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Sprouted Grains

Sprouted grain products are all the rage. But does sprouting a grain improve its nutritional value?

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
December 17, 2008
Episode #023

One of my fellow opera singers, Jason, called me a while back with a great question:

Hi Monica. My question is about sprouted grains and whether they are whole grains or not. Also, do sprouted grains have any additional nutritional benefits that regular grains don’t?

Jason, a lot of other listeners have emailed with similar questions about sprouted wheat, too. So let’s tackle this topic today.

Sprouting Off

The first part of your question is easy: A sprouted grain is definitely a whole grain, because all the parts (germ, endosperm, and bran) are still there. The second part of your question is a little more complicated: Are sprouted grains more nutritious than unsprouted grains? Listen on.

What exactly do we mean by a “sprouted grain”? Grains are basically seeds that you could plant in the ground and grow into a new plant. You can sprout most grains and seeds by keeping them moist for a couple of days. This causes the seeds to germinate, or start to grow. Given the right conditions, they would eventually grow into full-sized plants and bear fruit (or make more seeds). But sprouts can also be harvested and eaten after just a couple of days.

I’ve sprouted alfalfa, clover, broccoli, radish, sunflower seeds, lentils, mung beans, wheat berries, and chickpeas. Sprouts are fun and nutritious! If you’d like more information on how to get started sprouting, I’ll include a link in the show notes to a blog post I wrote on this last year.

But back to Jason’s question: Are sprouted grains more nutritious than unsprouted grains?

The Case For Sprouts

If you talk to a sprouting enthusiast, they’ll probably tell you that sprouted foods are super nutritious because of the changes that a seed undergoes when it shifts from its dormant state into an active growing state.

According to proponents, sprouting increases the protein, essential amino acids, enzymatic activity, vitamins, and fiber content of the seeds. In fact, if you consult the Wikipedia article on “Sprouting” you’ll read that sprouting can increase the protein content of a seed by up to 50% and the vitamin content to 20 or 30 times its original value.

Sounds pretty good, huh? But is this enough to make a real difference nutritionally? Although Wikipedia is now considered to be the font of all knowledge, I still sometimes find it worthwhile to check the actual scientific literature on things like this. And there, I found a slightly different story.

Another Perspective

Scientists Chavan and Kadam analyzed a lot of nutritional data on sprouts in a review article that was published in that old page-turner, Critical Review of Food Science and Nutrition. While they acknowledged that sprouting did increase B-vitamins and certain amino acids and increased digestibility, they ultimately conclude that “the magnitude of the nutritional improvement…is not large enough to account for in feeding experiments with higher animals.”

In other words, although you can measure the difference in the seed, you can’t really measure a difference in an animal that eats the seed.

And in his stirring piece, entitled Cereal Sprouts: Composition, Nutritive Value, and Food Application, researcher K. Lorenz observes that “most of the increases in nutrients are not true increases…They simply reflect the loss of dry matter…during sprouting. Animal studies… have failed to show a superior nutritive value of sprouted grains over ungerminated grains. Studies with humans are not likely to produce more encouraging results.”

Wow, what a killjoy!

As far as the superior nutritional quality of sprouted grains goes, the super science-y guys clearly aren’t buying it. But the pro-sprouters seem to have a lot of impressive and scientific- sounding data as well. As a final step, I checked the nutrient database on NutritionData.com to see if I could see any nutritional differences between sprouted and unsprouted grains.

Just the Nutrition Facts, Ma’am!

Here’s what I found when I compared the nutrient values for unsprouted wheat kernels to those of sprouted wheat kernels. Calorie for calorie, the sprouted wheat was slightly higher in vitamin C, a couple of B-vitamins, iron, and calcium. The unsprouted wheat was quite a bit higher in fiber and protein, although the protein quality was slightly lower. And everything else was about the same. (I’ve included links in the show notes to the nutrient analyses, if you’d like to look at them.)

So, sprouted grains are higher in some nutrients, a bit lower in others. However, those minor differences may not add up to much—especially after they’ve been processed and baked into breads and other products. As I said before, sprouts are fun and nutritious! But what about that sprouted wheat bread that so many of you have asked me about? Looks like it may not be quite as miraculous as some would have you believe. But I still think it’s a nice way to get your whole grains. Enjoy it in good health!

For a delicious recipe that turns your leftover bread into gourmet crostini, head over here. And if you want to boost the nutritional value of your grains, please click here for a Quick Tip that will help you do just that.

This is Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva, with your quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous.

These tips are provided for your information and entertainment and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.

If you have a nutrition question for me, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com.  I can also be reached on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a great day and eat something good for me!

RESOURCES:

On Sprouting (Nutrition Data Blog)

Sprouting (Wikipedia entry)

Nutrition Improvement of Cereals by Sprouting (journal article)

Cereal Sprouts: Composition, nutritive value, food applications (journal article)

Sprouted Grains image courtesy of Shutterstock

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