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Should you eat bread or sprouted whole grains?

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Have you ever wondered why some ice cubes are as clear as glass, or why bakers use sugar, even in savory breads? Celebrity chef Alton Brown answers these questions in the American Chemical Society's latest Bytesize Science episode. The video is available now on the Bytesize Science website. You may wish to check out the site, "Cooking tips from Alton Brown: A new American Chemical Society video." The video is available now here.

Have you ever wondered why some ice cubes are as clear as glass, or why bakers use sugar, even in savory breads?

Celebrity chef Alton Brown answers these questions in the American Chemical Society's (ACS') latest Bytesize Science episode. "Everything that happens in the kitchen is science," Brown says, according to the November 14, 2013 news release, Cooking tips from Alton Brown: A new American Chemical Society video. "So if you understand science, at least some of it, you're going to have more power over your food." In the video, Brown gives examples of this principle and explains the basic chemistry behind two of the most essential ingredients in the kitchen — water and sugar.

If you want to impress guests by turning water into glassy rather than foggy ice cubes for your cocktails, the video notes that understanding the behavior of water molecules will help. As for the other key ingredient featured in the video, Brown talks about what makes sugar so important in baking, even in those instances when sweetness isn't the goal.

For more entertaining, informative science videos and podcasts from the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Office of Public Affairs. View videos there such as the following: Prized Science, Spellbound, Science Elements and Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions.

Are sprouted grains healthier than unsprouted grains?

The UC Davis Center for Health and Nutrition Research in Davis and Sacramento has a website called "Ask the Experts," where answers are given for commonly asked question about the health benefits of foods prepared in different ways. For example, the link, "Are sprouted grains healthier than unsprouted grains?" explains that sprouted grains such as sprouted wheat, oats and corn, have been touted as a health food, but overall the nutritional benefits appear to be very small when compared to unsprouted grains.

Other sites say the opposite, usually sites that focus on smart, functional, and naturopathic or alternative health sites. For example, sprouting wheat grass and juicing it takes out the chlorophyll and dense nutrition into a small amount of juice that people drink for energy and to have a denser form of nutrition. See, "Health Benefits of Sprouted Grains | The Whole Grains Council." One example is the website online from the Whole Grains Council. According to that website on the health benefits of sprouted grains, the following information is offered at the website: Whole Grains 101.

That's why you are encouraged to do your own research and check out the original studies. What you'd look for in the studies is whether the research was done in test tubes or Petri dishes in a laboratory setting, with human participants in clinical trials, with nutritionists in their offices, or with laboratory animals, and whether any research applies to humans. The main point is that the research databanks and journals are increasing all the time with new studies and new findings on the health benefits.

Just make sure if you sprout any grains that your sprouting process and the original grains are free from an excess growth of bacteria that might upset your stomach or worse. There's a difference between sprouting in your kitchen or workroom and sprouting in a controlled research setting in a laboratory designed for research. So to start, you might read some of the studies. Also see, "U.S. Dietary Guidelines and Whole Grains."

Health Benefits of Sprouted Grains

The body of research detailing the health benefits of sprouted whole grains is growing daily. Although it's important to remember that no standard, uniform definition of sprouted grains was observed from one study to another, it's intriguing to see — even with a wide range of definitions – how many different benefits seem to be associated with sprouted grains. Interestingly, there's no mention of quinoa, millet, teff, and other grains at the site. But there's unique news on the health benefits of sprouted buckwheat on its effects on blood pressure, at least on research with rats, where sprouted buckwheat reduced the hypertensive rats' blood pressure. Will sprouted grains help humans? Which grains? That's what the average consumer would like to know.

Sprouted Buckwheat Extract Decreases Blood Pressure

Korean researchers fed raw buckwheat extract and germinated buckwheat extract to hypertensive rats for five weeks then compared the results. The rats fed the germinated buckwheat had lower systolic blood pressure, while both groups exhibited significantly reduced oxidative damage in aortic endothelial cells. The scientists concluded that “these results suggest that germinated buckwheat extra has an atihypertensive effect and may protect arterial endothelial cells from oxidative stress.” Phytotherapy Research, July 2009; 23(7):993-8.

