How and Why to Soak Grains and Legumes for Optimal Health and Nutrition

So many of us in the Western world today are overfed and malnourished. It’s manifesting in obesity and diseases including everything from eczema to autism, to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and even anxiety. We eat food that is simply adding calories and chemicals to our bodies, but not providing the minerals and vitamins we so sorely need. Even those who do eat healthy find they have health problems as they consume food that is laced with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and more, blocking the absorption through the gut lining of the good that is in the healthy food they are eating.

How and Why to Soak Grains for Optimal Health and Nutrition

But not all hope is lost. I don’t want to cast guilt or condemnation because I’ve been there, too. I was struggling with food, having stopped eating healthy once I got pregnant with my third child and my health started declining fast (no longer the whipper-snapper I used to be). Read about my journey to real food here. You CAN take charge of your health and life and be better for it, I’m living proof and so are many others who are eating real food.

But one topic I don’t often hear being discussed, even in natural, organic, real food circles is the ancient and very important art of soaking and fermenting grains and legumes.

Soak to Break Down Phytic Acid

Phytic what? Yeah, I know, it was a totally foreign concept to me not so long ago, too. But stick with me – this is fascinating!

Since buying the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, I have really been enlightened on how to properly prepare food so it is both easily digestible and nourishing. Part of that is the ancient process of soaking and fermenting grains and legumes – that’s rice, corn, wheat, oats, barley, spelt, lentils, beans, and everything in between. Why? To break down phytic acid, an organic acid that lies in the outer layer or bran of a grain. In the cookbook, Dr. Sally Fallon writes,

“Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.”

Dr. Fallon goes on to write that grains speed up the digestion process in the colon at first, but can lead to digestion problems later on (irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, or even just eczema) as it builds up in the system and irritates the gut lining.

Soaking also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, which stops the process of breaking down the food we eat, and we no longer absorb the nutrients we need for cell growth and repair. Soaking encourages the beneficial enzymes to produce, therefore making our food easier to digest and allowing our bodies to actually absorb (instead of eliminate) the vitamins and minerals in our food.

How to Soak Wheat Berries and Why

How to Soak and Sprout Grains and Legumes

So why did we stop soaking? For convenience’s sake, of course. It takes time and it’s harder to mass produce. But it’s so easy – the grains soak and ferment without any help from us. I just had to get in the habit of planning the night before to soak what I need for the next day. For instance, if I know we want oatmeal for breakfast the next morning, I make a note to start soaking the morning before.

Grains

  • Take a glass or stainless steel bowl (plastic often contains BPA), and pour your grains in it
  • Cover the grains (either freshly ground or whole, doesn’t matter) with warm, filtered water
  • Pour about one tablespoon per cup of grain of any of the following: whey, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice (freshly squeezed)
  • Cover with a dishcloth and let sit on the counter at least 7 hours or longer (longer is better). I’ve soaked up to 24 hours before.

Legumes

Follow the same protocol above, but it isn’t necessary to add the tablespoon of acidic liquid to it unless cooking black beans. Beans must also be cooked longer than grains, which I use my slow cooker to do.

Sprouting

You might notice, if they soak long enough, that the grains split open and you see tiny sprouts growing. This is a sprouted grain and is even better for digestion!

Nourishing Traditions Cookbook - a look inside

A look inside my favorite cookbook, Nourishing Traditions

Which Grains Should We Soak?

Wheat, barley, rye, corn and oats are the hardest to digest and should be soaked. But corn should be soaked in lime water as it releases the vitamin B3 that is bound in the grain.

Dr. Fallon writes that soaking isn’t as necessary for buckwheat, rice and millet because they contain lower amounts of phytates. But she does suggest cooking them slowly for two hours or more in a homemade broth that is high in minerals and gelatin.

Are you already a soaker or feel confident you can add this to your family’s routine? Then take it a step further and start fermenting your grains, too! That will add probiotics to your grains and make them not only fully digestible, but be a boost to your immune system. Check out this post on how to ferment your grains!

Breakfast Cereals and Granola Bars Are Not Health Foods

This is why we no longer eat store-bought breakfast cereals, crackers and pasta because the grains have not been properly soaked and fermented. I know, I know, that is NOT fun. I used to LOVE love love eating cereal in the mornings, and so did my kids. Not only are they full of phytic acid, but they are made by a process called extrusion which heats the grains at very high temperatures, thereby removing most of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, so they add them back in man-made form, which our bodies recognize as not being real.

