Sometimes reading a food’s ingredient list can make you feel like you need a dictionary. And these days, you’re probably seeing the term “sprouted grains” on more and more food labels. But no dictionary needed for this: Sprouted grains are essentially whole grains that have been allowed to grow, or germinate.
If you’re going to eat grains, whole grains are best: Whole-grain foods offer more fiber and nutrients than foods made with refined grains like white bread, white rice, and instant oatmeal. During the refining process, vitamins, minerals, and fiber get stripped from these grains. Some of those nutrients are added back when those grains are enriched — but not the fiber.
While grains in general aren’t completely necessary to your diet, whole grains in particular can definitely be a part of a balanced diet: The USDA recommends six ounces of whole grains daily for a 2,000-calorie diet.
But why sprouted grains? You may be able to take the nutrition of whole grains to the next level by sprouting them. (And no, you won’t grow a wheat plant in your stomach.) A slice of wheat bread contains 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. A slice of sprouted wheat bread contains 5 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber.
What Are Sprouted Grains?
First things first: There are three parts or layers to a whole grain, the bran (outside coat), the endosperm (the kernel), and the germ, which produces the “sprout.”
All plant seeds contain a chemical called phytic acid that can prevent your body from fully absorbing minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron. When grains are soaked, it reduces the phytic acid levels, making the nutrients more available to your body.
Sprouting is the next step: After grains are soaked, rinsed, and drained, the grains will start sprouting. Some experts believe this releases even more of their nutrients.
You can DIY your sprouted grains, but the moist conditions needed to sprout are also ideal for growing bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. With this in mind, you still get plenty of nutritional benefit from cooked sprouted grains — and you eliminate any potential bacterial issues. Also, buying them from a store is a safe (and convenient) way to go.
The Benefits of Sprouted Grains
Sprouting grains makes the vitamins and minerals more available for your body, and depending on the grain, sprouting may also increase the levels of certain nutrients.
For example, sprouting rye may increase the amount of folate, a B vitamin that plays an important role in certain body processes. Sprouting millet boosts the levels of lysine, which is one of the nine essential amino acids that our bodies need but can’t produce on their own, while a 2005 study found that sprouting brown rice grains may reduce allergenic proteins and lower the glycemic index (GI). (Foods with a high GI can spike your blood sugar levels.)
How Do I Eat Sprouted Grains?
Luckily, you don’t have to find a specialty food store to buy products containing sprouted grains, and they’re easy to add to your meal planning. Nowadays many major grocery store chains carry sprouted-grain products — flour, rice, bread, cereal, crackers, tortillas, chips, and more.
It’s important to note that similar to the debate over using the term “natural” on food labels, there isn’t an “official” definition of sprouted grains or established guidelines for sprouting them. So any magical health claims that you might see on a sprouted-grain food label should be taken with a grain of salt. But no matter how you eat your whole grains, sprouting them can be another way to get more important vitamins and minerals into your life.