Whole Grains & Soaking

This post covers the section “Whole Grains” of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. “Traditional” as used in this blog refers to the healthy isolated groups of people studied by Weston A Price, who were untouched by modern ways of dealing with food, or other pre-modern ways of eating that promote good health. Opinions are mine unless indicated otherwise.

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Grains, even whole grains, are getting a bad rap these days. I kept wondering why more and more people were developing problems with wheat, or more specifically, gluten. At first I thought it was just a small percentage of people, but as gluten sensitivity awareness has grown, so have the numbers. What was going on here? There are those who believe humans aren’t supposed to eat grains, but my religion has a health code called the Word of Wisdom that specifically says that grain, particularly wheat, is good for man. So I can’t just jump on the paleo wagon and say that grains are bad for us.

This troubled me for some time. I don’t know how the answer eluded me for so long, but it did. I prayed many times in my nightly prayers for an answer. I finally said a truly heartfelt prayer one night, after which I simply got the distinct impression that, just as it says in the Word of Wisdom, that grain is a good thing to eat. Now this wasn’t the full answer I wanted, but it did bring me some peace that what I believe in is true.

Well, I feel like I pretty much have the answer now that I have been looking for. It was right in my Nourishing Traditions book. This book is pretty big, and I somehow had kept missing the section on grains as I flipped through the book. I finally read it, and now everything makes sense. In fact, Fallon confirms much of what I had suspected about this mysterious grain and gluten intolerance problem.

GRAIN PROTEIN–GLUTEN

Proteins in grains, particularly gluten, are very difficult to digest. In some people, the immune system sees gluten as an invader and begin attacking it. The antibodies developed from this allergic response then begin attacking the intestinal walls and damage the villi that line the intestine. Villi are important for proper digestion, thus putting a strain on the whole digestive system. So that means we shouldn’t eat grains with gluten, right? Not necessarily.

PHYTIC ACID AND ENZYME INHIBITORS

All grains, not just gluten-containing grains, contain phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Enzymes are crucial for proper digestion, so enzyme inhibitors are problematic. Phytic acid is a substance that binds phosphorus in the grain so that it’s inaccessible for assimilation, and it can also bind to calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc (especially zinc) in the intestinal tract and block their absorption (maybe this is why I have to eat a lot of beef to keep my zinc levels up?). So it sounds like grains are not just indigestible, but are actually very anti-nutritious, right? Like maybe we shouldn’t eat them, right? Not necessarily.

IT’S ALL ABOUT PREPARATION

You see, back in the olden days, before the modern farm machine called the combine made wheat harvesting a quick and clean process, farmers used to put the wheat in stacks like the ones pictured here. They would sit there for a while, exposed to the elements. They would get wet and begin to ferment and/or sprout. Societies with traditional (pre-modern) diets also soak their grains before cooking them. It seems that sprouting helps break down gluten and neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. The fermentation process also help neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, and it breaks down gluten into simpler components that are more digestible. For people who are sensitive to gluten, sprouting and/or soaking may be all that is needed in order to safely eat grains. However, for those who have a true gluten allergy, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

TRADITIONAL EXAMPLES

  • India: Rice and lentils are fermented for two days before prepared as idli and dosas
  • Africa: Soak coarsely ground corn or millet for several days to make ogi (the Welsh made a similar dish)
  • Oriental and Latin American: Rice fermented for long periods before preparation
  • Ethiopia: Ferment the grain teff for several days before making injera bread
  • Mexican: Corn cakes called pozol are fermented for as long as two weeks in banana leaves
  • Europe: Before commerical brewers yeast, slow-rise breads were made from fermented starters, and they made their porridge and greul from grains soaked in soured milk overnight or as long as several days
  • American Pioneers: Made sourdough bread, pancakes and biscuits
  • Oatmeal containers in the U.S. used to call for overnight soaking.

BENEFITS OF SOAKING

Aside from making grains more digestible and neutralizing anti-nutrients, fermenting grains actually increases their nutritional content. Soaking encourages the production of beneficial enzymes which increase the amounts of many vitamins, especially B vitamins.
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ARE SOME GRAINS BETTER THAN OTHERS?

