By Bob McCauley, ND
Other than algae, sprouts are our most powerful food source. It is ironic that sprouts have a wimpy connotation to them because they are among the strongest foods known. When a seed sprouts, it produces in great quantities some of its most powerful anti-disease chemical agents that are then spread throughout the plant as it grows to maturity. A good example of this is the broccoli sprout, which produces sulforaphane, a powerful cancer-fighting, chemoprotective agent, at a concentration of 30 – 50 times of that found in the entire plant at maturity.[i] Another chemical substance found in broccoli is Indole-3-carbinol, a powerful phytochemical, is effective for fighting cancer and other cancers.[ii] This is an example of the miraculous properties and healing potential of sprouts. Those who did the research stated that synthesized compounds that would increase the resistance of cells and tissues to carcinogens were under development, but were still years away from being marketed.
The truth is that no matter what synthetic compounds may be developed for this purpose, they will never possess anywhere near the healing power and effectiveness as a natural chemical substance such as sulforaphane when it is derived from a whole food. It is intensely ironic that these researchers want to artificially replicate sulforaphane and distort its properties when it is already available in the actual sprout in a far more effective, healing and absorbable form. Even the extraction of sulforaphane from the broccoli sprout would simply diminish its nutraceutical potential, which is why we need to consume the whole food, not extracted components of it.
All sprouts have this high concentration of enzymes and other organic chemical substances in them in the first days of sprouting. During the winter, when fresh organic produce is sometimes hard to find, I have a sprout garden growing constantly with as many as twenty different kinds of seeds sprouting at any given time. Some sprouts such as fenugreek have a flavor that cannot be found anywhere else as do many other sprouts. Many raw foods have a unique flavor that is completely lost once the food has been cooked.
On average, sprouts have a one-to-seven seed-to-sprout ratio; one cup of seeds yields seven cups of sprouts, although that can vary depending on the type of seed. To sprout seeds, you need only to soak them overnight then place them in a jar, colander or other container that is partially closed so the sprouts can breathe yet retain moisture. They should be rinsed a few times a day to prevent mold and bacterial growth. Sprouting trays and bags are available to make the job even easier. Depending on the variety, seeds take 2 – 7 days to sprout, although some such as onion seeds can take 10 –14 days.
Some of the seeds and beans I sprout are lentils, chick peas, radish, mustard, alfalfa, red clover, adzuki and mung beans to name a few. Some seeds such as flax, arugula and chia must be sprouted on terracotta (clay) because they have a glutinous exterior that turns to a jelly-like substance when soaked. They will not sprout using the other method.
Considering their nutritional potential, sprouts are amongst the most economical and healthy foods you can consume. It is easy to find organic seeds and they only cost a few dollars a pound.
All unsprouted seeds also possess medicinal properties and are edible if they are pulverized in a grinder instead of sprouting them. For instance, sesame, flax and sunflower seeds consumed together provide a perfect complement of Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. They also can be used as “parmesan cheese” to sprinkle on salads and other meals because it looks and tastes quite similar to it when salted.
Seeds should be consumed immediately if they are ground because they will go rancid quickly when exposed to the air. Ground seeds should also not be eaten in great quantities because they contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Enzyme inhibitors will not be a problem for a raw foodist, but can be for someone whose digestive system is pale and weakened by the chronic consumption of cooked foods. I usually consume 2 – 3 tablespoons of ground raw seeds per meal and I use a medley of many different seeds, most commonly flax, sesame, sunflower, milk thistle and pumpkin seeds.
Many bird species store seeds in a pouch or crop above their stomach for 10 – 14 hours while the seeds take on moisture and begin to sprout. Witness the instinctual behavior of wild animals for they are great professors of health. Their institution is the oldest, most prestigious society of health instruction there is. The information disseminated from nature is infallible and is imparted with the greatest simplicity. Nature is never wrong. Your body is an integral part of nature. Listen to its wisdom, for it too is never wrong.
[i] Research done at John Hopkins University by Dr. Paul Talalay, M.D., J.J. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 1997
A major inducer of anticarcinogenic protective enzymes from broccoli: isolation and elucidation of structure Zhang Y, Talalay P, Cho CG, Posner GH. Proc Natl Acad Sci 1992; 89:2399–403.
Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens, Fahey JW, Zhang Y, Talalay P. Proc Natl Acad Sci 1997;94:10367–72.
[ii] Nutrition and Cancer 2004;48(1):84-94