Sprouted Brown Rice Fights Diabetes

In Japan, six men and five women with impaired fasting glucose (pre-diabetes) or type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to eat either white rice or sprouted brown rice three times a day. After a two-week washout, subjects switched groups. Researchers reported that “blood concentrations of fasting blood glucose, fructosamine, serum total cholesterol and traicylglycerol were favorably improved on the sprouted brown rice diet but not on the white rice diet” suggesting that diets including sprouted brown rice may help control blood sugar. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, April 2008; 54(2):163-8.

Cardiovascular Risk Reduced by Sprouted Rice

In a Korean study, rats on a high-cholesterol diet were divided into four groups, a control group and three experimental groups which were fed (1) sprouted giant embryonic rice, (2) giant embryonic rice, or (3) conventional brown rice. (Giant embryonic rice is rice with a larger germ than normal.) Rats fed the sprouted rice saw a rise in their plasma HDL-cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) and other markers that led researchers to conclude that “consumption of germinated giant embryonic rice is effective in lowering atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease risk.” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2007; 51(6):519-26. Epub 2007 Dec 20.

Better Health for Nursing Mothers, with Sprouted Brown Rice

Forty-one breast-feeding Japanese mothers were randomly divided into two groups, one eating white rice and the other sprouted brown rice, for two weeks. When psychological and immune tests were administered to both groups, the sprouted brown rice group was found to have decreased scores of depression, anger-hostility, and fatigue, and a significant increase in s-igA levels, indicating better immune system function. European Journal of Nutrition, October 2007; 46(7):391-6. Epub 2007 Sep 20.

Sprouted Buckwheat Protects Against Fatty Liver

Fatty liver disease, like alcohol-induced cyrrhosis, can lead to terminal liver failure, and it’s increasing, as it often goes hand in hand with type 2 diabetes. Korean researchers found that buckwheat sprouted for 48 hours developed “potent anti-fatty liver activities” that significantly reduced fatty liver in mice after 8 weeks. Scientists found that sprouting the buckwheat increased the concentration of rutin tenfold, and also increased quercitin, both of which are known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Phytomedicine, August 2007; 14(7-8):563-7. Epub 2007 Jun 29.

Nutrient Changes Noted in Sprouted Wheat

German researchers sprouted wheat kernels for up to 168 hours (1 week), analyzing them at different stages to learn the effects of germination on different nutrient levels. While different times and temperatures produced different effects, overall the sprouting process decreased gluten proteins substantially, while increasing folate. Longer germination times led to a substantial increase of total dietary fiber, with soluble fiber tripling and insoluble fiber decreasing by 50%. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, June 13, 2007; 55(12):4678-83. Epub 2007 May 12.

Sprouting Rye Increases and Protects Folate

Sprouting rye increases its folate content by 1.7- to 3.8-fold, depending on germination temperature, according to researchers in Finland who studied the effects of different processes on this key nutrient. The scientists also found that thermal treatments – including extrusion, puffing, and toasting – resulted in significant folate losses. However, when the rye was germinated (sprouted) first and then heat-processed, losses were minimized, showing sprouting to be a useful potential tool in safeguarding nutrients during food processing. The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, December 13, 2006; 54(25):9522-8.

Sprouted Rice Reduces Common Allergens

While very few people are allergic to rice, when allergies do occur they are usually linked to specific proteins. Japanese researchers found that sprouted brown rice was much lower in two abundant allergens, when compared to non-sprouted brown rice, and that the reduction was probably caused by protease (enzyme) activity during germination. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, October 2005; 69(10):1877-83.

Optimum Germination Conditions for Wheat

Scientists at the University of Alberta germinated wheat under various conditions to determine how to maximize the production of antioxidants. First, they steeped the grains in water for 24 or 48 hours, then sprouted them in the dark for 9 days. Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, which were barely detectable in the dry grains, increased steadily during the germination period. Grains steeped for 48 hours became wet, sticky, discolored and acidic-smelling after germination, leading researchers to conclude that 24 hours of steeping and 7 days of sprouting would produce the best combination of antioxidant concentrations and sensory properties. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, July 2001; 52(4):319-30.

