Soaking and Sprouting 101: Increasing Nutrient Density
Soaking and Sprouting grains, seeds, nuts, and beans are an easy way to boost nutritional value in your diet. All it takes is a little planning to increase your vitamin and mineral intake at a fraction of the cost of retail supplements.
I talk to my clients about increasing nutrient density all the time. What do I mean? There are seven classes of nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water. These are the building blocks of our bodies, responsible for all function from growth to maintaining energy to healing. By aiming to increase nutrient density, I want to stuff your food choices with as many nutrients as possible to promote optimal body function.
Nuts, seeds, grains, and beans contain anti-nutrients, or natural enzyme inhibitors, such as leptins, saponins, oxalates and phytates that resist breakdown during digestion. These are called anti-nutrients because they can block our ability to utilize all of the nutrition present in these foods.
There is much discussion about the pros and cons of anti-nutrients in the world of nutrition, and as the science unfolds there are professionals on both sides of the discussion. Gluten, for example, is considered an anti-nutrient because it is difficult to digest and notorious for causing GI distress and chronic health problems in some people. There is a deep divide among professionals as to whether gluten should be avoided by everyone for these reasons. Here is a great run-down of anti-nutrients and why avoidance might be wise, as well as another opinion on how some anti-nutrients may boast nutritional benefits as part of a balanced diet. I take a personalized approach to this dilemma, taking each client’s symptoms and history into account before making recommendations.
The Soaking Process
Soaking nuts, grains, seeds, and beans brings them out of dormancy and prepares them for germination (or sprouting). During this process, the anti-nutrient content of these foods is greatly decreased. This increases digestibility, nutrient levels, and reduces the fat content of nuts and seeds.
Using a covered glass bowl or a wide-mouth mason jar, soak these foods at room temperature according to the chart below. After soaking (overnight, if necessary), drain the soaking water and rinse the nuts, grains, seeds, or beans. Use nuts and seeds immediately to create homemade milks, or flavor them and dehydrate until they’re dry and crunchy.
Sprouting: Going a Step Further
Soaking these foods for even longer will result in sprouting, which activates the germination process and creates “living foods” full of nutrients and energy. If you are on a budget, sprouting is an excellent way to increase the nutrient density of your diet without spending much money. As sprouts grow, they increase in size, weight, and nutritional value by up to 600% with only minimal equipment required!
I use large, half-gallon mason jars with these wide-mouth sprouting lids. First, I sterilize everything either using a dishwasher or boiling water. This is an important step, as any living food (sauerkraut, kimchi) can be prone to contamination without the proper technique. After sterilizing everything, I fill my mason jars with a ratio of one-part food to three parts filtered water. It is really important to use filtered water, as your sprouts will absorb toxins from tap water as they soak and germinate.
Store your mason jars at room temperature (65°F) in a dark place, or cover them with a cloth. Unlike soaking, you must empty the water, rinse, and refill with fresh filtered water twice each day to increase flavor and minimize the risk of mold growth or other toxin contamination. Soybeans are the only exception to the twice-a-day rinsing method, as they rot very easily. If you sprout soy, rinse them at a minimum of 4 times each day.
Sprout Storage & Reference
The table below lists soaking and sprouting times for seeds, grains, nuts, and beans. Use this as a reference for soaking or for trying different types of sprouts, which are delicious in hummus, on salads, or as breakfast grains. Remember to keep sprouted item cool and only to warm them slightly (below 110°F) to retain their nutritional value. Sprouts keep well for up to one week in the refrigerator if you rinse and drain them every two days.
Soaking & Sprouting Times
|Soaking Time||Sprouting Time|
|Brazil, macadamia, or pine nuts||2 hours|
|Cashew, pecan, or walnuts||2-4 hours|
|sunflower seeds||4-6 hours||2 days|
|alfalfa, red clover, radish, or mustard||6 hours||5-6 days|
|Pumpkin, sesame seeds, or hazelnuts||6-8 hours||1-2 days (pumpkin swells,
but does not sprout;
sesame turns bitter if left
|lentils, mung bean, millet or fenugreek||8 hours||3-5 days|
|mung beans||8 hours||3-5 days|
|Almonds||8-12 hours||1 day (Swells,
but does not sprout)
|wheat, oats, green pea, corn, chickpea, or rye||12 hours||3 days|
|adzuki, garbanzo, soy, other legumes or grains||12 hours||3-5 days|
Wigmore, A. (1986). The sprouting book; How to grow and use sprouts to maximize your health and vitality. San Fidel, NM: Avery.