Q: What are the benefits to eating sprouted foods like nuts, beans, and grains?

A: While there is not a lot of research regarding the benefits of sprouted grains, the sprouting process does make them nutritionally superior to their non-sprouted counterparts, so they can be a nice addition to your diet.

You've heard about whole grains, which are simply seeds that have not germinated yet, covered in the protective layer called the husk. When they are intact, grains contain a series of compounds that inhibit growth (for practical purposes a seed wouldn't want to start growing until the proper time). But when environmental conditions are right, the seed begins to germinate, the husk cracks open, and the growth inhibitors are deactivated.

Sprouted grains have partially started this growth process. The deactivation of anti-growth enzymes leads to a greater availability of vitamin C, folate, and minerals like iron. The sprouting process also results in a reduction in carbohydrates along with an increase in protein. Finally, they also have lower levels of gluten and up to three times the amount of soluble fiber found in non-sprouted grains.

These nutritional enhancements translate into measureable benefits as shown by the small but growing body of research about sprouted grains. One small study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found that eating sprouted brown rice instead of white rice improve markers of blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

However, it is also important to remember that there is really no regulation around sprouted grain products. Every food manufacturer gets to make up their own definition and no one holds them to any sort of standard. Like dietary supplements, buy them with a grain of salt.

Also be aware that if eaten raw, sprouted grains may have a health risk: The warm, moist environment needed to germinate and sprout grains or beans is the same environment that also facilitates bacteria growth. However, cooking sprouted grains will kill any potential bacteria. Fortunately, the more popular sprouted grains, like rice, barley, millet, and wheat, are usually ground up and cooked into bread or pasta, or consumed as a standalone dish. But be careful with sprouted grains that can be eaten raw, such as sprouted chickpeas in hummus.

In the end, adding sprouted grains to your diet won't instantly make you healthier, but little changes (like switching to brown rice or sprouted grain bread) can add up over time to improve your health.