THE DIGESTION OF SPROUTS
with supplementary information on increasing your digestive fire
by Tom Billings
Some will, after reading this, ask why should one eat
something that may have side-effects (like gas) - why not eat something that has no side
effects, like, say, fruit? The answer is that all foods have side effects if eaten in
excess; for fruit it is diabetes-like symptoms, and, dried fruit is well known for
producing gas. Because of the high sugar levels of modern fruit, and the higher sugar
levels of dried fruit, the amount required to produce side effects is fairly low. Also,
the benefit of eating sprouts is that they are a complete life form, unlike fruit.
Some sprouts, primarily legumes (pulses), can cause gas -
flatulence. The gas is the result of incomplete digestion. Legumes or pulses are very high
in proteins, and can be difficult to digest. Legumes also contain a number of enzyme
inhibitors that further impede digestion.
* Why be concerned with flatulence, other than the
Excess gas can cause abdominal bloating and discomfort. Also,
the gas of flatulence is mildly toxic and actually harmful to your system. Ayurveda
considers the gas to be an aggravation of the vata dosha - "air humor".
Aggravation of vata can lead to an imbalance in the system which can cause disease, per
the Ayurvedic view. Because legumes or pulses are known for their flatulence generation,
Gabriel Cousens recommends that consumption of legumes, even if sprouted, be minimized.
* Are some legumes better than others?
Among legumes, mung beans are considered the best - easiest
to digest, and producing a minimum amount of gas. Mung beans have only 3 types of amino
acids, while soybeans have 17! Adzuki beans are almost as easy to digest as mung beans.
Lentils are much harder to digest; brown lentils often produce a lot of gas.
Many of the large beans, except for soy which is
(theoretically) edible if sprouted long enough, are difficult or unsafe to eat raw. Raw
kidney beans are toxic, and some people are allergic to raw fava beans. Most of the large
beans - lima, pinto, navy (white), black, and others, have a very strong, unpleasant
flavor when raw; the bad flavor is not improved by sprouting. The large beans also contain
substantial quantities of enzyme inhibitors which make them indigestible when raw, and the
inhibitors are still present in the sprout. Because of this, large beans, even if
sprouted, should be cooked, hence are of limited interest to the raw-fooder.
Alfalfa and clover, when grown into greens, become green
vegetables and their flatulence generating properties are reduced. Alfalfa sprouts also
have very high levels of alkaloids, but that is a different subject.
Listed below are a number of ways to reduce flatulence. The
methods are described for sprouts; however, with some modifications, some of the methods
can be used with other raw, gas producing foods (e.g., cabbage family vegetables).
1. Always rinse sprouts just before eating - to remove
surface sugars (oligosaccharides) that are a factor in generating flatulence.
2. Add (small amount of) turmeric or ginger to the sprouts.
Turmeric and ginger both assist in the digestion of protein; they are available dried, and
in some areas, in fresh form. (Note that turmeric is a type of ginger). Many people enjoy
the flavor of ginger; turmeric is slightly bitter but one quickly learns to like it.
Ginger and turmeric are both well known for their medicinal
properties; they are very good for you. Ginger is considered to be a "universal
medicine", and, "ginger is Ayurveda's supreme toxin digester"; ref: Robert
Svoboda, "Ayurveda: Life, Health, and Longevity", pg.130. As for turmeric,
"Turmeric is the best medicine in Ayurveda. It cures the whole person.", ref:
Vasant Lad and Usha Lad, "Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing", pg. 216.
3. Fenugreek sprouts are considered to be an herbal digestive
aid. You can add fenugreek seeds to your sprouting mixtures. They grow quickly, and
combine best with fast growing legumes like mung beans or moth beans (moth beans are a
small, brown legume available in Indian stores). Exposing fenugreek sprouts to sunlight
alters the taste substantially; try them both ways to see which you prefer. Fenugreek
sprouts are also good for the liver and nervous system.
4. If you are an advocate of food combining, pay attention to
the other foods you eat your sprouts with. My personal experience is that sprouts, when
short, are quite versatile and one does not have to be too worried about combining them
with one other type of food. Combining them with two other food types that are
incompatible to each other, generally doesn't work. Long sprouts - greens, to be precise,
are leafy vegetables and subject to the food combination practices for green vegetables.
5. Stimulate digestive fire with a gentle herb, fennel seed.
This can be taken as 1 teaspoon of powder 15-30 minutes before a meal, taken with warm
water, or by chewing fennel seeds at the end of the meal. The seeds/powder should be raw.
