FOMO: Should You Be Sprouting Your Own Beans & Seeds?

It seems today that anywhere you turn, new products are cropping up (no pun intended) to help you live a more DIY, healthy lifestyle. Take, for instance, the trendy new sprouting kits littering every Whole Foods shelf across North America. No longer must we pay for some of the more overpriced sprouts; we can simply grow them ourselves and take comfort in the idea that smoothies and sandwiches alike will be vastly improved by our own home-grown harvest. 

But for those of us who don’t exactly get the whole sprouting craze, the idea of growing our own little green shoots for nutritional enrichment might seem a tad hippy

And hippy it is, indeed. At-home garden projects and how-to’s have become more than just aspirational Pinterest-board ideas. The green movement has become so popular, that many people opt for growing their own produce or raising their own livestock away from the conventional methods used to produce our goods since the end of World War II. With the conclusion of that war came an agricultural revolution in which a system of chemically intensive food and livestock production developed and changed the way people utilized agriculture. Once multi-faceted, many farms became single-crop holdings and some turned strictly to breeding and keeping livestock. But the previously applauded agricultural systems are now seen as nothing but a dead-end method to producing food stuffs — one which would be better applied to making fighter jets and home appliances. 

In other words, modern agriculture is broken.

So it’s no surprise that people turn to growing their own food where once they would simply pick it up off the shelf of a grocery store. With the growing do-it-yourself-agriculture trend, sprouting is the latest craze to sweep North America with surprising tenacity.

What is sprouting, are there any benefits to it, and should you sprout? 

Simply put, it's the practice of germinating (soaking) seeds so that they can be eaten raw, or cooked. Often, sprouting will result in shoots (small plants) growing from the germinated seeds. Because our bodies are not fully equipped to properly digest legumes, nuts/seeds and grains, many people sprout these foods instead of consuming them whole. 

Legumes, nuts and seeds are often grown using chemicals or pesticides which will not only protect the crop from being destroyed by diseases, but will also deter animals from eating or decimating the crop entirely. The chemical application causes the seeds to grow larger, but does not make them any more edible. In fact, most seeds and legumes already contain anti-nutrients, made up of compounds which inhibit the absorption and use of other good nutrients from the seed. For instance, many seeds and legumes contain phytic acid, which unfortunately prevents mineral absorption. Thus, these foods aren’t actually that beneficial to our health, nor totally safe for consumption. Some beans — such as kidney beans — can even be highly toxic when eaten raw or improperly cooked, causing severe damage to the body. Add to that the growth process, and your everyday legume seems like a tiny shell of chemical warfare. 

It’s no wonder people choose to sprout. But why do people go to the trouble if the legumes and beans they use aren’t really that good for you? 

Consider this: when you sprout, say, chickpeas you have to soak them for several hours. Soaking is claimed to help to neutralize the enzyme inhibitors present in dry legumes and encourages the production of many healthy enzymes. Hence, soaking is a critical stage of sprouting which can turn a bean from bad to good in as little as a few days. 

According to Grow Youthful, sprouts — the result of sprouting legumes, nuts/seeds and more — do not contain the toxins found in unsprouted legumes. That’s because sprouts are living, enzyme-rich plants which have grown due to the production of healthy enzymes in the legume which started with the soaking process. For all intents and purposes, sprouts are like pre-digested legumes or seeds. 

There are many purported benefits, including the reduction of phytic acid, gluten and lectin. Humans have only been consuming legumes, nuts and grains for the past 10,000 years or so, which means our bodies have not yet fully evolved to properly digest the hard, outer shells and casing of many of these foods which we commonly eat without a thought. So, sprouting your legumes and seeds can help reduce the anti-nutrients found in their raw counterparts whilst also making it easier on your digestive system when consuming the sprouts. 

Is sprouting, then, the latest health food trend ready to stick around for good? Or are we cramming our sandwiches and smoothies with yet another health craze destined for oblivion?

Some argue that sprouting isn’t really that beneficial, considering the lack of research done into the nutritional side-affects of sprouted foods. But, the lack of research into the true benefits of sprouting might mean we don’t really know just how awesome our sprouts are. Oddly enough, sprouting can also cause the production of other toxins or anti-nutrients, making the process of turning bean to plant seem somewhat futile. 

An article in Men’s Fitness states that sprouted products don’t offer enough protein or other nutrients to make a significant impact on one’s health. And, when those sprouts are consumed in other manners — such as dried, soaked with dressing from a salad or baked into bread — they lose much of what little nutritional weight they had to begin with. 

Essentially, if you’re a body builder, sprouts may be good for a sandwich filler but not much else. 

Even the University of California’s Centre for Health and Nutrition Research agrees that sprouted beans, seeds and grains don’t contain enough of a nutritional difference to make any sort of real impact. So the next time you go to spend $9 on a loaf of sprouted-grain bread, consider first whether the bread is better than plain ol’ rye, or if it’s nothing more than the victim of cleverly marketed buzzwords

If you really want to give sprouting a go and try your hand at making your own in-house veg, you’ll likely end up spending anywhere between $20-$200 on sprouting kits and the legumes themselves. The Tribest Freshlife sprouter, for example, is an automatic, low-maintenance sprouter which produces sprouts in as little as a week — but it will cost you a whopping $150. On the other hand, items like The Easy Sprout cost less than $20 and will supposedly produce the same results. Additionally, some legumes, seeds and nuts can be quite costly, which means you may be averaging a budget for sprouting all on its own. 

Regardless of whether you purchase a mechanism or do-it-yourself, sprouting does take time and effort. I made sprouts shortly after purchasing the My New Roots cookbook in August, utilizing the sprout recipe included in the book. It was no easy task, one which left me feeling as though I was babysitting a jar of beans. Though my sprouts doth grow, I was left feeling like a chump — not because of the recipe, but due to the time and effort dedicated to growing something with little nutritional value. It didn’t help that my sprouts wilted within 3 days, forcing me to add the tiny shoots to whatever meal I could, lest I wasted them. I tossed them in smoothies, put them in salads, ate them with a sandwich…by the end of it, I was all sprouted-out. 

Part of me wonders whether sprouting is just another health food craze destined to disappear from Whole Foods shelves and window-sills everywhere. Whilst growing your own produce “in-house” can be a rewarding achievement, I personally want my time and effort to yield nutritionally beneficial results, and not simply a jar or cup of shoots with no real nutrient value. When I think of the price of sprouting kits and the time required by so-called “easy to follow” recipes, it irks me that we spend so much money and time on DIY health solutions that don’t end up significantly benefiting us.

One has to consider whether the investment is worth the return. After all, many a health trend has come and gone, taking our hard-earned dollars and worthy time with them. If you enjoy sprouting, then I say: sprout on! But for those skeptics like myself, this will remain a trendy but unworthy investment.