THE KITCHEN PHYSICIAN

Sprouting for Healthier Birds

By Carolyn Swicegood


Does this hypothetical advertisement interest you as a parrot owner?

"Wanted: Live, organic, taste-tempting food crop for parrots; must cost no more than twenty to forty cents per pound and must grow in a very limited space without soil, sunlight, or fertilizer; must be ready to harvest in less than a week; must contain abundant natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and protein."

Sprouts are the only food on the planet that meets these seemingly impossible requirements. The germinating seed is in the maximum growth phase of the immature plant. It has been described as "a chemical vitamin factory in high gear, cranking out antioxidants and chlorophyll, and repackaging minerals and trace elements in a more bio-available form." All of the stored food and enzymes needed for the growth of an entire new plant are mobilized as the seed sprouts. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are broken down (predigested) to free up amino acids, simple sugars and soluble compounds. Essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium are supplied by sprouts in chelated form for better assimilation.

If you have put off sprouting seeds, grains and legumes for your birds because you have heard warnings about dangerous fungal and bacterial contamination, it is time to give sprouting a second look. Sprouts are as safe as any other fresh food. There are natural preservatives that can be used to avoid the possibility of contaminated sprouts if you need reassurance of their safety. Detailed information will be included here.

MEDICINAL VALUE OF SPROUTS
Food that requires little or no energy for digestion is the perfect choice for parrots with acute or chronic health challenges. The life energy in fresh sprouts is thought to assist and stimulate the self-healing ability of humans and birds alike. Sprouts supply the body with high-quality nourishment that is used for fuel. Not only do they contain the many trace minerals, vitamins, and enzymes necessary for tissue repair, this "pre-digested food" frees the resources of the body from the task of digestion to speed up the metabolism and to overcome challenges to the immune system.

Sprouted seeds were valued for their healing and rejuvenating effects five thousand years ago by the Chinese Nobles. Today, we are becoming increasingly aware of the feasibility of eating fresh whole unadulterated foods. The trend toward organically-grown living foods is beginning to be recognized by mainstream food retailers. This is good news for all of us, but especially for the owners of only a few pet birds who now have the option of buying ready-to-serve sprouts. In most supermarkets a variety of sprouts are available including Chinese bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and a sprout blend that includes radish, clover, peas, and other sprouts.

The latest ready-to-serve sprout on the market is broccoli. A study recently carried out at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine concluded that "Large quantities of inducers of enzymes that protect against carcinogens can be delivered in the diet by small quantities of young crucifer sprouts, that is, three day old broccoli sprouts that contain as much inducer activity as ten to a hundred times larger quantities of mature vegetables." A parrot could not easily consume the amount of broccoli or other mature Cruciferous vegetables required to deliver the important health benefits of a small quantity of broccoli sprouts. Many parrots also like the taste of these small but powerful anti-cancer plants. Of course, to obtain optimal benefits from sprouts, we need to grow our own. There are no guarantees regarding the length of time that supermarket sprouts have been on the shelf. Sometimes the long white Chinese bean sprouts have been treated with a mold inhibitor that is best avoided by humans and birds alike. Many bird owners who do use ready-to-serve sprouts rinse them in a citrus-based antibacterial solution before feeding them.

IMPROVED HEALTH
I have heard many stories of birds that have enjoyed an immense improvement in health after being given a better diet including sprouts. Here is one account by Donalee Hatfield: "I have been feeding sprouts for about two years. I use two mixes from different companies mixed together. I do this because I want to give my birds as many different types of sprouted items as possible. I have heard some people say that their birds did not like them, but I have yet to find a bird that did not take to them in just a day or two. It is the favored food of all my birds. I love them also because they are very easy to prepare and are a living food unlike anything else that we feed our birds. When I began to feed sprouts, I noticed an improvement in all my birds. They were on a good diet already (pellets, veggies, fruits, etc.) but they seem to have gotten an improved sheen to their feathers."

What brought me to sprouts in the first place was "Hopper" my cockatiel. He was given to me by a pet shop because his feet were deformed and he was very sick. He was on and off antibiotics for over six months. Even after he had been off antibiotics for a while, he just did not seem to be doing well. More than a few people, vets included, did not think Hopper would live very long. By this time I was in love with this little bird and was determined to find ways to help him. The first thing I found and tried was sprouts. I could see an increase in his activity level within a few days. He just seemed brighter. I had been giving him physical therapy to improve the movement in his legs but he had not improved much. He did not get around well at all. After about six weeks, he began to walk better. Soon after that, he was able to lift his leg to scratch his head for the first time ever! Hopper is now three years old. He is as healthy and happy as can be. He still cannot perch but do not feel bad for him because of this. He has no idea that there is anything imperfect about him and he is very spoiled and loved. He brightens our every day with his many words and sound effects. A day would not be complete without a cheery "Such a good bird" from my sweet Hopper."

FIRST SPROUTING EXPERIENCE
Here is how one parrot owner began making sprouts. Suzi Pilat says, "LJ, my Blue Front Amazon, eats organic fruit and veggies and since I have only had him for ten months and never have owned a parrot before, I read up very quickly on them. While reading a book on Amazons, I read that they love sprouts and that in the wild, they forage for these nutritious nuggets. So, I went to my local health food store and purchased a few different varieties there. The ones that LJ liked the most was a bean mixture of peas, lentils and adzuki beans. The sprouts are only about a quarter inch long. I later tried some sunflower sprouts and he really loved these, also. I read that they do not have to have long sprouts on them, as the nutritional benefits already start taking place when they start germinating. I also noticed that he would snip off the sprout and go for the inside. Seeing his love for the sprouts and knowing how healthy they are, I decided to buy a sprouter. The one I purchased was a very inexpensive one. The sprouting seeds and beans are also very inexpensive and for my Amazon, a real treat. I then purchased several different sprouting seeds to test. Some of the others that he likes are millet and barley. But his favorite is sunflower. I feed him sprouts daily, mostly in his morning breakfast mix of fresh fruits, carrots, sometimes birdy bread or granola, and he always goes for the sprouts first!"


