Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened in order to neutralize naturally occurring antinutrients in these foods, such as phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, tannins and complex carbohydrates.
A parent plant gives a seed (and nuts, grains, and legumes are also seeds) plenty of tools to help it succeed. Some of those tools are enzyme inhibitors that keep the seed from sprouting until conditions are right for it to grow. In my last post I talked about how important food enzymes are for our digestion. Well, enzyme inhibitors are in contrast not a good thing! These need to be neutralized before you eat them.
Another big antinutrient in seeds is phytic acid (an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound), found mostly in the bran or outer hull of seeds (including brown rice). Phytic acid can combine with other minerals in the intestines and block absorption, leading to mineral deficiencies and bone loss.
Other antinutrients in seeds are irritating tannins, complex sugars we can’t break down, and gluten and other hard to digest proteins.
So, we hear a whole lot about eating more whole grains, and the food industry is constantly touting how much whole grain is in their products. But this whole grain is never properly prepared to remove the antinutrients. In addition, it’s often extruded at high temperatures, which damages the proteins, causing additional health issues.
In contrast, seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes in traditional diets are always carefully prepared. Grains were typically soaked at least overnight, but sometimes for several days before cooking. American Indians soaked and dehydrated nuts. Europeans used long sourdough fermentation to make their breads. In the days before “quick” oats, instructions on the box called for soaking overnight (which you still see on “steel cut” and “Irish” oats).
I’ve found it’s not too hard to soak nuts and seeds overnight in warm salt water and then dehydrate them in a toaster oven. So I do make regular used of nuts and seeds. It’s a little harder with grains. I generally eat far less grain than I used to anyway, because I do better on fewer carbs. When I do buy bread, I typically buy sprouted flour bread, English muffins, or tortillas that are available in my health food store’s freezer section. For oatmeal, rice, and beans, I soaked them in water with a bit of whey, typically at least 24 hours (see Nourishing Traditions for instructions). I don’t eat much pasta.
- Be Kind to Your Grains…And Your Grains Will Be Kind To You
- Living with Phytic Acid (includes instructions for preparing brown rice, which is high in phytates)
- Plants Bite Back: The Surprising, All-Natural Anti-Nutrients and Toxins in Plant Foods
- Putting the Polish on Those Humble Beans
Next time, characteristic #7: Traditional diets are rich in fat but only 4% of calories come from polyunsaturates.
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Filed under: Nutrition Facts by Jill