Are sprouts a good source of probiotics? How can we increase probiotics in our diet?
Amma of a 4-year old in Bangalore
Well, Chetana, thanks for asking. Many of us know generally that soaking, sprouting and fermenting all have an important role to play in making nutrients more available. Considering that the grains themselves do most of the work, it’s a wonder that in spite of knowing this we don’t always do it. There could hardly be an easier way to multiply nutrients while doing nothing. Now let us look at how and what.
To your first question: We do not sprout grains and legumes in order to grow probiotics. Sprouting releases nutrients that are otherwise held tightly by grains and legumes, for their potential role as seeds. It varies sprout to sprout, but if you read The Science of Sprout Nutrition you can find out how sprouting increases availability of vitamins, minerals, protein, poly-unsaturated (“good”) fat, antioxidants and more. Prior to soaking or cooking, phytic acid in grains tends to inhibit the absorption of certain minerals. Cooking breaks down some of this. Soaking breaks down more, in preparation for sprouting. In fact, you can think of sprouting as the first step in growing a leafy vegetable from a seed. But rather than growing a full plant, we consume the sprouted seed. The more I read about this the more I can’t believe I haven’t been doing this all these years.
However (wrt probiotics), whole grains and beans are good sources of fiber that helps our bodies produce priobiotics (see below).
While reading about sprouts I also read about the benefits of soaking our grains, beans, and also our flours for several hours before cooking. As I type, I have some mung dal sprouting and some rice soaking. Not to mention yogurt setting. I am soon going to have something soaking, rising, or sprouting at any given time. Next step is to learn to make cultured vegetables like kimchi.
Coming to the question of probiotics, people typically think of fermented foods like yogurt or kimchi as the primary source of probiotics. And certainly they are good sources. But we should also look at the way our bodies make probiotics – using prebiotics. Prebiotics come from fiber found in a variety of plants, whole grains and legumes. Onion and garlic keep appearing in lists of good sources of prebiotics. Which I find really interesting since garlic is also considered a natural antibiotic. Could it be killing bad bacteria and stimulating good bacteria all at the same time? If so, garlic has risen even higher in my esteem, something I’d have hardly believed possible. (See more on Garlic at NYU Langone site and Garlic Central.) Prebiotics are also found in breast milk. Check out this delightfully titled “Human Milk Oligosaccharides: Every Baby needs a Sugar Mama” by Lars Bode published in the journal Glycobiology April 18, 2012. And oligosaccharides are found in beans as well. Sprout those beans and get it all!
So … how to do it? Simple bean sprouts, as pictured above, will grow in a moist environment. First they need to soak but then they need oxygen. I soaked the beans overnight and then put them in a colander with a plate on top. You can also use a porous cloth bag. I washed them once or twice over the next day or so. People kept scooping some out and munching them. Whatever was left I threw onto a salad or rolled into pesarottu batter.
I could quote from all the reading I have done for this question, but for now I will just summarize the basic principle: eat as wide a variety as you can of fresh, whole foods, preferably raw or cultured in the case of fruits and vegetables, and soaked in the case of nuts and seeds. And also sprouted in the case of seeds. Seeds includes grains and legumes … but once they sprout they are like vegetables.
Jane Brody, “We Are Our Bacteria,” in the New York Times, July 14, 2014.
Brandi Evans The Everything Sprouted Grains Book.
Marcel Roberfroid, “Prebiotics: The Concept Revisited.” in The Journal of Nutrition, March 2007. J. Nutr. March 2007 vol. 137 no. 3830S-837S
Moises Velasquez-Manoff, “Fruits and Vegetables are Trying to Kill You,” Nautilus, July 17, 2014