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Culturing grain is what our ancestors did. There wasn’t a single tradition or tribe that regularly ate unfermented, unprepared grains. As long as people have been relying on grains, (‘grain’ in this post includes gluten-free grains, nuts, seeds and legumes) for food, they’ve been soaking them. It’s really not a new fad. In fact, it’s an ages old wisdom.
In the past 50 years all sorts of quick fix, short cut, food solutions have been substituted to make our lives seemingly easier. Soaking grains or, more specifically, culturing them is a tradition that has been side-lined in our time poor lives. Today, people don’t even understand why it was ever done in the first place?
Unrefined, wholegrains and seeds are marketed as being a more nutritious and a healthier option, but along with the superior nutritional content comes plenty of damaging toxins that are rarely spoken of. Once upon a time, when families harvested their own grain, anti-nutrients were never likely to be of great health concern. Before modern agricultural methods, grain availability was seasonal and limited. Now we can fill our pantry with grain from around the world all year round. Our privileged access to large amounts of grain mean our bodies ingest more indigestible compounds than ever before.
Culturing is a process of fermentation which allows beneficial bacteria to digest and convert many of the harmful substances that are found in grain. Culturing grain helps to:
Anti-nutrient is a scientific term that refer to any compound that reduces the body’s ability to absorb or use essential nutrients such as vitamins or minerals. Anti-nutrients (note that some have positive health attributes) are found in all types of plant foods to varying degrees. I discuss 2 problematic ones found in gluten free grain. There are others.
Lectins are resilient, sticky, carb-binding proteins present in plants (and animals). In grain, lectins are like armour and by design are totally indigestible to humans. They are designed to survive predators and parasites and ensure rejuvenation and survival of their species. They cause digestive upset in the animals eating them. Plants can’t run away from predators so this is nature’s way of saying – stay away or I’ll make you sick!
Their inherent binding powers can attach to places they should never be – like your intestinal lining, (particularly the villi) where they wreak havoc. Not even stomach acid or digestive enzymes will break them down! Lectin damage can show up as all sorts of food intolerances and contribute to leaky gut. The signs might be subtle at first. Lectin makes you fart, causes bloating, diarrhoea, can make you nauseous and cause vomiting. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or an inflammatory bowel disease, the gut lining will be especially sensitive to lectins found in grain.
It’s pretty scary knowing our contemporary diets rely on the highest lectin containing foods for our primary food source! It’s no coincidence that the top 8 allergens also contain some of the highest amounts of lectins (including: dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish).
Phytic acid is a compound found in grain (especially in the husk of whole grain) that prevents the body from absorbing nutrients. Phytates can:
If your gut lining isn’t in good condition, is leaky or it isn’t stocked with loads of healthy bacteria, phytates can cause big problems.
Luckily, there is this really clever natural, enzyme that also hangs out in grains, called Phytase. (Confusingly similar word I know.) Phytase is the super hero enzyme that can rescue the good stuff from grain. It is present to varying degrees depending on the grain and can unravel that complex phytate husk, making the nutrients more bioavailable.
Some animals, such as cows can eat grain and grass without upset because they naturally produce phytase in their stomach. We humans, aren’t so lucky, and have to use special preparation techniques to ensure grain is digestible.
Unfortunately, some grains lack adequate amounts of phytase to help this process occur. Gluten free grains such as corn, millet, oats and brown rice don’t contain enough phytase to release and eliminate all the phytic acid they contain. To make these grains kinder to your gut you need an acid medium to pre-digest the anti-nutrients before you ingest them. Keep reading to find out how to do this.
Unfortunately, heat or boiling is not what phytase needs and will in fact destroy it. To really get this super hero to do its thing, soaking in an acid medium needs to happen before the cooking process.
An acid medium is the only way to neutralise the harmful substances found in grain. It can be a dash of whey, a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. For nuts, however, good quality salt is required. These things will initiate fermentation and will release phytase.
Place the grain in a large bowl, fill the bowl with warm water, add whey, lemon juice or Apple cider vinegar (or salt for nuts) and let it sit somewhere warm over-night. The general rule is to add enough warm water to cover the grain, and then add one teaspoon of an acid medium for every cup of grain. At the end of the fermentation, drain, rinse and then cook as required. How to soak and activate nuts is coming soon.
Culturing may still not completely neutralise all the toxins in every type of grain. Some toxins are as tough as nails! The anti-nutrient load varies from grain to grain as does the phytase. Different grains require different soaking times. I wish I could give you a simple, ‘one size fits all’ formula to wash the nasties away, but I can’t. In saying this, I don’t believe that you should get too caught up in the science or painstaking accuracy. Please use the table below as a guide only. I guarantee an overnight soak will make all the difference. (Legumes will require longer)
Legumes have particularly stubborn lectins – no matter how lengthy the treatment they may still cause serious digestive issues for sensitive people. Chickpeas, for example, will have only released 50% of their phytate content after 5 days soaking!
Sprouting also activates phytase but it doesn’t completely neutralise the phytic acid. Soaking in an acidic medium is still recommended before you sprout. The only way to significantly reduce the potential damaging effects of grain on our digestive system (bar not eating them) is a combination of acidic soaking, a warm spot in your house, plus a considerable length of time, followed by cooking.
For you, culturing may still not be enough to reduce negative symptoms. Completely removing a ‘problem grain’ (like wheat) from your diet may be the solution. For others, removing all grain is the only way to better health.
Culturing is essential when preparing grains but it is ultimately up to you and your body to discover which grain, seeds, nuts and legumes are tolerable for your unique digestive system. You can heal your gut with care and thoughtful, considered eating. A grain you are sensitive to today may be tolerable in time. You can however reduce the damage by properly preparing your grains. Culturing grains really is very easy! It just takes a little planning ahead.