But we did make the transition and are much healthier now! I lost weight and am back to my pre-FIRST baby size (I have three!), and we get sick less often. We have replaced cereal with egg frittatas, grain-free waffles made with almond and coconut flour, banana pancakes, bacon and more! Or, you can make your own – check out this great recipe from The Healthy Home Economist. I also have my own recipe I’ll be sharing soon that is delicious and very easy to make!

I buy Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats for our oatmeal and Einkorn Wheat Berries as they are more like the original wheat, before GMO’s (although I’m still on a grain-free diet right now, I do prepare grains for my family).

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About Sara McFall

Sara is the owner and founder of My Merry Messy Life, which started in 2011 as a way to chronicle her journey to a natural, chemical-free lifestyle and to share her passions of mothering, real food, homeschooling and crochet. She is a mama to three precious and energetic little boys and wife to a university professor who loves to sing, dance ballet and ballroom, and live simply and naturally.

Comments

  1. Sara,
    If i soak my oatmeal in apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, won’t it absorb that flavor? Or isn’t it enough to do that? I love to sprout mung beans and alfalfa beans. Should I soak them in the water/vinegar mix too?
    Thanks. This is really interesting stuff.

    • Hi Gloria! Starches are also hard to digest (and metabolize into sugar), so yes, I think it’s a good idea to soak your mung and alfalfa beans in an acidic medium as well. I have never had the oatmeal or anything else take on the flavor of the vinegar. I do rinse the oats very well, as with everything else, so that probably helps.

  2. Hi Sara, Do you cook them in the same water you soak them? I always wondered…for example if the corn releases the B3 when soaked in water with 1 tbsp of lime – should I cook the corn in the same water to keep the B3 that has been released? Or dump the soaking water and cook in regular water? Thanks 🙂 Rhondda
    Rhondda Mol recently posted..Link & Share Wednesday Party 29 & A Crochet Twitter-Hop!!My Profile

  3. Susan O'Connell says:

    What about popcorn?

  4. Fuego Azul says:

    Arrowhead Mills company sells organic sprouted corn flakes that are also gluten free. Would this be safe to eat for breakfast?
    Also, my husband found out at wikihow.com/howtosoaknuts that nuts should be soaked prior to consumption in order to extract naturally occurring acids & enzymes that aren’t too healthy for us to eat. Wait ’til you see the water after 3 hrs of soaking almonds. Yuck!
    Thank you for the heads up on legumes & grains! We soak ours now! 🙂

    • Hi there! Yes, nuts should definitely be soaked. The water does get cloudy! Sprouted corn flakes are certainly better than unsprouted, but I’d like to know how they are cooked and processed. If it’s still by extrusion, then the naturally occurring nutrients are still depleted and it doesn’t matter if they are made of gold, they are still depleted. Does that makes sense?

      • Fuego Azul says:

        Oh, smeg. 🙁 Yes, this makes sense. Didn’t think of that! I did a little research & couldn’t find much on how they process them. It did say on one website that they use hydration, & that their products meet the standards of having the most nutrients in their grains, but that was as far as it went. Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

  5. Hi. This a very nice site, well organized and worded. I have been soaking whole oats in room temp. H2o for 48hrs changing the H2o twice per day. According to Dr..Gabriel Cousins, 48hrs. Is enough to neutralize the phytates or enzyme inhibitors sproutable or stabilized oats. 36 hers. is the minimum recommended amount of time. The oats that I buy are stabilized but even so, I know that this makes them much more digestible. I do not necessarily believe that fermenting would be right for me. If I were to get the sproutable oats , I wonder how long the most optimal soak time would be without other mediums.Also, I generally avoid acids. I also wonder if soaking sproutable oats with or without buckwheat meal or groats for 36hrs. would be too long. Would the buckwheat start to rot?
    I wonder all these things!
    Thanks, Ann

  6. Hi Sara,
    This is a great article, thank you.
    I grind fresh flour from wheat berries, and use it to make bread. I noticed that you can soak freshly ground grains. How does that work? Do you rinse it after? How do you adjust your recipe to account for the extra moisture? Or is it better to soak the wheat berries, dry them, then grind?

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