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|What is Sprouting||Benefits||How To|
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Sprouts come from the germination of seeds, grains, legumes, and nuts. If you've eaten any variety of East Asian cuisine or visited a health foods store, chances are you've come across sprouted seeds and beans. But sprouted nuts? To be more precise, sprouted nuts aren't sprouted in the same way the others are—you won't see the plant growth on sprouted nuts that you see on sprouted grains, legumes, and some seeds. Rather, nuts are sprouted through a soaking process that can last anywhere from two to 12 hours.
While research on the health benefits of sprouted nuts specifically is a little bit thinner than the research on sprouted legumes, seeds, and grains, there's a lot of overlap among them. The health benefits of sprouting nuts are just as great as those of their non-nut counterparts.
The main benefit sprouting offers for all grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes is to break down the antinutrients that can inhibit proper protein digestion and nutrient absorption. This means easier digestion, especially for those who might otherwise have trouble with these foods. Further, sprouting may unlock nutrients and antioxidants and make them more bioavailable upon eating. Add to all of these benefits the already well-known nutritional properties of nuts and seeds, and you have yourself a superfood.
What is Sprouting?
Sprouting takes place when nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes are soaked in water long enough to begin the germination process. If you've eaten Vietnamese pho, you've likely added sprouted mung beans in your brothy soup. They're also found in Vietnamese pancakes. If you've enjoyed the tiny dishes of Korean appetizers called banchan, you've likely eaten soybean sprouts. Most grocery stores now sell sprouted foods like lentils and chickpeas in the produce section, and even certain grains like brown rice or quinoa can be sprouted, dehydrated, and sold as dry goods in the bulk bins at health-conscious grocery stores like Whole Foods.
Benefits of Sprouting
The process of sprouting activates the bean, seed, nut, or grain to start germinating into a baby plant. This process does three things:
- Increases the potency of certain micro and macronutrients, thereby unlocking nutritional value that wasn't accessible in the plant's inert state
- Helps eliminate naturally occurring antinutrients like phytic acid and lectins that help keep these plants shelf-stable and protect them from predators in nature.
- Improves nutrient absorption and can lead to better cardiovascular outcomes
1. Increases Nutritional Value
While the science doesn't all agree on this topic, there's a lot of research supporting the idea that both micro- and macro-nutrient changes take place during the sprouting process. We already know that nuts and seeds are health foods in their own right, sprouted or not. Filled with essential fatty acids that help fight inflammation and offer cardioprotective benefit, protein to keep you fueled, and fiber to help keep blood sugar stable, nuts and seeds hardly need help in the health department. But sprouting does some amazing things.
In the way of macronutrients, sprouts are richer in protein, with certain amino acids increasing by up to 30% as compared to their non-sprouted counterparts (1)(2)(3)(4). There's also evidence that when seeds are sprouted, fiber (especially insoluble fiber, which feeds the good bacteria in your gut and helps prevent constipation) both increases and becomes more bioavailable (5)(6). One study even showed sprouted grains increasing fiber count by up to 133% compared to un-sprouted— a pretty remarkable change over just five days of germination (7).
As far as micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidants, research shows that sprouting increases these as well. Sprouting increases levels of folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, vitamin C, and vitamin K in legumes like mung beans, lentils and others (8)(9).
Nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes are all little morsels of nature that are designed to stand the test of time. If they germinate at the wrong time of year or under the wrong conditions, the little seedlings won't survive. So built into each of these potential plants are anti-nutrients that prevent them from sprouting at inappropriate times. These chemicals also provide obstacles for predators like squirrels or other pests that may otherwise demolish the stores before they grow into new plants.
When it comes to human consumption, these anti-nutrients decrease the digestibility of the foods that contain them, potentially causing gas, bloating, or stomach upset. Phytic acid (also called phytates) and lectins—the main two anti-nutrients found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes—are at least partially responsible for this difficulty on the digestive system. Some research even links phytic acid to an increased risk of leaky gut syndrome, possibly due to the inflammation it creates in the digestive system (13).
