Many people find they cannot tolerate grains, seeds, nuts and legumes, or products such as breads, cakes or bean dishes made from them. Grains/seeds and legumes/beans 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, and a variety of toxins to protect them from being eaten by mammals, including humans. These enzyme inhibitors, phytic acid and other toxins make dry grains, seeds and legumes 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.
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 neutralize the phytic acid. As little as seven hours soaking in 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. However, not all toxins are removed, with wheat and some legumes being the worst affected.
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 neutralizing enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. If you find these breads are hard to digest, try some sprouted grain bread and see how you do with that. A diet with grains or legumes that have not been sprouted or soaked can lead to serious mineral deficiencies, bone loss, and digestive problems such as reflux, bloating, food allergies, irritable bowel and other forms of weak digestion.
The toxins in many legumes do not appear in their sprouts. 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.Sprouted beans and seeds are like a pre-digested food. Most seeds sprout easily, as do many legumes. Nuts are more difficult to sprout. 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.
Chickpeas (also known as Garbanzo beans) are the most digestible of the beans. When sprouted with 1-2 cm tails, most of their enzyme inhibitors are inactivated. 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. Soy and kidney bean sprouts are toxic and should be avoided. Sprouted lentils, black eyed beans, partridge peas, peanuts and vetch retain phytates which cause poor digestion and gas. Alfalfa sprouts are mildly toxic , so do not eat them every day. 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: First, pick through and discard any broken, moldy, discolored or disfigured seeds. In particular, try to remove black, dark brown or green colored moldy seeds. They can contain harmful toxins that you would want to avoid, whether you are sprouting or cooking them.
Next, soak them. To sprout a grain, seed or bean, first wash them and then soak them in cool to tepid, filtered or 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. Rinse them and change the water every couple of hours while they soak.
Keep them damp. 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 mold or spoiling.
Keep your sprouting seeds and grains out of full sunlight. Natural light is OK, but full sunlight will encourage leafing. Use a variety of different sprouts such as alfalfa, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lentils, mung beans, peas and sunflowers. Keep changing which beans you use, so that your body is not exposed to using the same sprout for days or weeks at a time.
Keep a written note on which you find digest the best, or which have any side-effects. Try lightly cooking the less-digestible raw sprouts in stir-fry’s; the light cooking makes them much more digestible.