Traditional Preparation of Grains, Beans, and Nuts
Whole Grains, Beans, and Nuts are Healthy, Right?
Well, yes… and no.
In recent years it has become quite well known that whole grains are by far more nutritious than refined grains. This is because the nutrients found in grains are highly concentrated in the hull (or outer shell), which is completely removed during the refining process.
Processed flours are also usually bleached, bromated, and fortified with synthetic (and sometimes toxic) vitamins and minerals to make up for those that were lost in the refining process.
All of this processing produces a very poor product that can cause damage, inflammation, and imbalance in the body.
So yes, whole grains, beans and nuts are much more nutritious than refined grains and other processed foods, but unfortunately they too can cause trouble for our bodies.
To understand why, let’s start at the beginning.
What Do Grains, Beans, and Nuts Have in Common?
Seeds are absolutely PACKED full of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. They contain everything a young plant will need to sprout and survive until it develops a root system and can capture nutrients on its own. For this reason, they also have the potential to provide a wonderful source of nourishment for our bodies.
There’s just one problem, those nutrients are locked up tight in the outer layer, or hull, of the seed by a substance called “phytic acid”.
Phytic acid’s job is to bind with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc to block their absorption into the body. And for good reason! The seed needs those nutrients to be locked up tight until it is planted in good soil and ready to sprout. We wouldn’t want those nutrients leaching out of the seed before sprouting time, right?
But, our digestion probably takes care of phytic acid, allowing us to absorb all those important minerals, right?
Fun fact ~ while the presence of phytic acid in seeds is somewhat unfortunate for us, it’s actually a built-in protective mechanism for the seed itself AND God’s genius plan for spreading vegetation throughout the earth.
When animals swallow seeds in the foods that they eat, those seeds are kept intact as they travel through the animal’s digestive system and out the other side. When those undigested, pre-fertilized seeds are “deposited” onto the warm, damp soil… what will they do? They will sprout and grow into new plants – in a new place!
Tada! Isn’t that a fantastic plan?!
Just not so fantastic for us.
The presence of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors in all seeds makes digestion very difficult, if not impossible, impairing our ability to absorb critical vitamins and minerals that we needs from our diet.
Fortunately, all over the earth, and throughout human history, populations of people have been preparing grains in ways that break down, not only the protective phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors found in all seeds, but also the gluten proteins and complex sugars found in grains.
“Our ancestors, and virtually all preindustrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes, and casseroles. A quick review of grain recipes from around the world will prove our point: In India rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days before they are prepared as idli and dosas; in Africa the natives soak coarsely ground corn overnight before adding it to soups and stews, and they ferment corn or millet for several days to produce a sour porridge called ogi; a similar dish made from oats was traditional among the Welsh; in some Oriental and Latin American countries rice receives a long fermentation before it is prepared; Ethiopians make their distinctive injera bread by fermenting a grain called teff for several days; Mexican corn cakes, called pozol, are fermented for several days and for as long as two weeks in banana leaves; before the introduction of commercial brewer’s yeast, Europeans made slow-rise breads from fermented starters; in America the pioneers were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes and biscuits; and throughout Europe grains were soaked overnight, and for as long as a several days, in water or soured milk before they were cooked and served as porridge or gruel.” (Source)
The traditional techniques of soaking, souring, or sprouting grains, beans, and nuts before consuming them, mimics the process found in nature. When a seed is placed in a warm, damp environment (like soil) the enzymes within that seed will begin breaking down the phytic acid and releasing vitamins and minerals so that the seed can sprout and grow.
Did you catch that? Not only are we able to better absorb nutrients when the phytic acid is properly broken down, but the nutrients are actually INCREASED in the process!
Three Ways to Prepare Grains for Increased Digestion and Nutrition
When these ancient preparation methods are used, many people find that they are able to tolerate foods that previously caused digestive upset. Perhaps you’ve never been able to eat beans without becoming gassy? Do too many nuts sit like a rock in your stomach, make you feel crampy, or send you straight to the bathroom? Try the following methods! It may just be that you are able to enjoy your favorite foods again without unpleasant side effects.
Simply cover with warm water and add a couple tablespoons of an acidic medium (yogurt, kefir, cultured buttermilk, lemon juice, or raw apple cider vinegar) – whichever you have handy is fine. Leave at room temperature for (usually) 8-12 hours. Drain, rinse, and cook as usual, or dehydrate at a low temperature in the case of nuts.
We use this method for oatmeal, all nuts, whole (un-ground) grains like rice and quinoa, as well as beans, and other legumes like split peas and lentils. There are also many soaked flour recipes available online and these are definitely preferable to modern recipes, however I found that soaking flour (especially gluten-containing flour) was not enough to keep my family’s tummies happy.
Sprouting is similar except that the whole grains, legumes, nuts, or seeds are soaked in warm water (without the acid medium) and rinsed multiple times over the coarse of a few days until the seed actually begins to sprout just a little bit. Then the seeds need to be dehydrated until they are completely dry and then ground into flour. This is definitely more time intensive and care is required to ensure that there is no mold growth. All of this is a bit too much trouble for me.
There have been seasons when I have opted to purchase sprouted grain flour and bread from the store. This works in a pinch, but if we eat too much of it we definitely see symptoms of intolerance. Also, some brands (maybe all??) actually have gluten on the ingredient list!!
I have always wanted to begin sprouting broccoli and alfalfa seeds though, you know just for salad sprouts. I’ve even got the mason jar sprouting lid and a packet of seeds in a kitchen drawer.. just haven’t take the time to do it yet. Someday.
This is my favorite way to prepare anything bread-ish. Of the three methods, souring works the most powerfully to pre-digest grains, breaking down the phytic acid, gluten and complex sugars much better than soaking or sprouting as well as greatly increasing the nutrient content.
To sour grains you will need to either purchase or make your own sourdough starter. Caring for a sourdough comes with a bit of a learning curve, but it is WELL worth your time and effort!
I have found that my family is not able to tolerate gluten in any other way. And since we like bread – A LOT – I don’t mind spending an extra few minutes a day keeping our sourdough alive and well. Once you get a simple routine, it’s not too much trouble at all.
When I first learned about traditional foods I was convinced right away that these methods would help my family (and they did!) but when it came down to putting it all into practice, my head was spinning! I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to pull it off.
Over time these practices have become second nature. I’ve learned to be more efficient in the kitchen. I’ve learned to make time for what’s most helpful for my family and leave behind what isn’t (like sprouting grains). I’d love to share these tips and tricks with you so that your transition might be a bit smoother than mine.
Want more details on how we make all this soaking and souring work in our real-life kitchen?
A Guide to Sourdough
A Guide to Soaking Grains, Nuts, and Legumes
Already soaking, sprouting, or souring in your kitchen?
What works best for you?
Share your best tips in the comments below!
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And as always friends, please remember that I’ve got kids sledding down the stairs on Costco boxes as I write to you…
So, if you think I’ve forgotten something important, have any questions or comments, or simply a bit of encouragement to share, please use the comments below, send me an email, or find us on Facebook.
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