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Phytates…What Are They And What To Do About Them

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One of the things that intrigued me and confused me the most when starting my Real Food journey was the idea of soaking grains. You mean I’m supposed to get my flour wet before using it? As someone that loves to bake that just didn’t make sense to me. And when I first heard about it I kind of ignored the idea. But as I gradually read more and more I thought there might be something to it. So I did some research to find out why. And I gave it a try.

Turns out there is actually a good reason to soak or sprout grains. A little thing called phytates. Grains contain anti-nutrients to make them difficult to digest and compounds that prevent active enzyme activity in your digestive system. This puts stress on your pancreas. In the unsoaked/unsprouted state grains contain phytates which makes the minerals in the grains unavailable to us. This can lead to mineral deficiencies and poor bone density. Both enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid can be neutralized by soaking grains. This makes them easier to digest and makes the nutrients available to your body. This process also begins to pre-digest the grains, breaking down complex starches and tannins that can irritate your stomach, as well as beginning to break down proteins like gluten.

So without soaking or sprouting grains they are very difficult to digest and are actually harmful to your body. The best thing to do…soak, sprout or use sourdough.

So, how exactly do you do that? It’s not as hard as you’d think. And honestly I think that soaking often makes baking easier! It breaks up the process into very short steps that only take a few minutes here and there. The main thing you have to be willing to do…PLAN AHEAD. Soaking does take time. So if you want soaked pancakes in the morning, you have to plan and get them started the night before.

The basic idea is that you use cultured dairy or another acid medium to soak the grains for at least 7 hours before using them. The easiest way to start is by using recipes that give exact instructions on what ingredients to use, how much and how long. Once you get the hang of it you can start experimenting.

Soaking can be used on all kinds of grains…wheat, oats, rice, etc. It is also used for lentils, beans and nuts.

What if I don’t always have time to soak my flour before baking or what if I forgot to plan ahead? An alternative is to sprout the wheat. I often do this so that I have flour on hand for those times I want to do some last minute baking. You sprout the wheat berries, dry them and grind them into flour. Then the phytates are already neutralized and you don’t have to soak it. I have directions on how to sprout wheat berries (or any other grains) here. You will need a grain mill to do this. I have an attachment for my stand mixer. It works well, but you can only do small batches of flour. Some day I’d like to get a real grain mill. The other good thing about grinding your own wheat (sprouted or not)…it’s cheap! Wheat berries are definitely cheaper than whole wheat flour. I just got 25 lbs. of berries for $22.

A third option for dealing with phytates…sourdough. Sourdough also breaks down the phytates and makes the grains easier to digest. Sourdough can be used for all kinds of baked goods. Here’s how I made my sourdough starter. It’s actually very easy. And it’s been going strong ever since.

Finally, phytates are not limited to grains. They are also found in nuts and seeds. To reduce the phytates in nuts and seeds you have to soak and dry them. A simple process. And you can do a huge batch at once and store them in the freezer so you have them on hand. A healthy, easy snack. The method is the same for all nuts, just some variations on soaking time and salt amounts. I have made peanuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts and cashews. All very good.

Well, my little peanut is calling me from her bed…and she’s probably soaked 😛  So I’ll call this good for today. I hope it sheds a little light on the idea behind soaking and sprouting. It really is good for your tummy and your health.


  1. Sara says:

    Great post, Mary! I was very… unconvinced… that soaking grains would be easy or save time at first, too. I held out for a long time. But, you’re right, it does making it easier and more efficient.

    In your experience, how much flour do you get when you grind a cup of wheat berries?

  2. Mary Voogt says:

    Not sure I’ve ever measured it myself. But my mill attachment instructions give the approx. ratios. I’ll have to look it up and get back to you. I think it’s something like 1 cup berries = 1 1/4 cups flour.

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