Talking about grains is a tricky thing these days. Do you sometimes feel like the path to figuring out the answer may be booby trapped? I know I do. There is a lot of information to sift through out there, and my hope is that as a Holistic Nutritional Consultant, I can help clear the muddy waters a bit and help you figure out what could work for you as an individual. So let's delve in to the question that comes up most often in casual conversations: what is my stance on grains.
That is a very individual answer for each and every person I come across. What works for one person may not work for the other. Instead, may I propose we take a gander at how to make grains more easily digestible. There are no caveats here, no judgments, no moral high roads or anything. I just want to explore the science behind ancient grain preparation methods, and why they may be a way for you to be able to include grains in yours and your family's diet.
This post is not for everyone; but the information found within may help explain a bit behind the idea of traditional food preparation methods, and the wisdom found within. May there be a light at the end of this blog post for you, dear reader.
Let's talk about the wisdom of sprouted and/or fermented grains.
If you are a regular reader of this here blog, you will know I am a big believer in whole foods. I am also of the mind that we need to look at how these whole foods were prepared traditionally, in order to uncover some of the reasons behind why our ancestors would have done so.
For the sake of today's post, we are focusing on grains here but the content found within also applies to beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Today's topic is one of those cornerstones of the Weston Price Foundation's recommendations, and with good reason. Read on, food lovin' friend o mine.
LOOKING TO THE PAST
First of all, grains used to ripen at a much more erratic pace than they do today. Back in the days of yore, you could count on the fact that a small percentage of your harvested grain had sprouted on the plant days if not weeks before the harvest. In our current agricultural practices, it is a much more measured task and the grains tend to all ripen at the same time.
Additionally, if you were to do a little anthropological digging, you would find that in traditional societies most people would soak or ferment the grains that have been turned into flour before they would bake or cook with them. Doing so was just what you did at the time; it was what your mother did before you, and her mother before her, and the people who came before her for a long long time.
This knowledge came through countless generations who observed and followed tradition, and with good reason: anything that starts as a seed with the potential to grow into a full plant is packed full of protectors to ensure it can make it to seedling stage, in order to best ensure that plant's survival. Mother Nature is WISE, putting in these mechanisms in the seeds in order to best ensure the plant's survival. Wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, teff, amaranth, etc.: they are all seeds ground down into flour for us to utilize in baking things like breads, cakes and cupcakes. And cookies. Mmm. Cookies.... Um, sorry.
However, these 'protectors' end up being digestive inhibitors for we humans. The enzyme inhibitors that are in those seeds prevent us from properly digesting them, which means without proper preparation, we cannot ably break them down. This now means we aren't able to get the nutrients found within them, either. And those enzyme inhibitors? They will slow down our body's own ability to break all of the foods in that meal down into the smallest components, nutrients. We're hooped, mon ami(e).
In addition, these seeds also contain phytic acid which unless properly 'activated' (by soaking, sprouting or fermenting first), end up taking minerals that we have stored in our bodies and moving them out. Mother Nature is whip smart, see: the seed comes out of the digestive tract relatively intact (enzyme inhibitors) in a super rich bundle of fertilizer, along with some extra minerals thrown in for good measure (phytic acid). How could the wee seed not fare well and proliferate into future grain generations?
The time spent in the digestive tract ends up being a kind of 'soaking' time, which now acts as a biochemical way to trigger that seed into believing it is time to grow into a full blown plant. This happens once it exits our digestive tract, and that mineral rich manure that comes out with the soaked seed will serve as a brilliant extra leg up for this seed to be able to survive and thrive.
It's really a brilliant system for the seed, but not such a handy thing for the consumer.
Looking into traditional cooking methods around the world, you will find the innate wisdom of our ancestors in dealing with the nefarious effects of these anti-nutrients in grains. In India for instance, the traditional way to prepare idli and dosas was to ferment the ground lentils and rice for two days before preparation. Corn has been traditionally soaked overnight in places like Africa before adding it to stews. In Ethiopia, you will find fermented teff grains magically transformed into injera. Other populations had a tradition to ferment their rice for long periods of time before ingesting. In South America, corn cakes are traditionally prepared by allowing to ferment in wrapped banana leaves for up to two weeks. Whose grandmother soaked the oats in buttermilk overnight for your breakfast? My mom's aunt did so on our visits to La Gaspésie when we were wee. Many populations in Europe and here in North America as well have traditionally prepared breads by fermenting grains into sourdough. This was all before the advent of commercial yeast, which transformed the baking world by introducing those pockets of air into baked goods, albeit in a much shorter time than traditionally fermented bread doughs.
BUY SPROUTED or FERMENTED GRAIN PRODUCTS
How to save ourselves the troubles associated with these anti-nutrients found in grains? We need to foil Mother Nature. We can do so by ensuring the grains used in our baking are properly soaked, sprouted or fermented. It's a good-better-best scenario with the soaked - sprouted - fermented idea. Doing the minimum of soaking any seed or grain will signal to the seed that it is time to grow; it will also deactivate the phytic acid so that when we ingest these morsels, we will not be losing our mineral stores in the process. As well, those enzyme inhibitors that prevent us from digesting the seed that hasn't been properly prepared? They get turned off in the soaking/sprouting/fermenting process. It's a win win win. A properly prepared seed or grain appears to our digestive tract more like a vegetable than a grain, and makes it inherently easier to digest.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU: Sure, you can uncover some secrets to soaking, sprouting or fermenting your own nuts, seeds, grains, beans or legumes. I often offer classes on the how-to if ever you're interested (have you signed up for my newsletter yet?). In the meantime, my recommendation for you food-wise this week is to purchase only soaked, sprouted or fermented versions of breads or flours to use in your baked goods at home.
Good companies to look for: Silver Hills makes sprouted grain bread; Ezekiel and Food for Life as well; you can find these in your freezer section of your favourite health food store or select big box store too. There are a few sprouted grain products like crackers and snacks on the shelves these days, seek these out. Okanagan Rawsome makes some delicious sprouted crackers that are my go-to at home. Better yet, request them at your favourite local health food store! I find they're more than happy to cater to their clientele.
Another option to look into when it comes to breads is to seek out a locally produced true sourdough bread. How to make sure what you have in your hands is a true sourdough? Ensure the list of ingredients does not contain any yeast. If you're in Calgary, local lovelies Watermill Bakery make true sourdough, as well as Sidewalk Citizen in Kensington and in East Village. I believe Lakeview Bakery also carries a true fermented bread; find them at your fave local health food store.
Are you a baker? Seek out sprouted flour instead of the regular stuff. Anita's Organics is a Canadian company I would recommend. You can substitute 1 to 1 in your recipes, no problem.
Interested in sprouting your own grains in order to make a sprouted flour at home? Connect here with Nourished Kitchen to get the low-down on the how-to.
If you're a regular consumer of grains at meals, may I recommend you seek sprouted or fermented versions of grains. A few local health food stores carry sprouted quinoa. There is a company from the interior of BC called Kaslo Sourdough and they are preparing pasta from true sourdough. Look for their products at your favourite local health food store. If you can track down TruRoots, they too deliver products that have been sprouted.
If you know of a Canadian supplier of sprouted grain products that has not been mentioned here, please share their name in the comments below. Let's build this community of food loving producers and consumers together!
Might I recommend some additional reading?
The Weston A. Price Foundation's website is a treasure trove of science-based evidence and research on different topics related to food production, farming practices and food safety issues. Highly recommended.