Well wheat is the grain that the Word of Wisdom specifically says is for man (I know most of my readers won’t care about that, but it’s important to me). Wheat has been the prized grain for thousands of years. Just how nutritious it is would depend on who you ask, but it does regularly hit top grain lists, such as this one (the ancients kinds, anyway, see below). But yes, it does have gluten. The only way around that is to soak and/or sprout.

It’s important to remember that modern man likes to experiment with food, especially so that he can grow lots and lots of the same type of crop on one giant farm without having insects go crazy on it (bio-dynamic farming is important for keeping pests down naturally). So food scientists play with the DNA of food, create hybrids, and essentially fabricate food that nature could not, to get food that grows fast and big, repels insects, and doesn’t decay easily. While this is good for growing big crops (and making big money), it is not necessarily good for health. In fact, one of the things they’ve done with food is increase the gluten content. (No wonder gluten sensitivities are popping up like crazy.) So what you really want to look for is ancient wheat varieties, such as kamut and spelt. The gluten in spelt breaks down more easily than in modern wheat, and people allergic to modern wheat also report doing better with ancient kamut. Eikorn is possibly the oldest cultivated form of wheat and is quite different from our modern varieties of wheat.

There are also grains that do not contain gluten (or at least a less problematic kind?). For people who are very intolerant of gluten, these would be preferable. They include: Buckwheat, rice, millet, amaranth, corn, quinoa, teff, and wild rice (buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice are not true grains but should still be soaked). Soaking rice is less important but still beneficial. All grains contain phytates, so it’s best to neutralize them when you can.

SELECTING AND SOAKING GRAINS

Choose whole grains that have not been ground, cracked or rolled, as these processes will allow the grain to go rancid. It’s best to leave the grain intact until you are ready to use it. Grains can be soaked in warm water with whey added (living whey that has beneficial bacteria in it), cultured buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, or lemon juice. Soaking should be done at least overnight. Corn is unique in that it must be soaked in lime water to release it’s vitamin B3 and improve the amino acid quality.

WHAT ABOUT GRAIN/GLUTEN ALLERGIES?

Allergies to grain and gluten likely occur either because the person has eaten too many unsoaked grains in their life, or because their parents did and passed the allergy on to them. Or it may be that their digestive tract is simply screwed up for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean humans are not supposed to eat grain. People can be allergic to anything, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, milk, fish, and meat. The problem isn’t the food–the problem is much more deeply rooted than that. It’s extremely important to maintain a healthy gut, as this will reduce allergies. Allergies are not normal–they are a symptom of an underlying problem. Eating the right amounts of properly prepared foods is key.

Some people with grain and gluten allergies actually do fine on the old forms of grains when they are fermented (soaked). Sometimes it may take some gut healing before a person should eat even soaked grains. For some, allergies become so severe that the allergen must be completely avoided. Don’t eat anything that makes you sick!

WE ARE GOING TO EAT GRAINS

The more I learn about food, the more I am realizing that every type of food is potentially harmful. Food must retain it’s integrity and be properly prepared. I’m not going to argue whether or not we evolved from carnivorous neanderthals (or fruitarian apes for that matter) because I think the point is moot. If man evolved, then so did his diet. I believe that nature provided a way for us to eat grains safely. That’s good enough for me.

I don’t know that we should eat loads and loads of grains though. I believe in eating a variety of foods. Eating too much of any one thing can cause intolerance or other problems, especially if you already have a compromised digestive system, as many of us now do. I know that not everyone can eat every type of food. Some people have bodies that are way out of whack and this is just not possible for them. But I do think that as a general human rule, we should eat a little of everything, taking cues from the seasons, our activity, our surroundings (well, natural surroundings–an abundant grocery store that ships in food from out of country doesn’t count), our stage in life, etc.

And, to be perfectly honest, our family cannot financially afford not to eat grains. I’ve already pushed our food budget to the limit. High-quality meat and eggs, raw milk and other quality dairy, and organic produce are expensive. Grain is affordable. All I have to do is soak it to make it nutritious…so simple.


