Dr JV Hebbar
Sprouting is the process in which seeds and legumes are soaked in water for many hours. This leads to germination and breaking open of the outer skin of seeds causing a young shoot to grow. Though sprouting is famous as a way to improve nutrition, Ayurveda offers some precautionary insights.
Ayurveda has references for usage of sprouted seeds, legumes, leaves etc. in food and treatments.
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Hard for digestion
The Ayurvedic community is divided over the benefits and downsides of using sprouts in diet. Some Ayurveda doctors opine that germination and sprouting of seeds makes the ingredient harder for digestion and may not be suitable for consumption.
Sprouting tends to increase the concentration of protein, fat and fiber (research) and carbohydrates (research). Usually protein and fiber rich foods are considered hard to digest, so this theory holds some value.
Qualities of Rice Ayurveda Mahodadhi
The grains which have been sown, grown and harvested are of first class quality.
The grains which are Chinnodbhava in nature (able to grow even if cut or harvested) are madhyamam (mediocre)
The grains that were avāpitaṃ (the sprouts of rice, planted as such as against the usual process of sowing of seeds), when grown and harvested is adhama (with bad or degraded quality).
Charaka Sutrasthana 27th chapter
Except the sprouts of Vetra (Salix caprea Linn), Guduchi (Tinospora Coridifolia Miers) and leaves of Patola – pointed gourd, all bitter substances generally aggravate Vata and are un-aphrodisiac (Avrushya). This implies that leaf sprouts of Salix caprea, Guduchi and pointed gourd are bitter and aphrodisiac in nature.
Sushruta Samhita Sutrasthana 6th chapter
Medical plants and cereals sprout during the rains and are diluted and weak in their properties. This is largely due to the excess water entering and diluting the grains. This also gives a hint that sprouts grown in other seasons were used commonly for their nutritional properties.
Sushruta Sutrasthana 20th chapter – Meat (blood, fat, marrow) of animal livings in marshy lands, and water (aquatic living beings such as fish) , should not be consumed combined with freshly harvested grains, sprouted grains, muscle fat, honey , milk, jaggery and black gram.
Sprouts of leaves are used extensively in Ayurvedic treatment Ashtanga Hrudaya Uttara Sthana 34th chapter
Sprouts or tender shoots of jamun plant, mango, jasmine, Gorakhmundi (Sphaeranthus indicus), Teramnus labialis, boswellia, etc. are boiled in water to prepare decoction or herbal oil. This is used for washing the non healing wounds.
Kaiyadeva Nighantu –
Sprout of Pongamia is useful in inflammation, poisoning, worm infestation and skin diseases. This matches with the original benefits of Pongamia and its oil.
Sprouts of ginger balance down Kapha Dosha and are useful in blood vitiation disorders.
Side effects as per Ayurveda
Sprouted grains can lead to diarrhea (Ashtanga Hrudaya Nidana Sthana 8th chapter, 2nd Verse)
kṛśa śuṣkāmiṣa asātmya tilapiṣṭa virūḍhakaiḥ – eating meat which is emaciated and dry, unaccustomed foods, puddings of sesame seeds, sprouted grains.
This can be attributed to uncooked sprouted grains. Uncooked sprouts are associated with E coli infection (see below)
Ashtanga Hrudaya Sutrasthana 8/40-41
Foods that should not be consumed habitually – germinated grains, dried vegetables, solid part of curds, sweet dairy products etc.
Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 18th chapter – eating germinated corn, when the digestion strength is weak, after Panchakarma can lead to inflammatory disorders.
Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 27/267 – Germinated barley is difficult to digest.
Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sthana 1/2 – Pranakamiya chapter –
Viruda Nava Shooka Shami Dhanya – Germinated cereals and pulses, freshly harvested corns with bristles and pulses consumption of these can cause diseases or defects in the body.
Charaka Chikitsa Sthana 14/9 – Excess consumption of germinated corns and pulses can lead to aggravation of Apana Vata, leading to hemorrhoids.
Germination and fermentation of cereals and legumes improve the bioavailability of iron by reducing the content of phytate, a substance in food that inhibits iron absorption. (Research)
Broccoli sprouts – Broccoli sprouts consist of sulforaphane, a compound which may be effective against H. pylori. It has been found to reduce gastric inflammation and lowers bacteria colonization in the stomach. Its antibacterial role has also been studied. (research)
Another study has warned that using raw uncooked sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella also happen to thrive. (research)
If someone wants to replace regular quantity of legumes with sprouted legumes, then how to calculate the amount of sprouts to consume?
