When we hear the word addiction, we often think alcohol, cigarettes, drugs. It was only a couple of months ago that I heard that grains could be too, when I met the 92-year-old naturopath, Mr SS Goindi.
Mr Goindi, who has been a practicing naturopath for the past 60 years, walks without support, does not wear glasses, and has his original set of teeth. I have been studying with him to deepen my knowledge of how food is medicine in naturopathy. He lays special emphasis on wheat sprouts, something I elaborate on later in this post.
My Goindi, who is disease free, has made me realise how dependent Indian diets are on grains. The one day that I told myself I wouldn’t eat grain, I realised how many food items in my diet had grains: rice, roti, murukku, biscuit, rusk. Try to do without them for a couple of days and see how your body craves them: from your choicest snack food, to biryani, the list is endless.
What are we calling grains?
Every cereal (rice, wheat), millet (ragi/finger millet), lentil (moong, masoor), bean (rajma, chickpea, soyabean) is a grain. So is every seed and nut: sesame, almonds, cashews.
Why is eating them as we normally do harmful?
- We hardly move
Human beings have eaten grains from the time we started ‘settling down’. We derive immense energy and strength in addition to nutrition from them. As long as we were leading lives where constant movement, some form of manual labour, and profuse sweating was part of our day, grains were good. The best way for the body to eliminate grain waste is through sweating (the by-product of anything acidic is uric acid, eliminated through urine and sweat). Sadly, very few of us have labour-intensive lifestyles today, where we constantly move and sweat. Which is why very few amongst us can digest heavy foods, to which grains are a big contributor.
2. Grains are acidic
For those suffering from any disease, grains prove to be even more detrimental because they create an acidic condition in the body. How do they do that? By taking a long time to digest. By digest I mean the time they spend in our alimentary canal i.e from the time we put them in our mouths to the time they leave through our stools. This can take upto 36 hours. Fruits get digested within 6-8 hours; raw vegetables within 12; and foods such as sprouts, lightly steamed vegetables within 18-20 hours. The prolonged time that grains sit inside our bodies means that they get mixed with various other kinds of foods such as vegetables and fruits, ferment and release heat and various gases.
3. Grains can consume more energy than give
Most grains are harder and complex carbohydrates (like wholewheat) or proteins (like whole beans) or fats (like almonds). Hence the body needs to release large quantities of enzyme to fully decompose them into units that it can use, making them more energy consuming. Have you noticed how some people need to sleep after eating a full or heavy meal (these meals often have grains)? Again this is not a problem in a body that is full of energy and healthy. But in a fatigued body(when we are sick), energy is already depleted, digesting grains further exhausts the energy reservoir leaving them at best partially digested.
So, we shouldn’t eat grains?
If we are trying to cure chronic diseases, recover from a short illness such as the flu or a cold, or detoxify the body, then for that duration, it’s best to avoid. If we keep the grain in our diet, then recovery is very slow.
If your body is not fighting any disease, short- or long-term, grains do need to be part of our diets. From being a great source of energy to giving us a host of vitamins and proteins, grains are essential.
The question is not whether to eat them but how to eat them? The answer is to eat them only after soaking or sprouting.
What will sprouting achieve
a. The process of sprouting which starts by soaking (seeds, grains, lentils, bean and nuts) for a period of 8-18 hrs, reduces their acidity. Phytic acid is a natural substance found in plant seeds. It is where the seeds store phosphorus and when they sprout, this phytate is degraded and the phosphorus released. When consumed without soaking, phytate creates an acidic condition and is known to impair the absorption of iron, zinc, and to some extent calcium (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19774556/). Healing demands that the body be more alkaline than acidic, which is why grains are often stopped in naturopathic treatments.
b. Sprouting i.e. when the root starts coming out of the grain (white tail like growths) indicates that enzyme action has started in the seed. This is something that the human body would have had to do if grains are eaten directly. This is why sprouts are often referred to as pre-digested or easy to digest foods or light foods. By making them pre-digested they no longer stay as long as non-sprouted grains in the alimentary canal. When we consume sprouted foods, we also consume a host of enzymes, which in addition to digestion, also help us absorb foods better. Fermented foods also follow a similar process of activated enzyme action, so they fall in the category of easy to digest.
c. Sprouts are loaded with vitamins and minerals salts. The process of sprouting releases the vitamins contained in dry seeds and makes them readily available for the body to absorb.
How to sprout
- Rinse and wash the seeds 2-3 times and then soak. Use a wide mouthed container and add 4 times regular room temperature drinking water to soak. All cereals, lentils and beans need to be first soaked for 12-18 hours. Soyabeans need 18 hours, while for wholewheat 12 hours is enough. In really hot weather even 10 hours of soaking might suffice. Nuts and seeds can be soaked for 8-10 hours. Cover the container and keep in a warm place with no direct sunlight.