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9 thoughts on “Whole Grains & Soaking

  1. This is a great post. I agree with almost every thing. But there are a few things to mention. Even though this isn’t your religious post I’ll tell you what I believe anyway 🙂
    Our church doesn’t have a stance on whether or not there was a ‘grok’. Our church says that there could have been a body that evolved but the soul put into the body was the first ‘man’. Does that make sense? Here’s a better detailed link
    http://www.catholic.com/library/Adam_Eve_and_Evolution.asp
    I’m really not very good at explaining things. Hence the link.

    Secondly, soaked grains are fine. But the only concern would be that a person would have too many carbs which causes obesity and other numerous things- diabetes, heart disease, etc. But if a person is mindful to stay below the limit, Mark from MDA suggests an upper limit of 150, then it would be ok. I think the big argument then is that it would be hard to eat grains and fruits and veggies and come out below that number. But I’m sure it could be done. But you know how much I eat now, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for me to get all my fruits and veggies in and then have some type of grain AND stay below the recommended amount.
    Anyway, I am sure soaking grains is best and people could eliminate so many problems by doing that. Too bad everyone doesn’t know about it.

  2. I don’t really get how eating any amount of grains automatically becomes too many carbohydrates. I could eat two chocolate chip pancakes and a cup of milk for breakfast and that’s 26g carbs for just one meal. Then I have a roast beef sandwich with tomato, lettuce, avocado and onion, with a side salad of greens for lunch (with a sugar-free dressing). That’s about 41g. Dinner is chicken and cabbage, with a glass of milk, 18g. Then I have a snack of extra fat greek yogurt with a few berries mixed in, 8g. That’s only 93g of carbs for the whole day. Plenty of room to add in an extra cup of milk or piece of fruit, or maybe have a little rice with my dinner. I think one can totally have a few servings of grain each day and still be “low carb.” I think what a person has to do is watch their sugar consumption and not go crazy on high-carb foods. For example, if I put just 2 T of maple syrup on my pancakes, that would be an extra 26g of carbs. If I had commercial lowfat fruit sweetened yogurt, like most people eat, it would be a whopping 46g of sugar, instead of the modest 8g that I actually get. Some fruits are pretty high in carbs, too, like bananas, apples, and oranges. I think it’s about paying attention to what you eat, not cutting out entire food groups.

    I also don’t get why Mark has the same limit for all people. I remember looking at that page on his site a while back, wondering why it was a set amount, rather than a percentage of calories. Why should the upper limit of carbs be 150g for someone consuming 2000 as well as someone consuming 3000?

    In Nourishing Traditions, Fallon says that the very healthy (and not fat) people that Price studied ate an average of 40% of their caloric intake from carbohydrates. I think Mark is recommending about 30% as an upper limit, which may be perfect for some people, but others may be able to eat more, some less.

    Lastly, I’m pretty sure I’m not obese. I am sure that cutting out grains completely would help me loose weight, but the way I’m eating right now, I’m not gaining any weight, and I don’t exactly exercise much. If someone blows up just because they eat a couple slices of bread each day, they probably have a thyroid problem, which I am sure a lot of Americans do, because our food is so messed up. In fact, when I see someone struggling to loose weight, I want to tell them, “Eat primal!” I think it’s an excellent weight-loss strategy and probably the ideal diet for some people.

  3. Yes, if you eat like that everyday you will be fine. I agree. Just like I agreed before. If you keep carbs to a minimum your body will burn fat which is way more efficient than burning carbohydrates as fuel.
    But, I wasnt talking about you, just in general, most people eat too many carbs. Like cereal for breakfast, bread for lunch, pasta for dinner. Then have a dessert with lots of sugar. That’s not healthy.
    I’m not talking about loosing weight either. I’m saying for health having spikes of sugar all day isn’t healthy, not talking about eating what you suggested, but in general with more carbs than necessary.
    Anyway, but for me and my family, soaking is too much for me to remember and think about right now. And I do feel best when not eating grains because even though soaked could be healthy, it is not more healthy than eating ate full of veggies or meat and healthy fat. Plus I don’t have a religious conviction about eating grains. If I did I wouldn’t think twice about it. I think you are doing what you think is best for your spirituality, family, and self and you have done your research to make the best decision for you and I think that’s great!