As per Ayurveda, the sprouted legumes are fine to take once in a while. For example, they can be taken once or twice a week.
If the normal legumes and grains are replaced with sprouted ones, then there can be some changes in the amount of proteins and fats ingested.
I understand that some people are very particular about the amounts of nutrients that they take.
A research study done on four variants of Zambian bean varieties shows the below changes. The sprouting was done for six days.
Increase in protein in sprouted beans – 6.32 to 10.4%
Increase in crude fiber content – 1.9%
Increase in crude fat content 2.3 to 3.2%
So, this gives a general idea of the change in the nutrition levels before and after protein, based on which the adjustment in diet can be made.
Why sprouts are not ideal
Is it better to have mung plain or as sprouts? Does soaking improve nourishment?
Soaking of mung beans causes the nutrients to get dispersed in the water medium. It makes the digestion of the beans easier.
Regarding sprouting of mung bean,
Sprouts are known to be richer in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins etc. compared to their normal counterparts.
But Ayurveda recommends using sprouts sparingly and has told that sprouts are not good to be used on a daily basis.
There is an underlying principle behind this statement
If we take the example of grains such as rice, wheat etc., Ayurveda recommends using grains after one year.
नवान्येव हि योज्यानि द्रव्याण्यखिलकर्मसु ।
विना विडङ्गकृष्णाभ्यां गुडधान्याज्यमाक्षिकैः ॥ ४४ ॥
navānyeva hi yojyāni dravyāṇyakhilakarmasu |
vinā viḍaṅgakṛṣṇābhyāṃ guḍadhānyājyamākṣikaiḥ || 44 || Sharangdhara Samhita, Madhyama Khanda, 1st chapter
All substances should be used afresh, within a year, except for Vidanga (Embelia ribes), Krishna (long pepper), jaggery, dhanya – grains, honey and ghee.
In one year, the nutrients in the grains and the phytochemicals in these herbs settle well and when administered, these nutrients are readily absorbed into the body. So, ancient masters have told us to wait for a year before using grains so that the nutrients are consolidated and well settled.
Most of the fruits are eaten when fully ripe. Nutrition in the fruits condenses and concentrates in the fruits. We wait for the nutrients to condense and concentrate and then we consume the fruits (most of them).
Mature leaves, fully grown mature stems, and roots are used in medicine preparations. The idea is to wait for the nutrients and phyto-chemicals to fully ripen, concentrate and settle and then use it for health improvement.
So, it is very clear that we give more value for well-settled, concentrated and consolidated nutrients.
But in sprouts, though they are rich in nutrition, the nutritional components are transitioning from the seed to the newly budding plant. Here, the nutrition is not settled.
The higher proportion of nutrients in sprouts does not necessarily mean that they are more beneficial than the normal beans.
This could be an explanation for why the sprouts are not advised on a daily basis.There is a similar theory in the modern world called xenohormesis.
Xeno = cross species,
Hormesis = what does not kill you, makes you live longer.
By eating herbs, we are eating cross species molecules that plants make.
Plants make these molecules better when they are in adversity. For example, to get good quality oranges, farmers drive nails into the bark of the tree, before you harvest, Same with grapes. Resveratrol component in the grapes is typically high when the grapevines are more exposed to dry weather, less water and fungus. That’s because these plants make these colorful xenohormesis molecules that make themselves resistant, bring in similar immunity improving and resistance building qualities to our body. This is proven by modern research.
So, the Ayurvedic theory of preferring grains with well-settled nutrients holds good.
Bottom-line is, sprouts are good but take them occasionally.
It is fine to use sprouted grains and seeds in your diet.
It can be a food to consume once in a while, in moderate quantities but as per Ayurveda, it is not to be used on a daily basis. Increased amounts of proteins and fats need not always translate to increased health benefits.
It is best to avoid consuming them raw and use them after cooking.
Because they are richer in nutrition compared to normal grains and seeds, the digestion strength should be strong enough to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients. If you have weak digestion strength, it is good to cook the sprouts with spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper etc. to make them easier to digest.
Rather than making the whole meal just out of sprouted seeds and legumes, it can be a small part of your meal plate.