Monday, January 14, 2013

Soaking and sprouting for better health

I’ve been very interested in recent months in evolutionary diets: what people ate before industrialized food production. It seems early man was healthier than he is now, despite technological advances in the fields of medicine and health. I was curious to find out why.

According to a website I recently discovered, “We know that modern diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmunity and heart disease were rare or even nonexistent in hunter-gatherer societies and are still rare in the few groups around the world that have been lucky enough to preserve their traditional diet and lifestyle. We know what when modern foods like wheat flour, industrial seed oils and sugar are introduced in these populations, the incidence of modern diseases goes up commensurately. And even more telling, when these groups return to their traditional ways, the modern diseases disappear again. This suggests that it wasn’t some genetic vulnerability that caused them to develop modern diseases with the introduction of modern foods. I find this correlation immensely interesting and I would think that anyone else who is interested in health would do so as well.”

I am also very interested in optimal digestion, and read a lot to glean what I can about how to better mine (you’ll find these sources at the end of this post). Many nutritionists and food scientists believe that good health stems from our digestive system, and that any problems we end up with can be directly linked to poor digestion.

Conventional wisdom today tells us we should minimize our meat consumption, and instead we’re told to eat more whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes for fiber and protein. While I think that’s a good idea, especially if you’re not buying organic poultry, grass-fed beef, or wild seafood on a regular basis, apparently it’s not entirely good advice.

It seems there is this thing called phytic acid.

Apparently, phytic acid in grains, nuts, seeds and beans represents a serious problem in our diets. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation this problem exists “because we have lost touch with our ancestral heritage of food preparation. Instead we listen to food gurus and so-called experts who promote the consumption of raw and unprocessed “whole foods” or we eat a lot of high-phytate foods like commercial whole wheat breads and all-bran breakfast cereals.” While raw may be great when it comes to fruits and vegetables, “raw is definitely not Nature’s way for grains, nuts, seeds and beans.”

Their website says it best. “Phytic acid is the principal storage form of phosphorus in many plant tissues, especially the bran portion of grains and other seeds. It contains the mineral phosphorus tightly bound in a snowflake-like molecule. In humans and animals with one stomach, the phosphorus is not readily bioavailable. In addition to blocking phosphorus availability, the “arms” of the phytic acid molecule readily bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable as well. In this form, the compound is referred to as phytate.

Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals, but also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin, needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase,needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.

Over the long term, when the diet lacks minerals or contains high levels of phytates or both, the metabolism goes down, and the body goes into mineral-starvation mode. The body then sets itself up to use as little of these minerals as possible.

Cooking is not enough to reduce phytic acid*—acid soaking before cooking is needed to activate phytase and let it do its work. For example, the elimination of phytic acid in quinoa requires fermenting or germinating plus cooking. In general, a combination of acidic soaking for considerable time and then cooking will reduce a significant portion of phytate in grains and legumes."

*By acid, what’s usually recommended is whey, which, if dairy is tolerated, is ideal. For those who are milk intolerant, vinegar or lemon juice evidently works.

Germination increases the enzyme activity of the food by as much as 6 times. This is due to the proteolytic release of the enzymes by inactivation of the enzyme inhibitors found in all seeds. Soaking the seeds allows proteases within to neutralize the inhibitor and release the enzyme from bondage, making it better for our digestion and health. We are simply absorbing more of its nutrients.

What’s interesting is that we’ve gone completely away from all this soaking, fermenting and germinating. Who does this anymore? From a historical perspective, what’s really interesting is that ancient people all around the world knew that grains, nuts and seeds required additional handling to be better digested, despite living in “primitive” times. For example, the Indians of California consumed acorn meal after a long period of soaking and rinsing, then pounding and cooking. Nuts and seeds in Central America were prepared by salt water soaking and dehydration in the sun, after which they were ground and cooked.

An interesting book to read is “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. The beginning is chock full of information on the benefits of eating more like our forefathers with a breakdown on each of the micronutrients (proteins, fats and carbs) and how these fit or don’t fit into a healthy diet. The rest is a cookbook of recipes from around the world that support her beliefs.

I’ve got a batch of sunflower seeds soaking right now. You can get instant gratification from sunflower seeds - they take the least amount of soaking of all the seeds and nuts.

What you’ll need: a tall mason jar covered with a piece of cheesecloth and a rubber band to keep seeds in but allow air to circulate. Or you can buy a sprouting jar from the health food store that has a mesh screen inside a screw top lid that fits on a mason jar. Soak the seeds in filtered water overnight. In the morning, tip jar on a 45 degree angle for a few minutes to drain, rinse as directed below.

Directions for sprouting:
Beans (e.g. kidney, lima, black) – Rinse beans 3-4 times per day. Sprouts are ready in about 3 days when sprout is ¼” long. Beans should then be cooked but will cook in much less time than beans that have been merely soaked.

Lentils – Rinse 3 times/day. Takes 2-3 days to sprout. Steam or cook lightly.

Almonds – Rinse 3 times/day. Sprouts are ready in 3 days. Sprout is just a little white appendage, 1/8” long.

Sunflower Seeds – Rinse twice a day. Ready in 12-18 hours when sprout is just barely showing. Eat right away or they turn black. Great in salads.

Chia, onion, cress or radish seeds – Rinse several times a day. Takes 3-4 days. Sprouts will be about 1-2” long.

Not recommended – alfalfa sprouts. Why? Read the book.

The book also explains how to prepare grains. Nuts like walnuts and pecans that have been removed from their shells can’t be sprouted, with the exception of almonds, but an overnight soak in warm, salted filtered water will neutralize sprout inhibitors.

For an in-depth look at what the Weston A. Price Foundation says about phytic acid, you can read the entire article here as well as find more information on phytic acid at these sites I visit regularly:
Dr. Joseph Mercola

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