Q: I keep hearing about “sprouted grains.” What are they and what’s all the fuss about?
A: Sprouted grains are whole grains that are soaked and then put under controlled conditions until the heat and moisture prompt development of a small sprout. The wet sprouted grains can then be puréed and used to make bread or other grain products. The sprouted grains can also be dried for use as a cooked grain (just as you would cook rice) or ground into sprouted grain flour. Many different types of whole grains are available as sprouted grains, including brown rice, wheat, millet and buckwheat.
Much of the interest in sprouted grains involves potential for increased amount and absorbability of dietary fiber and some nutrients, including vitamin C and several B vitamins (including all-important folate). Grain products normally only contain small amounts of vitamin C. In sprouted grains, enzymes are activated that break down a compound in whole grains called phytic acid. Since phytic acid can tie up iron, this means that more iron from the whole grains and other plant foods eaten at the same time may be better absorbed.
However, research supporting nutritional benefits is not as established as some headlines may make it seem. Health benefits that headlines tie to sprouted grains are often referring to studies in rats and mice, or short-term studies of less than 20 people eating the sprouted grains in multiple servings every day. And some studies compare sprouted grains to refined grains, which could reflect the well-established greater healthfulness of whole grains in general compared to refined grains (like white bread and white rice).
If you want to try sprouted whole grains, they have potential to offer extra nutritional benefits. Nevertheless, if you are choosing whole grains and eating a wide variety of plant foods, those are the most important steps for getting bountiful nutrients and protective compounds.
Note: Raw, uncooked sprouts can pose food safety concerns and the Food and Drug Administration recommends children, the elderly, pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts. Learn more at Foodsafety.gov.