Decreasing Inflammation and Improving Digestion with Sprouts
When I lived in Alaska, I had a patient who was a Slow Food diva. Not only did she bake all her breads from scratch, she started from whole grains, then sprouted them, low-temperature oven dried them, and ground them into flour before turning them into delicious treats. Even though we all can’t be this dedicated to our food all the time, there is real value to putting this type of intention into nourishing our family. Especially during these first weeks of spring, I can’t think of anything more appropriate or seasonal to eat than sprouted foods. So in honor of all the teeny radish sprouts poking up in my garden, let’s talk about the health benefits of sprouts.
So, why is it worthwhile to eat sprouted foods? Two of the primary goals for our eating during the spring are to improve digestion and absorption of food and decrease inflammation in the body. Sprouts and sprouted foods are a wonderful way to work towards all of these goals. This is both because of how foods are transformed during sprouting as well as the health benefits of the sprouts themselves.
Eating sprouted nuts, grains, and legumes can improve their digestibility and absorption. This is because in their whole form, all of these contain a chemical called phytate. Phytate is the storage form of phosphorus, but it is indigestible, and can prevent the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and the B vitamin niacin. Soaking and sprouting these foods, however, will degrade phytate and increase bioavailability of these nutrients. Having high levels of lactobacillus (acidophilus) in our large intestine will help with the breakdown of phytate and improve absorption, so it is possible to absorb these nutrient from unsprouted nuts, grains, and seeds. However, sprouting will make utilizing these nutrients much easier.
Sprouts themselves are also beneficial because of their antiinflammatory properties. One in vitro study showed that broccoli sprouts decreased the inflammation in digestive cells that were infected with h. pylori bacteria. This could potentially decrease the risk for ulcers and gastric cancer in people who have h. pylori in their digestive tract. There are also several mouse studies that have found an extract from alfalfa sprouts decreases inflammation for those with autoimmune conditions. In both cases, the sprouts decreased the release of a chemical called tissue necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a). TNF-a is a general signal produced by our immune cells that initiates inflammation throughout the body. If TNF-a is not released, there will be less inflammation. Especially in the digestive tract, this means healthier cells and better absorption of our food.
So, as we kick off this season and start to emerge from our winter shells, we should eat foods that are doing the same thing: sprouts! Enjoy and happy spring!
Using Food to Reduce H. pylori-associated Inflammation. Keenan JI, Salm N, Wallace AJ, Hampton MB.Phytother Res. 2012 Feb 23. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4618.
The ethyl acetate extract of alfalfa sprout ameliorates disease severity of autoimmune-prone MRL-lpr/lpr mice. Hong YH, Huang CJ, Wang SC, Lin BF.Lupus. 2009 Mar;18(3):206-15.
Wikipedia: phytate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytate