Grains are one of the most commonly consumed foods worldwide. However, along with the continued and growing popularity of well-known and re-emerging varieties of grains, there has also been a corresponding rise in reports about difficulties in
digesting them. Despite the hype about grain sensitivity, for many people the problem may not lie with the grain itself, but rather in the preparation of the grains.
Pre-soaking grains before cooking is one way to assuage problems associated with grain digestion. This step is said to make grains more digestible which allows the body to extract more nutrients. The process of pre-soaking can also help minimize the effects of various anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, which can otherwise inhibit the body's ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals in the grain.
Pre-soaking grains can help address at least the following issues:
Grains contain phytates which are antioxidant compounds. The main concern regarding these anti-nutrients is that they bind to specific minerals, like zinc, iron and manganese which slows absorption. Typically, the bran part of whole grains contains phytic acid and if consumed excessively can inhibit mineral absorption. Soaking grains before cooking can help neutralize the phytic acid, removing barriers to proper absorption of these minerals.
Difficult proteins and complex starches
Pre-soaking grains also helps break down certain hard-to-digest proteins such as gluten. In addition, certain complex starches and fiber also become easier to digest as they are broken down further by the soaking process. As a result, individuals may notice that many of their gluten sensitivities or allergic reactions may be lessened when grains are soaked prior to cooking.
Since grains are seeds, they contain enzyme inhibitors which are good for the grain as they protect the seed from germinating unless conditions are optimal for its growth. However, if these same enzyme inhibitors are ingested by humans, they can inhibit the body’s own enzymes and result in a less efficient digestive process. Instead, when grains are soaked before cooking, enzyme inhibitors are neutralized allowing for better vitamin and mineral assimilation by the body.
What is the best way to soak grains?
Typically grains are soaked in warm water. Based on the type of grain, soaking periods can vary from a couple of hours to soaking overnight. For instance, grains like buckwheat, millet and brown rice do not have very high amounts of phytate, so they can be soaked for a few hours. Other grains, such as whole wheat, spelt, or oats, should be soaked overnight due to their high phytate content.
For best results, many experts recommend that grains be soaked not only in a warm liquid, but also that the liquid be fortified with an acidic medium such as yogurt, lemon juice, whey, kefir or apple cider vinegar. Adding an acidic medium helps to prevent spoilage from unfriendly bacteria while also facilitating the breakdown of phytic acid.
So go ahead and give it a try! The best way to find out if it helps you is to try pre-soaking some grains for yourself.
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