- Post soaking, drain the water and shift to either a muslin cloth or sprouting container. Sprouting containers are easily available and generally have holes on all sides for air to freely circulate. Make sure the container has enough space for seeds to expand during sprouting.
- Leave them to sprout in a dark, warm place for another 36 hours. Rinse the container every 3-4 hours with fresh water. If you’re using a muslin cloth, sprinkle it with water every 3-4 hours.
- First the roots come out, visible as a small white tail. These are the most nutritious. Nutrition changes once the plant starts coming out (a green offshoot), which happens mostly after 48hours.
- If using a cloth for sprouting, make sure it does not catch fungus. If seeds turn black or there is an odour, that means the sprouts have gone bad.
How to eat
- Lentil or bean sprouts
a. The easiest way to eat these is to lightly steam (3-5 min) in a thick bottomed pan with a few spoons of water. Add a light dressing of lemon, salt and pepper post steaming. If one likes to eat them like a salad, then any combination of raw vegetables can be added. Simplest is to add, finely cut raw onions and tomatoes.
b. If your digestive system is strong and healthy, you can even have them raw without any steaming. But make sure you thoroughly chew them.
Only precaution is not to mix any fresh fruit with lentil or bean sprouts because proteins and fruit acid is not the best food combination and can cause acidity.
Bean and lentil sprouts are excellent sources of vegetarian protein and hence great for strength and stamina.
2. Cereal sprouts
a. It wasn’t till I started learning with Mr Goindi that wheat sprouts became a part of my life. Sprouts of wheat need to be consumed slightly differently from lentil sprouts. With wheat, it is best to have it like a porridge. And thanks to its own milk and oil wheatgerm or wheat sprouts needs no addition of milk or oil. This porridge is just as tasty as any other porridge.
To make a porridge of wheatgerm, post sprouting churn the wheat for a few seconds in a grinder with very little water. Pulse just enough to give it a porridge like consistency. Now put this thick paste on a low flame in a thick bottomed pan. Keep stirring and adding water constantly until it starts turning colour from white to light brown. Turn off the flame before it boils. To enhance taste, add a bit of jaggery at the end and eat fresh.
This process ensures an adequate supply of wheat milk, which Mr Goindi claims is very useful for brain health and in treating ageing brain issues such as memory loss and dementia. His sister, at 93 years, eats this porridge every day. I met her just this month and spent more than an hour talking to her. She was alert and mentally and verbally clear.
If you have very high sugar levels, then please consult a naturoapth before taking this.
Wheat germ is one of the best sources of Vitamin E. Known as the anti-aging vitamin, a regular supply of vitamin E helps deals with all issues of reproductive health such as hot flushes, PMS, PCOD and infertility. It is also very helpful in nourishing the skin and decreases blood clotting.
b. Wheatgerm can also be made into chila or pancake without adding any oil. Follow the above process of sprouting and then grinding until it turns into a thick paste or batter. There’s no need to ferment this batter overnight as the sprouting process is akin to fermentation. You can add salt, finely chopped onions, and a few green chillies to this batter.Now spread this batter on a flat pan, like a pancake. Once it starts cooking, you will notice it leaving the pan from the sides as it releases its own oil. Once it changes colour to light brown it is done. You can flip if you want, else only one side cooked is better
3. Millet sprouts
a. Millet sprouts such as ragi or finger millet are best had as a malt. To make malt, first sprout the ragi following the sprouting process explained above. Once sprouted, spread on a clean cloth and dry thoroughly in the sun for a few hours. Make sure there is no wetness left. Lightly roast on a thick bottomed pan to get a bit of aroma and then blend into a fine powder and store in an air tight container. To consume, add a few teaspoons of this powder to buttermilk and have.
Ragi makes make an excellent alkaline drink for growing children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and for those with anaemia, hyperacidity and ulcers as it is a rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.
b. Millet sprouts and wheatgerm can also be ground into a flour post sprouting and sun drying. This flour can then be used to make rotis, bread, and even halwa.
What about people who get gas because of sprouts?
If chewed properly or ground properly before eating, they will not cause gas. If they still do, that is because they are moving toxic matter inside. Because sprouts are pre-digested foods they want to move quickly once inside the body. But they encounter other foods that are still lying inside, so tend to push those and this creates gas, bloating. But if the alimentary canal is empty from inside, no gas would get formed.
Who benefits most?
Everyone does. People trying to lose weight (lentil and bean sprouts are best for this) see good results, as sprouts have more roughage or fibre than fruits. Secondly for those who might find buying fruits expensive, sprouts are a good alternative. They are also a great source of increasing strength and stamina (lentil and bean sprouts). Wheatgerm is excellent for reproductive health and good for the elderly who also have an issue chewing food.
Because sprouts are fibre rich, they may not be suitable for those with an ulcerative condition such as colitis, stomach ulcers or sensitive intestines. Also people with celiac disease or gluten allergy should avoid wheatgerm.