JUST DO IT
Do not be put off by all of the conflicting directions on sprouting! The truth is that seeds will sprout with very little bother. It matters not whether you use sprouting jars, glass jars with mesh lids, sprouting pans, colanders, mesh bags, or elaborate automatic sprouting systems. Many people do prefer glass or stainless steel rather than plastic containers, but I never have had any problem with the plastic colanders that I like to use. The amount of soaking time and sprouting time are other aspects of sprouting that are very forgiving. Sprouts may be harvested in only one day or up to five days after the first tiny tail peeks from the end of the seeds. From a bird's eye view, they are best harvested and fed when the sprout first appears. This is when they are at their peak of nutritional value. After the fifth day of growth, the enzyme level of sprouts declines.

GETTING STARTED
You may want to prove to yourself that your birds really will enjoy sprouts before you start. If so, before you go to bed tonight, place the seeds that you plan to feed your birds tomorrow in a colander and rinse very well. Then place them in a bowl or pan of pure water to soak overnight. The water level should be several inches over the top of the seeds. By morning, the seeds will have absorbed the water and plumped up to have a moist consistency much like fresh seeds. Rinse, drain until dry, and spread over the top of your bird's soft foods. Most birds show a definite preference for soaked seeds.

When you are ready to embark on your sprouting adventure, start with sunflower seeds, mung beans, lentils and wheat berries. Buy the seeds from a health food store and follow these easy directions for sprouting in a colander, a wide pan, or a glass jar with a mesh lid held in place by a rubber band. You may sprout one type of seed per container in order to become familiar with the amount of time that each requires to sprout, or you may sprout them all together.

Sprouts need moisture, proper temperature and adequate air circulation. As they grow, sprouts release carbon dioxide and other gasses and create waste that must be removed by rinsing. If sprouts ever have an objectionable odor or look moldy, discard them, sterilize the equipment, and begin again. Never feed questionable or spoiled sprouts to your birds. Sprouts smell earthy and should not have an objectionable odor. Leftover sprouts will keep for several days if refrigerated. Rinse and drain them daily until they are used.

TIPS FOR VARIOUS SPROUTS
Most seeds, grains and legumes can be soaked overnight but a few require less time as detailed here.

LEGUMES:

NOTE: Many people have fed all of the beans in their sprouted form without problem. However, large raw beans such as Anasazi, Black, Fava, Kidney, Lima, Navy, Pinto, and Soy can cause problems of toxicity and digestive upsets for people and perhaps for birds. Except for soy sprouts (edible raw if grown long enough), these beans should be cooked to be digestible and are not recommended for general sprouting purposes. Soy sprouts, however, are high in isoflavones, SOD (superoxide dismutase), a very powerful and important antioxidant with essential fatty acids and lecithin.

SAFETY CONCERNS
With ordinary measures of safe food handling and hygiene, sprouts will grow without the risk of fungal contamination. If this is of concern to you though, Grapefruit Seed Extract (Citricidal by Nutribiotic or Agrisept) can be used to prevent fungal contamination. To make a solution for soaking seeds and beans before sprouting, use one tablespoon of GSE per gallon of pure water. To rinse sprouts, soak them briefly in a GSE solution and drain.

SOIL SPROUTING
Sprouting in soil will produce sunflower "greens," buckwheat greens, fresh pea shoots, or wheat and barley greens. These greens provide variety and a good change from the usual supermarket variety of greens. They sometimes are available in health food stores ready-to-serve. Here are the easy directions for growing nutritious greens in a limited space:

Fill large trays with drainage holes two thirds full of pesticide and chemical-free potting soil. Soak wheat berries for eight hours, peas, buckwheat or sunflower seeds for twelve to eighteen hours and spread loosely over the surface of the soil. Water well and cover with plastic with one side unsealed for ventilation. Water daily with a fine mist. After three days uncover the trays and place them in indirect sunlight or bright indoor light for five to eight days. The crop will be five or six inches tall. Keep the soil moist and cut as needed while the plants are young and tender.

Besides sunflower, buckwheat, pea, wheat, and barley greens, soil sprouting lends itself well to oats, rye, kamut, spelt, triticale, kale, snow peas, cabbage, fennel, mustard and amaranth. Just as regular sprouting can be done indoors in very little space, so can soil sprouting. With a series of shelves and a source of light, crops can be rotated to give parrots a smorgasbord of the most neglected component of the diet they would enjoy in the wild--fresh greens!

NO EXCUSES
Whether we sprout in the traditional manner or grow sprouted greens by using small amounts of soil, our birds will display the benefits in shinier feathers, brighter eyes, more energy, and higher production in breeding birds. There is no doubt that healthier parrots are more likely to be successful breeders. Fruits and vegetables certainly are an important component of the diet of parrots, but once they are harvested, they start to lose nutritional value. By the time they reach our grocer's shelves, they may have traveled half a continent or more and their freshness and nutritional value is questionable. However, sprouts can be fed as they continue to grow and maintain their high level of nutritional value until they are eaten. If you want to add just one powerful food to the diet of your parrots, sprouts are without a doubt your best choice. There is no good reason not to provide your birds this powerhouse of nutrition that is so natural to their diet in the wild. Sprouting is easy--JUST DO IT!

©1999 Carolyn Swicegood. All Rights Reserved.
Original Artwork by Susie Christian.


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