Whole Grains, Nuts and Legumes
While whole grains, nuts and legumes offer a powerhouse of nutrients, especially magnesium, some iron, B vitamins and vitamin E, they are also high in anti-nutrients like phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. They are seeds after all, and therefore need to inhibit their enzymatic activity until the time is right for sprouting, i.e. in the presence of water. In addition, phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors serve the dual purpose of protection the seed from being eaten by animals.
Phytic acid or phytate, is a phosphorus compound that will chelate (i.e. bind) minerals like iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium, and prevent their absorption in the gut. This will greatly reduce your mineral absorption and can lead to deficiencies. And enzyme or protease inhibitors in nuts and legumes prevent protein digestion and can hurt the pancreas when consumed in large amounts.
Soaking, sprouting or fermenting your grains, nuts and legumes will break down mineral absorption-blocking phytates and inactivate enzyme inhibitors. Our ancestors soaked, fermented or sprouted their whole grains, nuts and legumes before making them into porridges, breads, falafel, bean casseroles and other dishes. In India, rice and lentils were fermented for two weeks before being served as idli and dosas. In Mexico, corn was fermented for up to two weeks using limewater to break down a protein that will bind vitamin B3, which will cause pellagra when consumed in large quantities. Traditional Russian sour dough bread recipes called for fermenting wheat for a week before baking it into bread.
In today’s fast food world we have forgotten these traditions and are instead consuming grains, nuts and legumes without these precautions. Even the well-meaning advice of many nutritionists to consume plenty of whole grains, raw nuts and cooked legumes can result in mineral deficiencies and digestive problems if not prepared properly. Here is how to prepare these foods for easy digestion and maximum mineral content:
Soak whole grains in water which 2-3 tablespoons of something acidic (like lemon juice, whey or vinegar). Cover and leave in a warm place for 7-24 hours. Most grains require soaking for only 7 hours (rice, oats, millet, wheat) though they can be soaked longer, but quinoa is very high in phytates and requires 24 hours. Transfer to a pot, including the soaking water. Add more water in case of oats. For other grains like rice, bring to a boil until the water is at the level of the grain, skim, reduce heat, stir in salt and butter/ghee/coconut oil and cook over lowest possible heat for about 45 minutes (15-20 mins for oats).
Breads: Use only whole grain sourdough bread that is leavened for 7 hours or more and avoid yeast.
Nuts and Seeds:
Nuts contain not only phytates but also enzyme inhibitors. Soak 4 cups whole, raw nuts (untreated so they can still sprout) for at least 7 hours or overnight in water with 1 tablespoon of salt. Then dry in an oven or dehydrator at 150 degrees F until dry. For 12-24 hours. Your nuts will still be raw.
Before drying you can flavor your nuts with tamari, salt or other flavors of choice.
Cover legumes with warm water. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of whey or lemon juice and leave in a warm place (lentils for 7 hours, beans and chick peas for 12-24, change water after 12 hours). Drain, rinse, place in a large pot and add water or broth/stock to cover. Bring to a boil and skim off foam. Reduce heat and simmer covered at low temperature until done (1-4 hours depending on the legume).
Note: Grains can be cooked in their soaking water but not legumes.
For more information and recipes see Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon