Step Aside, Kale: Sprouted Grains Step into the Spotlight
This edition, we’ve got the inside scoop on a little kernel – with big potential.
Packed with nutritional goodness. Emerging health benefits. Easy to integrate into a balanced diet. And tasty? As a dietitian, it’s not every day that a new food comes across your radar that ticks all of those key boxes – with emerging research to support the claims.
Now, consider yourself among the first to know about the goodness of sprouted grains.
With all respect to kale, sprouting is more than just the latest food trend: it’s a way to enhance grain foods, naturally.
Think of sprouted grains as a whole-grain kernel in transition, between seed and new plant. The whole-grain kernel has begun to germinate, producing a tiny shoot. This small change in the seed can deliver positive nutritional benefits.
To get up to speed on this emerging superfood, we spoke with Dr Michael Mathai, Associate Professor at Victoria University, a leading expert who has researched and reviewed the potential of sprouted grains. (1)
Behind the Scenes: Germination is Key
The germination process of sprouted grains is critical, and must be carefully controlled. The grain is exposed to increased moisture and appropriate temperature for a set period of time – usually 1- 4 days, explains Dr Mathai. The process changes the taste, physical characteristics and biofunctional properties.
“During germination, the content of complex storage compounds, such as starch, are broken down into smaller molecules that the seed can use for energy and growth,” he notes. The germination process is then stopped before the seed sprouts too much, as the taste, digestibility and nutrient value can decrease with longer germination time.
There is evidence that sprouting enhances the nutrition composition and bioavailability of micronutrients:
- The breakdown of complex compounds during germination results in the increased bioavailability of vitamins and minerals, and an increase in antioxidant polyphenols, such as arabinoxylan in wheat and gamma oryzanol in brown rice.
- The de-phosphorylation of antinutrients, such as phytate, also increases the bioavailability of bound minerals such as zinc, calcium and iron.
Changes in vitamin and antioxidant levels vary with different grains and length of germination, so it’s important to be aware of these fluctuations.
Emerging Health Benefits
There have been some positive findings in both animal experiments and human intervention studies investigating the effect of sprouted grains on health markers, such as improved glucose tolerance and reduced markers of inflammation (1).
However, many studies report little or no change in other health markers (i.e. lipid parameters). There remains a need to investigate using larger populations with higher intakes of sprouted grain over a longer period of time in order to establish if the proposed benefits have tangible health outcomes.
Easy – and Tasty – to Integrate
From a taste perspective, sprouted grains hold high appeal: the process favorably alters the taste of grains.
This can lead to an increase in the dietary intake of whole grains, says Dr Mathai, by conferring the benefits of increased fibre and nutrients intake associated with whole grains in general.
What’s more, for the Aussie consumer, getting sprouted grains into the diet is easy. Products containing sprouted grain are already available in specialty food shops and bakeries that produce a range of sprouted grain breads or flours. The breakdown of glutens tends to reduce the leavening of the bread, which generally leads to heavier bread products.
Sprouted grains provide a new way to enjoy the benefits of whole-grains within a balanced diet. You’ve read it here first!
- Nelson K, Stojanovska L, Vasilijevic T, Mathai M. Germinated grains: a superior whole grain functional food? Can J Physiol Pharmacol 2013; 91:429-441.