A quick Q&A with our favourite Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Petra Hooyenga.
These days, there’s an almost-endless list of studies proclaiming the nutritional wonders of humble sprouts. But while it’s clear that including sprouts in our daily diets is a good idea, today we wanted to talk a little bit more about why their nutritional value is so high. It’s a fascinating topic, and to explore some of the reasons, we caught up with the wonderful Petra Hooyenga, a Sydney-based Nutritional Medicine Practitioner.
Sydney Sprouts: Hi Petra. Why is it that sprouts almost always offer greater nutritional benefits than traditionally grown plants and vegetables?
Petra Hooyenga: Imagine that any seed or grain, before it germinates, is like an egg. It’s a real power pack with all these essential nutrients, everything inside for new life to emerge. As the germination process begins with water and sunlight, that’s the most active time when you have the highest concentration of all these wonderful nutrients. But as plants mature and develop, they become a lot more dependent on the other variables that surround them. In a way it’s like people; if we’re in a healthy environment and get the right nutrients as children, we’ll likely have a much healthier life as adults as well.
Sydney Sprouts: It’s all about getting the best possible start?
Petra Hooyenga: Yes. After that initial germination and sprouting stage, the nutrient levels in plants are far more influenced by external factors such as the mineral levels in the soil, the air quality, water quality and other things like that. They can all directly preserve or reduce the nutrient quality. Of course, if you look at the grown plants we eat (compared to sprouts) much of it also comes from farms that use herbicides, fungicides and pesticides which is effectively an assault on the plants themselves – not just the bugs they’re trying to control. These chemicals can also have a big impact on nutritional quality. That’s one of the real advantages of sprouting.
Sydney Sprouts: When we begin the sprouting process, it’s important to soak our seeds for quite a few hours, or even overnight. Can you explain what’s happening when we do this and why it matters so much from a nutritional perspective?
Petra Hooyenga: From a nutritional perspective, soaking is all about increasing the ‘bio-availability’ of the nutrients by the time they get into the body. All seeds and grains have a hull or husk, this is a protective outer membrane that contains different substances such a phytic acid which are basically the seed’s immune system.
When a seed is lying on the ground, waiting for the right conditions to germinate, it needs to protect itself from other microbes that might destroy it or damage the integrity of the seed. As with any immune system, including the human immune system, there are all these substances and acids whose job is to kill and aggravate invaders. So, when you ingest grains and seeds whole without soaking, many of the nutrients – and I actually describe them as ‘anti-nutrients’ in that form – are still packaged inside with the hull around it. The effect this has on a digestive system is inflammatory. For some people it can be aggravating on their digestive tract and lead to issues like flatulence and cramping, while for people with gluten intolerances or more complex illnesses. It can trigger an excessive immune response, and more systemic inflammation.
They key reason for soaking grains, seeds, beans and pulses is to neutralise those anti-nutrients and basically get the immune system down to disable the negative and inflammatory aspects. The best way to do this is through soaking in water. Just a little tip, I usually add a bit of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar as well. It just helps the breakdown process of all those acids.
Sydney Sprouts: Is it true the soaking process can also help our absorption of the vitamins and minerals?
Petra Hooyenga: Yes, that’s right, because the other big problem when you’re not able to properly digest your food, is that you’re not effectively absorbing all the nutrients either. By soaking, and sprouting as well, you make these nutrients far more bio-available because they’re easier to digest and easier to absorb into your body. You get the full nutritional benefit.
Sydney Sprouts: Do any seeds or grains respond better than others to the soaking process, nutritionally speaking?
Petra Hooyenga: The benefits are actually quite widespread across most grains, seeds, pulses and beans. In fact, if you look at a lot of traditional cultures, the process of soaking is a really big part of their meal rituals. I think we’ve really lost connection with that over the years, especially as we’re so used to getting things in packages and pots and tins these days. In a lot of cases we can access pre-soaked and pre-cooked pulses, grains and beans, but if you do buy them dry, it’s always best to soak them first.
Sydney Sprouts: Just finally Petra, one food we’re hearing quite a bit about lately is ‘sprouted breads’. What are your thoughts on these?
Petra Hooyenga: (laughs) When I first discovered them, I thought they were just so delicious! The danger is they’re also quite nutrient dense so my advice would be if you start eating sprouted breads, don’t eat too much or you’ll really pack on the kilos! That said they taste really, really nice. Personally, I don’t buy factory-baked supermarket bread at all, I tend to only buy sourdough. But for people who have difficulty tolerating gluten and regular wheats, sprouted breads are just beautiful.
Sydney Sprouts: So, if I had a gluten intolerance, sprouted bread would be an option worth trying?
Petra Hooyenga: Yes, definitely. It’s still not for people who have a genetic sensitivity or gluten allergy as such. But if you find it hard to digest gluten and often get those digestive symptoms like irritable bowel, switching to gluten free sprouted breads could make a big difference. It’s certainly worth a try!
If there’s a topic or question you’d like to get her thoughts on, please let us know here.