Eating plant-based foods is a great way to lower your environmental impact, especially when choosing local, sustainably grown legumes and grains

What many plant-eaters don’t realize is that there are specific ways to prepare these foods in order to prevent digestive upset and to actually absorb the nutrients found within plants. By using sprouting methods before cooking with plants, you’ll be able to unlock the abundance of nutrients (and flavour) within.

Choosing dried beans

Dried beans, although they take longer to prepare and cook, are much better for you and for the environment. Even though the cans are recyclable, they are still single-use and there’s a harmful bisphenol lining found in most cans. Purchasing beans and grains in bulk involves less packaging, it’s easier to source them sustainably, and there’s more opportunity to improve the nutritional value.

What is sprouting?

Legumes and grains are the dried seed that the plant saved in order to preserve itself. That means the plant is going to pack in a lot of defense mechanisms in that little seed to make sure that it survives to become next season’s plants. Everything a plant requires to continue on is packed in this tiny seed: protein, starch, fat and enzymes—that’s a lot to protect!

When you sprout beans and grains, you’re mimicking the planting process where the seed changes from having a protective capsule into a growing plant. Think about all of those enzymes that were locked up in the seed before; once the plant lets down its defenses and begins to sprout, all of those nutrients emerge and the noticeable flavour difference is then transferred to your plate.

Why is sprouting healthier?

When beans and grains are only rinsed and cooked, not all of the anti-nutrients have been washed away, which is why you may have experienced the “bean farts” or digestive upset when eating certain beans or grains—it’s the plant defending itself! Some of these defenses are found in compounds like phytates, trypsin inhibitors, tannins and saponins. They’re known as anti-nutrients because it’s hard for humans to digest them without extensive grinding or cooking, and even then not all of the nutrients can be accessed.

The sprouting process reduces anti-nutrients like phytic acid (which can impair the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium), and unlocks all of the vitamins and minerals within like magnesium, phosphorus, B vitamins, zinc, iron, vitamin C and E, and beta carotene.

Sprouting also makes these foods easier to digest by unlocking enzymes that help to break down starches and turn them into simple sugars, and others that break down protein that release peptides and free amino acids. Many who are gluten-sensitive have an easier time with sprouted grains, but really everyone should sprout their grains in order to provide some relief for their digestive systems when eating plant-heavy diets.

Basic instructions for sprouting beans and grains

  • You can sprout just about any seed: rice, quinoa, peas, black beans, barley and even wheat berries.
  • You’ll soak most beans and grains for 8 to 12 hours, then place into a Mason jar with a sprouting lid, flip upside down and keep on the counter on a plate for 3 to 4 days or until sprouted.
  • You’ll want to add a little water and then drain the water 2 to 3 times a day.
  • Boil your beans and grains once they’ve finished sprouting, and use in sprouted burger recipes, grain bowls and more.

Sprouting may take a bit of planning, but you won’t believe the difference in taste, the reduction in cooking time from dried seed, and the amount of relief for your digestive system when choosing to eat plant-based meals.