I’ve been soaking grains, nuts, and beans for a few years now (a.k.a. fermenting). I first heard about it when reading Nourishing Traditions, but it took awhile for me to actually put it into practice.
My first thought was along the lines of, you’ve got to be kidding me. Soaking meant planning ahead, something unheard of for me :), and more time in the kitchen. Why on earth would anyone do that?Willingly.
It begins with phytic acid. . .
What is phytic acid?
Phytic acid (a.k.a. phytate) is a compound that all grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds contain. It’s gotten a bad rep over the years, and not without reason. According to several studies and documentations, phytic acid binds to minerals and metals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc and pulls them out of your body.
The suggested course of action is either to:
- Soak, sprout, and then dehydrate your grains, nuts, and beans – and for grains this means before grinding them into flour
- Buy pre-ground flour then soak it in an acidic medium (yogurt, kefir, whey, lemon juice, buttermilk, or apple cider vinegar) when making your recipe
- Use sourdough starter and learn to make sourdough breads
Being the health-consious person I was, I began doing a variety of all three. I felt the time involved was balanced with my desire to provide healthy foods for our family.
Then I received a comment from one of my readers suggesting that I might benefit from more reading on the subject. I was intrigued about the possibility that phytic acid wasn’t the ‘bad guy’ I’d thought.
The truth about phytic acid
While researching the pros and cons of phytic acid, I discovered that it’s not easy to find objective opinions. On one hand you have studies and well-researched documents claiming one thing and equally researched studies claiming another. It’s enough to drive a person insane. I felt like crying, “Would somebody pleeease just tell me the truth!”
I wanna be a kid again.
When I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without worrying about the bread it was on.
And summer vacation lasted forever.
Okay, I’m done whining now.
Although known as the bad guy, phytic acid also wears a white cowboy hat (please see black and white versions of the Lone Ranger if confused by this statement) because it:
- Can provide protection from mineral deposits in joints and blood vessels because it binds to minerals.
- Provides antioxidants, decreasing the risk of cancers.
- Decreases blood glucose levels which is important for diabetics.
- The foods that contain more phytic acid also contain more phytase (the enzyme that breaks down phytic acid). Isn’t that interesting? It seems God balanced them out. 🙂
- Does decrease to a degree during baking regardless of whether you soak and sprout, soak the pre-ground flour, or use sourdough methods.
- Releases inositol that may reduce depression.
- Studies show it may reduce inflammation in intestines.
In my opinion, there isn’t enough evidence to claim phytic acid is all good or all bad.
So if phytic acid isn’t an issue (or at least big enough to base all our reasoning on), are there other reasons to ferment by soaking, sprouting, or sourdough?
When you ferment grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds:
- Vitamin content, particularly B vitamins, increases and gluten, tannins, and complex sugars are broken down for absorption.
- They become more digestible – this is important for anyone with digestive issues i.e. Crohns, IBS, celiac, gluten intolerance, etc.
“Enzyme inhibitors can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas; irritating tannins; complex sugars which the body cannot break down; and gluten and related hard-to-digest proteins which may cause allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness.” ~ Nourishing Traditions
So what do I do?
In the end, I decided that first we should cut way back on the phytic acid containing foods we eat. Then, instead of soaking and sprouting my bread-making grains before I ground them into flour, I started using the sourdough method or adjusted some of my favorite flour recipes to include a soaking period.
I still soak my nuts, beans, and other grains (i.e. rice, millet, quinoa) because I feel I’m getting the best of both worlds that way. Soaking does not eliminate all of the phytic acid so I’m still getting some, but I’m also receiving the digestive benefits it gives.
And really, all this soaking and sourdoughing isn’t that hard to do. A little planning, yes, but it actually breaks a recipe into several parts so the end preparation is less time consuming. Yes, even I can learn to plan ahead! 🙂