Sprouting Sorghum Enhances Taste and Nutrition

Tanzanian researchers observed that sorghum, although a staple food in many poorer areas of the world, is not highly esteemed, because of limits in its nutritional and sensory qualities. In an effort to make this easy-to-grow grain more useful and more widely accepted, they studied three traditional processing methods: germination (sprouting), fermentation, and a germination/fermentation comination. They concluded that germination was the best approach for improving the nutritional and functional qualities of the sorghum. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, March 2001; 52(2):117-26.

Sprouted Millet is Higher in Key Nutrients

Researchers in India allowed proso millet to germinate for 1-7 days, then analysed the changes in its composition. They found that sprouting increased lysine (a key amino acid lacking in most grains) and concentrated the protein, as the grain overall lost weight. Increases in tryptophan, albumin and globulin were also observed, along with decreases in prolamins, a plant storage protein that may be difficult for some people to digest. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, February 1994; 45(2):97-102.

Digestibility Changes in Sprouted Barley

In an experiment at the University of Alberta, barley kernels were sprouted from 2 to 5 days, then oven-dried and milled. Researchers found decreases in dry matter, gross energy (calories) and triglycerides, and increases in fiber and diglyceride content. After the sprouted barley was fed to rats, scientists said that “digestibility data showed an enhancement of digestibility of nutrients in barley… implying that sprouting improved nutritional qualify of barley.” Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, September 1989; 39(3):267-78.

Nutritional Improvement of Cereals by Sprouting

In a 1989 meta-analysis of existing studies, JK Chavan and SS Kadam found evidence that “Sprouting of grains for a limited period causes increased activities of hydrolytic enzymes, improvement in the contents of certain essential amino acids, total sugars, and B-group vitamins, and a decrease in dry matter, starch, and antinutrients. The digestibilities of storage proteins and starch are improved due to their partial hydrolysis during sprouting.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 1989; 28(5):401-37.

Now, if you look at the University of California, Davis site on nutrition, research locally also has revealed that what we do know, based on research, is that sprouts can be slightly higher in some vitamins, like vitamin C and carotenoids, and may have higher quality protein compared to unsprouted grains. However, the difference is so small that it is unlikely that their consumption will improve the nutritional status of an individual.

Claims on sprouted grains discussed at the UC Davis Nutrition Center website

Claims on sprouted grains, according to the UC Davis site, "Are sprouted grains healthier than unsprouted grains?" note that another claim that is often made about sprouted grains is that their high enzyme activities provide an advantage for human health. While it is true that some sprouted grains may have higher enzyme activities, the biological significance of this is questionable.

The function of the enzyme, phytase is to break down a compound called phytic acid. Since phytic acid binds with minerals and reduces their absorption in the small intestine, high phytase activity could potentially increase bioavailability of some minerals. However the difference in phytase activities is very small when compared to unsprouted grains, explains the UC Davis nutrition site, "Are sprouted grains healthier than unsprouted grains?" Another enzyme that can be elevated in sprouted grains is amylase. Amylases break down starches into sugars, which could increase digestibility.

Of utmost importance when considering adding sprouted grains to one's diet are the numerous reports that raw sprouts have been linked to over 30 food-borne illness outbreaks in the last 15 years

The Food and Drug Administration recommends children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts, observes the UC Davis site, "Are sprouted grains healthier than unsprouted grains?" So please be careful. Know where any raw sprouts came from and whether or not they are teeming with bacteria. Or did you raise the sprouts yourself under controlled conditions? If so, are the seeds free from the type of bacteria causing food-borne illnesses? And what about the nutrient or soil you're using for sprouting? Is it free of the type of bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses?

And did you wash the sprouts for a long enough time to clean them after sprouting? Check the conditions about which you can control when handling whole grains. Risk and reward are weighed against one another. On the other hand, you can continue to research the health benefits of sprouted whole grains and find out what's healthiest for you. And while you're at it, if you buy those powdered sprouted vegetables, be sure they don't contain excess amounts of lead. Check out the brands and how they're rated. See, "Health Studies on Whole Grains, "Top Nutrients in Whole Grains "," and "How Much is Enough?." Notice how few websites from the major grain growers discuss organic sprouted grains compared to commercial or GMO grains. Fascinating, isn't it?

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