybeans provide fiber, folate and protease inhibitors, all of which may offer protection against heart disease and cancer. All of these may be sprouted. In addition, alfalfa is actually an atypical legume and provides similar benefits.

As a living food, sprouts have active biological processes going on that give you a head start on digestion, making them more nutritionally efficient than raw or cooked whole seeds. The conditions of sprouting overcome the enzyme inhibitors that help keep dry seeds and grains from sprouting randomly, and break down the concentrated starch stored in the seeds, making it more accessible to the body. Proteins are also broken down into their constituent amino acids, from which the body can efficiently pick and choose to build its own protein. In short, more nutrients reach the cells with less effort on the body’s part, and with less quantity of food consumed.

The principle digestive benefit of sprouts comes from their enzymes. Present in all raw foods and diminished by cooking, enzymes are the catalysts that help the body’s metabolic processes. Without this enzymatic assistance, many of our metabolic processes would not be efficient enough to sustain life. With sprouting, the natural enzymes in grains, legumes, and seeds are increased. In particular, sprouting provides proteolytic and amylolytic enzymes that digest proteins and starches. The body produces these enzymes naturally, but the ability to produce them declines with age. This enzyme boost helps with the digestion of all starches, fats, and proteins eaten along with them, supplementing the digestive action of saliva and stomach acids. This protects our digestive system from overwork when we’re young and fills in for—and perhaps guards against—loss of digestive ability with aging.

How helpful is sprouting in making foods more digestible? Here’s a hint: Compare the effects on your body of eating beans with the effects of eating bean sprouts! (As with any fresh vegetable, a bit of fat increases digestibility.) Certain whole-wheat and whole-grain sensitivities are caused by phytates, removed in the sprouting process. (Please note that this is a separate process from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and sprouts are not cure-alls for those conditions.) The “greening” of sprouts produces chlorophyll, which seems to have some effect against protein deficiency anemia.

Sprouting is also a way of unlocking some of the nutritional value of certain plants, (like mung and aduki beans, and alfalfa), that don’t lend themselves to human consumption in other forms.

Compared to whole grains, the growth process of sprouts increases their vitamin content (carotenoid A, folacin [one of the rarer B’s], and C) by three-to-twelve fold. As growing plants, they also provide fiber. Vitamin C in particular is usually absent from the dormant legumes, grains, and seed, and develops during sprouting. If you grow your own seed supply for sprouting, you will also be able to take advantage of the mineral content that comes from well-tended, organically maintained soil.

One of the great advantages of sprouts is their year-round availability. You can harvest fresh produce right from your refrigerator or cool cabinet independently of whether or not you’ve made it to larger-scale winter gardening. As noted, the nutritional value of the beans or seeds you begin with increases in the sprouting process. Even after your sprouts have reached edible maturity, they’ll continue to grow slowly in cold storage, and continue to increase their nutritional content—unlike any other fruit or vegetable, which is losing nutrition from the moment it’s picked until it’s consumed.

Sprouts being high in fiber and water are also high in their satiety factor. This makes them a great quick and filling snack. A handful of sprouts, a gulp of juice and a spoonful of nuts or nut butter makes a no-muss, no-fuss, satisfying, and nutritionally sound pick-me-up.

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