One of my goals this year is to get back on track with properly preparing my grains. I’ve been doing it for years now, but got off track with pregnancy and a new baby.
Some may say to just avoid grains. But I tried that and learned that my body needs them! The most unhealthy I’ve ever been was when I went grain free. Grains can be a very healthy part of a real food, traditional diet. Even Nourishing Traditions and GAPS mention the benefit of properly prepared grains.
So to help us all get to where we need to be I’m sharing some information about why you need to treat your grains in a special way if you are going to consume them and how it’s done. I actually wrote most of this a couple years ago! But never shared it here. It’s a good reminder for myself. Hopefully it’s a great starting point or reminder for you as well.
In the weeks following this introduction I’ve got some basics and some fun recipes coming that all involve properly prepared grains. I hope you enjoy!
One of the oddest and most confusing aspects of real food is the idea of soaking grains. Switching to butter instead of margarine? No problem. Drinking raw milk instead of pasteurized? You bet. Using honey instead of corn syrup? Done. Get your flour wet before using it? Say that again? Wet flour? How could that work? And why would you want to? But if you understand why you might find yourself turning your favorite baked goods into healthier soaked versions.
It turns out there is actually a good reason to soak grains. Little things called phytates. Grains contain anti-nutrients as a protective mechanism. This protects them from weather and animals. But it also makes them difficult to digest. Your digestive juices are enemies of the grains just like any external enemy. Grains also have compounds that prevent active enzyme activity in your digestive system. This puts stress on your pancreas.
In the unsoaked state grains contain phytates, which makes the minerals in the grains unavailable to you. This can lead to mineral deficiencies and poor bone density (one more thing I learned the hard way when I found out I have seven cavities!). Both enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid can be mostly neutralized by soaking the 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 the grains they are very difficult to digest and are actually harmful to your body. This holds true for gluten-containing grains like wheat and rye but also for alternative grains like oats, amaranth and teff. In fact oats, such a dietary staple for so many, has the highest phytate content of any grains!
Grains that are not properly prepared are harmful. So how do you make them healthy? It’s not as hard as you might think. And, honestly, 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 is plan ahead. Soaking does take time. So if you want soaked pancakes in the morning, you have to plan and get them started the day before.
The basic idea is that you use cultured dairy or another acid medium like lemon juice to soak the grains for at least 7 hours (ideally 24 hours) before using them. The length of time required will depend on the grain.
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. Simply replace the liquid in the recipe with a cultured/acidic medium (kefir, buttermilk, yogurt or warm water mixed with lemon juice), mix it with the grains, cover the bowl and let it sit. Then proceed with the recipe after the grains have soaked. You can also add the fat/oil during the soaking step.
Soaking can be used on all kinds of grains…wheat, oats, rice, etc. It is also used for lentils, beans and nuts. There are a few exceptions to the rule. Coconut flour, white rice, millet and flax seed are relatively low in phytic acid. Although soaking them will still be beneficial it is not as critical.
Although millet is low in phytic acid, it is goitrogenic. So limit your millet intake if you have thyroid problems.
So what do you do if you don’t have time to soak your flour before baking, or what if you forgot to plan ahead? An alternative is to sprout the grains. This is helpful for those times you have to do some last minute baking. Simply sprout the grains, dry them and grind them into flour. Then the phytates are already neutralized and you don’t have to soak it. You can buy sprouted grains if you do not want to make your own.
A third option for dealing with phytates is sourdough. Sourdough also breaks down the phytates and makes the grains easier to digest. Sourdough can be used for all kinds of baked goods. If you want bread, sourdough is the way to go.
Soaking grains is a critical step in the baking process if you are not using sprouted grains or a sourdough starter. It is important for aiding digestion for everyone. It is especially crucial for anyone with a leaky gut, food allergies or food intolerances. Even if you avoid some of the common grains like wheat and corn, you still have to properly prepare your food. If you have cut gluten out of your diet but have not noticed any improvement, try soaking the gluten free grains you eat.
Some alternative grains and flours are teff, amaranth, tapicoa, millet, rice (white and brown), quinoa, coconut, hemp and garbanzo bean. These can be prepared in the same manner as their traditional counterparts.
The next time you start baking ask yourself one question: “Is my flour wet?” If it is you’re on your way to a tasty treat that will be easier on your gut and provide your body with important vitamins and minerals.
Do you consume grains? What is your favorite way to prepare them?