Some people use digestive enzyme supplements (think Beano) to help prevent some of these problems when eating these foods, while others just avoid them altogether, missing out on the potential health benefits they have to offer.
3. Improves Nutrient Absorption
Anti-nutrients not only have the potential to cause digestive upset, they also contain enzyme inhibitors that prevent the proper absorption of the nutrients in your food, namely minerals (hence the name anti-nutrient) (14).
By simply soaking your nuts and other sproutables, you can mostly eliminate the anti-nutrients, thereby neutralizing the enzyme inhibitors and getting a lot more out of every bite. That's because exposure to water helps break these compounds down and accelerates the germination process. So not only does sprouting unlock more nutrition, it also increases absorption of nutrients.
Furthermore, the nutrients in sprouts may help improve cardiovascular health outcomes, according to some studies. In a study on rats, those given sprouts actually exhibited blood cholesterol improvements comparable to the results achieved by prescription statin drugs (15). And in a human study, sprout consumption was linked to an increase in HDL cholesterol and a decrease in triglycerides (16). Pretty remarkable!
How to Sprout Nuts
You can find sprouted nuts at most health food stores, but they're notably more expensive than their non-sprouted counterparts. It's a lot more cost-effective to sprout your nuts at home, but there are some risks too if you're not careful.
Sprouting nuts is a pretty simple process, but simple doesn't mean quick. You'll need a medium-sized bowl, some filtered water, and a cheesecloth or non-metal mesh strainer. This process can work with just about any raw nut, but the timing will change. For example, cashews soften really quickly, so they can be sprouted in just a couple of hours, while other harder nuts like almonds and pistachio nuts should be soaked for at least 6 hours to eliminate the anti-nutrients. For nuts that require a longer soak, it's a good idea to set a timer for every two to three hours so that you can change out the water. That's what the cheesecloth or strainer is for.
Soak, drain, rinse, add fresh water, repeat.
Just make sure you're buying raw nuts to start with, and if you want to roast them yourself after sprouting, you can do that in your oven. This is actually a better option than buying roasted nuts anyway because it allows you to control the amount and quality of oil and salt that goes into the roasting process instead of relying on food companies to do that for you. If you prefer keeping them raw, you have two options: dehydrate them or store them in the refrigerator after soaking and eat them all within one week.
You can use this same process to sprout black beans or other legumes, pumpkin seeds, or even grains like steel-cut oats or amaranth.
Sprouting foods requires some safety precautions. The conditions that promote germination are the same ones that promote the growth of potentially harmful bacteria and mold. We recommend making sure that your sprouting bowl is clean and that you wash your hands thoroughly each time you handle the nuts or seeds during the sprouting process. Also, rinsing your nuts every few hours to avoid allowing bacteria or mold to grow as you soak is super important.
Make sure to rinse the nuts thoroughly every time you change the water, and either dehydrate or roast them soon after the soak is complete. If you don't plan to totally dry them out with one of these processes, store them in the refrigerator in a glass jar and discard any uneaten nuts after one week.
Eat your sprouted nuts on their own or add them to smoothies and salads throughout the week.
Benefits of Sprouting Nuts
It's clear that sprouted foods, in general, are a great addition to any healthy eating plan. They offer loads of nutrition compared to their non-sprouted counterparts, eliminate the anti-nutrients that naturally occur in nuts, and seem to be great for your heart health.
Adding to the fact that nuts are already a heart-healthy, nutritious part of just about any meal plan, you can't really go wrong choosing sprouted nuts. As long as you're careful in your process, you can enjoy all variety of sprout nuts and other sprouted foods to help increase your daily phytonutrient consumption without upsetting your stomach or ingesting chemicals that might decrease the absorption of these nutrients.
Author: Toni Sicola
|Toni is a wellness professional with a Master's in Integrative Health, is passionate about spreading health, happiness, and personal fulfillment to as many people as possible. She has a professional background in health and wellness, dietary supplements, and nutrition, and embarks every day to live a well, balanced, happy life.|
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