You can use soaked fennel seed (can sprout it but it takes a long time) instead, but
soaking makes the fennel bitter, while the powder form is convenient, fast acting, and has
a pleasant flavor.
6. Use gentle anti-gas spices. Three of the most effective
are cumin seed, dill seed, and coriander seed. You can add these whole seeds to your
sprout mixtures, soak, and let them sprout with your seeds (tested for 1-1.5 days sprout
time; should work fine for longer sprouting periods but haven't tested it under those
conditions). These seeds generally do not develop a root shoot in 1.5 days.
7. Use other spices that are digestive aids: mustard seed
(strong! use in small quantities), cardamom seeds, caraway seeds, cinnamon. Cardamom and
caraway seeds can be used, but should be added just before eating, in dry form (powder) or
whole seeds that are soaked separately, as they can overpower the flavor of everything
else. Cinnamon is a gentle spice; add just before eating.
8. Try to counteract the gas (vata) by eating oily foods
(anti-vata) with the sprouts: avocado, oily salad dressing (tahini), sunflower seed
sprouts (not greens), nuts (soaked or unsoaked).
9. Use an enzyme supplement product specifically for
carbohydrates, e.g. "Beano", or other, general digestive enzyme supplement(s).
The attitudes of raw fooders vary on supplements; some take them, others consider them
inappropriate as they are processed.
10. Some strong spices, with an anti-gas effect, are
available; use with caution: rajasic (stimulating) spices: cloves, black pepper, hot
peppers tamasic (depressing) spices: garlic. Note that I do not recommend use of the above
strong spices; am including this information for those that choose to use them. The above
spices, used in excess, can over-stimulate digestion and cause problems.
Remark re: using herbs and spices. Most sprouts have mild
flavors, and their flavor is easily overshadowed by the spices. So use very small amounts
to begin with, adjusting the amount as appropriate for you. The spices that are seeds can
be added dry if appropriate; however there is real benefit in soaking them and allowing
them to sprout with your seeds - the spice seeds "wake up" as their sprouting
process begins, and their flavor is increased, allowing you to use less. Additionally,
unlike cooked spices, it is my experience that raw spices quickly give the
"stop" signal (taste change) that instinctive eaters talk about, and interpret
as a signal from the body to stop eating.
Besides the methods above, a number of practices are
indirectly useful in promoting good digestion, and increasing digestive fire:
* eat slowly, moderately, and chew thoroughly. Make mealtimes
peaceful and non- stressful, and sit quietly after a meal for a few minutes to allow
digestion to begin unimpeded. Hatha yoga suggests sitting in vajrasana, a simple/easy
meditative pose, for a few minutes after eating - vajrasana reportedly increases digestive
* The following is relatively obscure, but will mention it to
be complete. Swara yoga, an obscure type of tantric yoga that is concerned with breathing,
suggests eating when the right nostril is dominant in your breathing pattern, as your
digestive fire is higher then. You can force right nostril dominance by laying on your
left side for a few minutes before a meal. (Difficult to find time for, in our high stress
* exercise: abdominal exercises. Possibly the best abdominal
exercise is nauli kriya of hatha yoga - it gives a complete massage to the abdomen and all
the organs therein. Some exercises actually strengthen the stomach and intestinal areas,
not just muscles in that area. Certain types of abdominal and diaphragm breathing
exercises (yoga: pranayama) tone the abdominal organs as well.
Finally, it should be mentioned that although many raw
fooders have sluggish or weak digestion, many have the opposite problem: hyperactive
digestive system. If you have a hyperactive system, you should be cautious about using
spices, and in doing exercises that might increase digestive fire.
I encourage you to experiment with the above ideas to see
which work for you. Good luck in your experiments!
(Ayurveda) Vasant Lad, "Ayurveda - the Science of
Self-Healing" Vasant Lad and Usha Lad, "Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing"
Vasant Lad and David Frawley, "The Yoga of Herbs" Robert Svoboda,
"Ayurveda: Life, Health, and Longevity" David Frawley, "Ayurvedic
(Raw Foods) Ann Wigmore, "Rebuild Your Health"
Gabriel Cousens, "Conscious Eating"
(Hatha Yoga) Swami Satchidananda, "Integral Yoga
Hatha" Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, "Practices of Yoga for the Digestive
(Swara Yoga) Harish Johari, "Breath, Mind, and
Consciousness" Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, "Swara Yoga"*
Note: the two books marked * are hard to find in the U.S.