  4. Oh, it sounded like you said that it would be too hard to keep carb consumption down if grains were eaten. I think I missed the sentence where you say it could be done. Haha. Sorry!

    I think grains are easy to overeat because of the ease and cheapness of pre-made grain-based foods. If we had to make all that stuff from scratch, and if grain farming wasn’t subsidized, I think people would naturally eat less grain.

  5. Your suggestion to soak and sprout grains is wonderful. I bake a sourdough sprouted einkorn bread that is easy to digest and deeply nourishing. Anyone can bake it. The recipes in posted on: growseed.org/recipes.pdf. The grains eaten in biblical times were einkorn, emmer, durum and barley. Generally they were prepared using a natural sourdough starter and slow-fermented. Einkorn and emmer are twice as high in protein and minerals as modern T. aestivum (aka bread wheat), which did not exist in the period. The typical biblical diet was 50% grains!

    Blessing on your beautiful work!
    Eli Rogosa
    growseed.org

    1. Thank you for your comment Eli! I didn’t know the Biblical diet had that much grain, but it makes sense I guess…they were always eating bread. Where do you get your einkorn? The healthier grains are so expensive, but then, anything that is worth eating is going to cost more!

  6. I too was raised with “The Words of Wisdom” so I do understand what you are talking about. I appreciate that you have found a way for some ppl to still eat wheat. I believe it all comes down to leaving things in their natural form instead of eating it the way man has evolved it to be. Even soaking it first is not changing its make up per say, just making it easier to digest. Thank you for making me see grains dont have to be harmful.

  7. Very nice post.

    I’m starting to come around/piece together similar findings. And yeah, Weston A Price has some very good info (better than just some blogger’s post about what you should eat so he can sell you some stuff).

    I have a few things I’d like to share/add though:

    Don’t forget about stress. The stress load on the body directly affects our ability to heal, and to digest. Chronic stress can really make it a difficult cycle to break out of, as many times we adopt short term solutions (such as eating more carbohydrates) that make things worse in the long run. Drinking, smoking, over the counter meds… all not very good short term solutions, but that is what they are doing. Managing stress and causing more stress.

    The amount of carbohydrates one can digest varies between person, gut health, and a number of other factors. This coupled with the fact that excessive (chronic) carb load on the body can lead to insulin resistance/high blood sugar which is a fairly stressful state to be in (leading to more problems).

    The other thing to consider is malnutrition through malabsorption caused by both Villi damage, and/or excessive anti-nutrient load in the diet. Inability to properly digest carbohydrates (or other food) can lead to a small intestine bacterial infection which in turn can damage the villi and lead to even more malabsorption. Which I suspect, in the short term is not as bad as we think, but under chronic stress stress your body will not be healing very well (if at all) and therefore the damage to your intestines is left as such, and the cycle continues.

    Finally, this all gets a bit murky because there are genetic deficiencies/mutations that means some people are going to have issues right out of the box without having gone through stress/malnutrition/etc to get there. I think it is important not to lump the two together, as one can be helped simply by letting the body rest and heal itself (nourishing food, etc). The other will always have issues, even at full health.

    And this is where nourishing food comes back in. Helping your body heal by making it easier to get the nutrients it needs. You can also see that just eating better foods, you’re going to eat less, stress less, etc.

    The important point I’m trying to make though, and where I think the Paleo/Prmial/Diet approach goes wrong. Is that in the short term, a healthy body can handle a lot more than we give it credit for.

    It is important to recognize this as from the perspective of “modern medicine” the approach has been from the assumption of a moderately healthy adult body, and those rules don’t apply if you’re not amongst that group.

    So, yeah, eat good food (or more important avoid the poisons), reduce phytic acid consumption if it is a staple and/or for those with poor/sensitive digestion, etc. Otherwise, find something that works, and stop stressing about the rest (because that will just make it worse).

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you. I’ve learned many things in the few years since I wrote this article. I recently learned that conventional wheat is harvested using Roundup–so, it is basically laced with poison. Yet another thing that makes many people less healthy on grains. I’ve also learned that I don’t digest starches well, especially the one grain that is considered “safe” by the primal community–white rice. We are all so individual! And yes, yes, yes about stress!!!

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