Q: Are sprouted grains healthier than whole grains?
A: At a time when everyone is constantly arguing about whether grains can be part of a healthy diet (Whole grains provide fiber! Gluten is the devil!), sprouted grains generally wear a little crown of goodness, no matter where you stand.
My general thinking is this: sprouted grains do have some intriguing benefits, so if you can go sprouted, you should. However, they’re probably not that much better for you than regular old whole grains.
Here’s what you need to know.
What are sprouted grains?
Okay, first some grains 101. Grains are the whole seeds of plants. All seeds contain growth inhibitors that keep them from germinating until they’re settled in the soil and feeling cozy, with ideal temperature and water conditions.
RELATED: A Modern Guide to Ancient Grains
To sprout grains, companies (or home cooks!) create those ideal conditions, deactivating the growth inhibitors and allowing the seed to germinate (AKA sprout) just a tiny bit, so it’s essentially the baby version of a plant. That sprouted seed is then eaten whole (like sprouted quinoa or brown rice or milled into flour, like in bread made with sprouted grains; as opposed to regular whole grains that are just the seed before it’s sprouted.
Why are sprouted grains healthier?
First, sprouted grains may be more easily digested. When a seed first sprouts, enzymes transform starch stored in the endosperm (the part of the seed that’s essentially stored food for the plant) into simpler molecules that can be easily digested by the growing plant embryo. Since those molecules are easier for the plant to digest, many believe they may also easier on human digestion. Some research backs up that argument in certain grains, like barley. Sprouted grains have also been shown to be higher in fiber and lower in gluten, which could help with digestibility (especially for those with gluten sensitivities!).
The most compelling science-backed argument for eating sprouted grains is that they’re straight-up higher in important nutrients. In addition to fiber, studies show sprouted grains may contain more essential amino acids and B vitamins, antioxidants, folate, and more.
Those nutrients may also be more bioavailable. Just think: the seed is doing its best to make as many nutrients as possible available to the plant so it can grow, so it may also be helping your body out in the process. Some small differences in nutrient bioavailability have been noted between sprouted-grain and other whole-grain breads.
Finally, sprouting significantly reduces levels of lectins—controversial “antinutrients” that may disrupt digestion—in whole grains.
Is there a catch?
All this compelling info may make you want to start swapping all of your grains for sprouted ones immediately, but it’s important to remember a few things.
Most of these studies are small and the changes in nutrient concentrations are also small. In other words, a tiny bit of extra folate in your sprouted brown rice bowl may not make a significant difference on your long-term health compared to if you ate a non-sprouted brown rice bowl.
If you have the chance to go sprouted, go for it! Sprouted grains are a healthy addition to any diet, as are whole grains. Just keep steering clear of refined, processed grains first and foremost.