You may have heard that whole grains contain compounds that make it more challenging for our body to digest them. In the scientific community these compounds are broadly referred to as anti-nutrients. What these anti-nutrients, like Lectin and Phytate (phytic acid), do is disrupt the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from the food we eat – most notably, iron, zinc and calcium – in the process causing inflammation in our digestive tract.
The good news is there are benefits of soaking grains overnight, including the breaking down of Lectin and Phytates in grains, and thereby helping us reduce persistent inflammation and increase absorption of vital nutrients that support the overall function of our body.
In essence, it is a survival mechanism for the seed itself. Passing through the intestinal tract of animals unscathed is an ingenious way many plants are able to propagate and germinate in new territory throughout the wild.
In actuality, lectins and phytates in grains are not entirely bad for you. In small or moderate amounts, lectins act as antioxidants and slow the absorption of carbohydrates, which prevents spikes in blood sugar and aids in a longer sensation of satiety – a definite bonus in our modern society. But these compounds can also cause inflammation in high amounts, and over time can contribute to autoimmune issues.
Luckily, most grains also have an enzyme that, once activated, can help break down these anti-nutrients.
In many ways, it has taken modern science to test and confirm the chemical reactions taking place in order to validate the basic practices of and benefits of soaking grains that indiginous cultures have done for thousands of years. There are a few tried and true methods of preparing grains to promote the presence of phytase, the enzyme that helps break down those “don’t eat me” phytates in grains: Sprouting, Soaking, and Fermenting.
Spouting your grains (as opposed to sprouting potatoes) requires a bit more time and energy, but it is an excellent way to maximize the amount of available nutrients. I recommend checking out this detailed post at traditionalcookingschool.com with detailed instructions on how to sprout, dry, and grind your own sprouted grains. Once you get the hang of it, it’ll be a breeze and your body will thank you!
For most of us, soaking grains is a great place to start in reducing the amount of inflammatory compounds we ingest.
Soaking Grains to Remove Phytic Acid
To soak your grains, simply combine them with warm water and a teaspoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for every cup of grain and let them soak overnight.
That’s it. Just drain, rinse and cook them as you normally would.
Fermenting your whole grain flour is another option, which is commonly referred to as “souring” or making sourdough (Check back here for a more lengthy post on the fabulous practice of fermentation). In the meantime, soaking your flour in the liquid portion of your recipe overnight still decreases a portion of the anti-nutrients while also generally improve the quality and flavor of your baked goods. That’s what I call a win-win!
It is true that soaking your grains to remove phytic acid will require a bit of forethought. This is another reason that I highly recommend you make a rough menu plan on a weekly basis. This can do wonders in your ability to factor in fresh produce and optimally prepared ingredients into your daily diet.
It may sound disheartening, but I do think one of the biggest challenges to eating clean is planning, or rather, lack of planning. We all know it’s true, and have witnessed it in our lives when we get too busy and don’t plan our meals well. This is often when fast food and processed foods start creeping back into our daily eating habits.
But don’t despair, planning at least one day in advance is all it takes to reap the benefits of soaking your grains (if you include grains in your diet) will make a big difference in reducing inflammation and boosting your body’s nutritional uptake.