Digestion is a complicated process, involving multiple systems and chemical messengers within the body, that breaks down food into absorbable nutrients. Deficiencies and inefficiencies in any component of the digestive process could result in digestive issues such as bloating, heartburn, indigestion, excess flatulence, constipation, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Brush up on your digestion basics with these short videos

Overview of Digestion (Movie)

Digestion Movie for the Kids (Movie)

If you suffer from digestive upset, it is important to investigate with the help of a health care professional the root cause of the symptoms.

In the meantime, food preparation methods can also ease digestive symptoms but rendering the foods more digestible.

For those struggling daily with digestive symptoms there is hope beyond the BRAT (banana, rice, apple sauce, toast) diet, an outdated recommendation for digestive upset. Historically, sprouting is one food preparation method that has been used for many years to increase digestibility.


Grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds all contain anti-nutrients, compounds that inhibit the absorption of other nutrients.

Examples of Anti-Nutrients
Anti-Nutrient Source(s) Effect
proteaseinhibitors soybeans inhibit the actions of trypsin, pepsin and other proteases in the gut, preventing the digestion and subsequent absorption of protein.
amylase inhibitors beans prevent the action of enzymes that break the glycosidic bonds of starches and other complex carbohydrates, preventing the release of simple sugars and absorption by the body
phytic acid nuts, seeds, grains has a strong binding affinity to minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc, making them unavailable for absorption
oxalic acid spinach, chard, beets bind to calcium and prevent its absorption
glucosinolates broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts prevent the uptake of iodine
lectins legumes, grains, seeds, nuts Gastrointestinal distress through interaction with gut epithelial cells
flavonoids citrus, tea, wine, chocolate chelate metals such as iron and zinc and reduce the absorption

Anti-nutrients can be decreased (to varying degrees) through food preparation methods, such as fermenting, blanching, steaming, boiling, soaking and sprouting. Sprouting is the practice of stimulating dormant seeds using a series of soaking and rinsing steps to initiate germination or sprouting. Although most seeds can be sprouted not all seeds are safe for human consumption.

Some common food sprouts include:

  • Pulses (legumes; pea family): alfalfa, clover, fenugreek, lentil, pea, chickpea, mung bean and soybean (bean sprouts)
  • Cereals: oat, wheat, maize (corn), rice, barley, rye, kamut, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat
  • Oilseeds: sesame, sunflower, almond, hazelnut, linseed, peanut
  • Brassica (cabbage family): broccoli, cabbage, watercress, mustard, mizuna, radish, daikon, arugula), turnip
  • Umbelliferous vegetables (parsley family): carrot, celery, fennel, parsley
  • Allium (onions): onion, leek, green onion
  • Other vegetables and herbs: spinach, lettuce, milk thistle, lemon grass

All sprouts from the night shade (Solanaceae) family (tomato, potato, paprika, aubergine or eggplant) and rhubarb cannot be eaten as sprouts, either cooked or raw, as they can be poisonous. It is also important to note that it is very important when sprouting that you purchase seeds that are sold for the purpose of sprouting. Seeds that are sold for sowing may be coated with chemicals or heat treated.

Sprouting activates digestive enzymes, changes the vitamin and mineral content, and neutralizes anti-nutrients, thereby increasing the digestibility of the food. Sprouting effects every seed type differently, increasing some nutrients and decreasing others. However the decrease in anti-nutrients such as phytic acid makes many of the other nutrients more bioavailable.

For more information on sprouting and to taste a few dishes make with sprouts stop by the Market Nutrition tent at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market on Sunday September 15th at 10:00am – 2:00pm.

This guest post was by Jayda Siggers, the founder of EatWhole BeVital Nutrition, a nutrition consulting and food education practice, will be joining us at our Westboro and Brewer Park locations to answer your questions and to share her cooking and food preparation tips in her question and answer sessions, hands-on displays and demonstrations. For upcoming dates, please visit events. Jayda received her PHD in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Copenhagen focusing on neonatal gastrointestinal physiology, nutrition and immunology. Jayda is an advocate for whole foods, and science-based nutrition and contributes to multiple online resources about nutrition and wellness and healthy recipes.

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