The Roll of Grains
Neutralizing phytic acid:
Grains are essentially the seeds of domesticated grasses. These seeds share the common goal of furthering the survival of their species. Seeds come with a resilient outside layer (bran) that allows them to pass relatively unscathed through the stomachs of many animals and thereby to be spread about the land. But for humans this often wrecks a bit of havoc on our more acidic stomachs as we are able to break down the seeds to a greater degree than some animals but not completely. We are then left with some partially digested grains that sometimes get stuck to our intestinal walls, which over time inhibit our ability to properly digest other foods and cause damage to our intestinal walls. When this interference becomes excessive we are often presented with gluten intolerance, celiac, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky-gut syndrome and many people develop autoimmune disorders.
Phytic acid is present in varying amounts in all grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid does serve a purpose in nature and that is to keep the minerals and nutrients stored inside the seed until it is ready for germination. As it passes through the animals’ stomachs undigested the activity of phytic acid is basically irrelevant. On the other hand, our bellies are busy breaking down the seeds but are unable to break the bind between the phytic acid and it’s beneficiaries, the minerals and nutrients that are necessary to grow a new plant. This results in our missing out on most of the nutrients present in whole grains. Here we were thinking we were doing some good by eating whole wheat bread but we may have been doing more harm than good. That phytic acid is also able to bind with other minerals that may be in the intestinal tract and block their absorption as well.
Soaking, sprouting and fermenting are three ways that we can begin the process of digestion before the food enters our mouths. Our bodies are already heavily taxed with digestion of our modern cooked-food-centric diets, the whole grains that are high in phytic acid are like adding insult to injury. Through soaking grains in a slightly acidic medium the enzyme phytase is activated and begins to break down the phytic acid and the gluten present in many grains. Fermentation takes this a step further, breaking down the phytic acid and the gluten to the point where even some gluten-sensitive people are able to tolerate it well. Through sprouting, the phytic acid is broken down and nutrients are substantially increased.
All three forms of grain preparation increase nutrient content, make the grains more digestible, neutralize the mineral absorption inhibitor, phytic acid, and have the added benefit of improving taste.
Soaking: Soak grains in some sort of acidic medium for at least 7 hours (this is about the time it takes to break down the phytic acid to a sufficient degree). When this is done with a dairy agent such as whey, yogurt, kefir, butter or buttermilk it is called lacto-fermentation.
If you are lactose intolerant this shouldn’t bother you because a large part of the lactose has been broken down into lactic acid and the presence of the enzyme lactase in already fermented milk products will further break down the lactose while in your stomach. Also, a portion of the milk protein (casein) will have been decomposed. If you are completely allergic to any cow’s milk products you may want to try goat or sheep milk. If you are also allergic to those, you may want to try the sourdough recipe for bread and soaking other seeds and legumes in salt and lemon juice or vinegar.
Fermenting: The fermenting of grains involves a longer process in which you catch the natural yeasts in the air and let them ferment the flour and water mixture. This natural “leaven” acts in harmony with the grains and does not rob them of their nutrients as artificially yeasted bread does. Naturally leavened bread does not stale and it maintains its moisture much longer as well. The wisdom of the natural leavening of bread is apparent from the fact that traditionally this process was carried out for an estimated 6,000 years until the introduction of quick-rise yeasts.
For a sourdough starter you essentially grind some wheat (or rice for gluten-free), add filtered water (1 cup flour to a little less than 1 cup filtered water), cover with a cheese-cloth and let sit in a warm spot with some air circulation for about 24 hours. You then add another cup of flour and water (you may change the bowl each time) every 24 hours for about 6-7 days, even up to 2 weeks. The bubbling appearance and yeasty smell are normal and let you know that the fermentation process is occurring.
Sourdough or leavened bread comes from a symbiotic relationship of yeast and bacteria in the flour and water mixture. The yeasts occur naturally in our environment, as do the bacteria. The bacteria are strains of Lactobacillus and the yeast is called Saccharomyces exiges.
Yeast is basically a fungus that digests sugars and out of that creates alcohol and carbon dioxide (which causes bread to rise). Saccharomyces exiges differs from commercial bakers’ yeast in that it thrives in an acidic environment. Lactobacillus converts simple sugars into lactic and other acids. The yeast helps to feed the bacteria and the bacteria create this acidic medium that makes the yeast very happy. At the same time other organisms are not particularly attracted to the acidic environment so it acts as a sort of natural antibiotic. This is why you do not have to worry about bad bacteria invading your sourdough starter.
During the fermentation process phytic acid is beaten to a pulp, as is gluten. This is why humans were able to tolerate grains for thousands of years without developing celiac and other diseases. If you have trouble digesting grains you may want to give naturally leavened bread a chance.
Sprouting: When you sprout a seed you are basically bringing it to life. A seed is waiting for the ideal environment before it begins to grow. Until that moment the nutrients are caught up inside the seed and the enzymes are dormant due to the presence of enzyme inhibitors. The soaking process neutralizes these enzyme inhibitors and allows much more positive enzyme activity and growth. This activity culminates in the sprouting of a new plant from the seed. Imagine the amount of nutrients and vitamins necessary to begin a new life. Until the soaking process they were all bound up inside the seed, and by soaking you have set them free. Without that process these precious nutrients pass through our bodies unused.
If you soak a seed long enough it will sprout. Allowing the seed the time to breath air is also an important aspect of the process. In general you soak overnight and then drain and rinse and allow the seeds to air for a day, then you rinse and drain a few more times over the course of the next few days. Eventually little sprouts will appear and your seed has come to life.
Germinating a seed produces Vitamin C, increases B2, B5 and B6 and carotene (up to 8 times). Sprouted seeds are best eaten cooked. Over-consumption of raw sprouted grains is not a good idea, as they contain irritating substances that are meant to ward off their being eaten at such a tender age. Alfalfa sprouts are not recommended because they are inflammatory and can inhibit the function of the immune system. Almost any grain or seed can be sprouted. Flax and oat seeds are difficult to sprout and irradiated seeds and nuts that have been removed from their hulls will not sprout (but should be soaked).