The Magic of Activating Foods- Soaking 101
Activating foods is really a magical process that transforms ordinary foods like grains, nuts and seeds into amazingly nutritious foods.
Why is that important? Because no matter whether you adhere to a healthy plant-based diet or a traditional diet, you can still be nutrient deficient. Interesting, isn’t it? For a long time I thought that a whole-food plant-based diet provides us with tons of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients. The truth is though, that if certain foods are not activated, the absorption of their nutrients is very limited. On top of that, non-activated foods put a lot of stress on our digestive system. Special thanks to my friend Geoff who- once again- pointed me in the right direction.
Nevertheless, the right group of almonds contains “locked up” nutrients, most of which are not available for absorption by our bodies. So called toxic anti-nutrients protect them from insects and predators, and invasion by bacteria, viruses or fungi. Much of these anti-nutrients are naturally eliminated from the outer coating when there is enough moisture, warmth and acidity to sustain the plant seed once it enters the ground to germinate. This is why soaking has been an important process in food preparation for thousands of years–it mimics the natural germination process that takes place in nature. Germination neutralizes anti-nutrients and unlocks precious enzymes and nutrients that render these foods edible. Iron absorption is a really good example for an increased nutrient after soaking. Hello iron deficient ladies!
The activated almonds on the left side offer a large variety of readily available nutrients and are easy to digest. In fact, they are ten times more nutritious than the raw ones on the right side.
So what has happened to the almonds on the left side? How were they activated?
Before we answer that question, let’s first take a closer look at these anti-nutrients.
The most known anti-nutrient found in grains, beans, nuts and seeds is phytic acid (or phytate), a phosphorous-bound organic acid that protects the plant seed from premature germination. When you eat foods with these phytic acids still intact, they bind with important minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron and copper and prevent absorption. Phytic acid also has the potential to block protein absorption.
When it comes to soaking, acid mediums are a vital part of the process. That’s because the acid medium serves as a catalyst to initiate the culturing/fermenting process that enables phytase be released. lemon juice, apple cider vinegar
It’s important to note that it is not necessary to completely eliminate all phytic acid from the diet, it’s simply best to keep it within reasonable levels.
In practical terms, this means properly preparing phytate-rich foods to reduce at least a portion of the phytic acid, and it’s also recommended to limit consumption of phytate-rich foods to two or three servings per day.
Although lectins can be found in almost all foods, they are highly concentrated in grains (especially wheat), beans (especially soy), and nuts. They act as very powerful insecticides that ward off predators. When they are consumed in large quantities, such as a diet high in wheat and soy, lectins are a natural disaster for the small intestine. They are carb-binding proteins that stick to the lining of the small intestine and damage the sensitive villi responsible for transporting nutrients into the bloodstream.
Eventually, lectins damage the villi so badly that leaky gut syndrome occurs. “Leaky gut” means that the very delicate lining of the small intestine is so damaged that particles of undigested food, proteins, toxins and other pathogens are able “leak” into the bloodstream and bind to tissues and organs throughout the body. As a reaction, the body increases inflammation to protect the affected tissue. This is why lectins are also linked with autoimmune disorders like IBS, Chron’s, colitis, thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, arthritis and so on.
Plant seeds, especially nuts and seeds, also contain enzyme inhibitors that ward off predators. These inhibitors block enzyme function, most notably the uptake of trypsin, an enzyme responsible for digesting protein. Animal research has shown that overly consuming foods containing trypsin inhibitors can lead to hyper-secretion of pancreatic enzymes, an enlarged pancreas and benign tumors. The increased requirement for pancreatic enzymes also depletes the body of valuable resources for other physiological functions as well, and sets up the conditions for chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, impaired digestion, immune suppression, increased allergies, severe intestinal issues and declined mental function.
Although this is quite a detailed and lengthy article, keep in mind that the process of soaking is SUPER EASY and NOT TIME CONSUMING IN THE LEAST.
Let’s continue with the scientific background: Unfortunately, cooking alone is not enough to adequately release phytase and reduce phytic acid. The centuries-old process of soaking neutralizes harmful anti-nutrients and hard-to-digest proteins and at the same time, activates vital enzymes, minerals and other beneficial nutrients locked inside. Two other processes that reduce phytic acid are sprouting (which can be actually quite dangerous- read up on my post about sprouting. Also, please note that according to a recent update by the WAPF “sprouting is a pre-fermentation step, not a complete process for neutralizing phytic acid. Consuming grains regularly that are only sprouted will lead to excess intake of phytic acid.”) and souring (think sourdough bread).
Apparently our ancestors understood this very well, because grains, beans, nuts and seeds in their natural form were never consumed without being soaked or fermented first. It was a time-honored tradition of food preparation that kept agrarian cultures thriving. It wasn’t until food mechanization took the reigns and the processing of food became an industry, that soaking and fermenting became a dying tradition.
It might not be a coincidence that in the modern world, where these foods are largely consumed in the form of breads, crackers, cereal, nut butters, etc., millions are suffering from digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, and a host of other nutritionally related diseases.
HOW TO ACTIVATE DIFFERENT FOODS:
To effectively begin soaking grains, beans and legumes you need four components: 1) liquid, 2) acidity, 3) warmth and 4) time.
Nuts and seeds: they contain less phytic acid than grains/legumes but more enzyme inhibitors, so salt is more beneficial than acid.
2. Cover with filtered water so that nuts are submerged
3. Add 1-2 tablespoons unrefined salt
4. Allow to stand covered on the counter for about 8 hours, or overnight
5. Rinse nuts to remove salt residue and spread out in single layer on a rack to dehydrate.
6. Dry at a low temperature (generally around 120°F) in dehydrator or in your oven for 12-24 hours or until nuts are slightly crispy.
7. Store the nuts and seeds in glass jars in the fridge.
Basic steps: Soak overnight. Rinse well. Drain. Use straight away or dry in the oven or dehydrator for 8-12 hours at 49°C (120°F).
Rice, quinoa, barley and other grains: soak overnight in water- just add enough to cover the grain (add 1 tsp of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar per cup of filtered water) before using the next day. Rinse them, drain them and put them back in the pot. Add water and cook according to instructions.
Oats:It’s important to note that not all grains contain enough phytase to eliminate phytic acid even when soaked, such as oats and corn. However, wheat flours (such as whole wheat, spelt and kamut) and rye flour contain high levels of phytase. Therefore, adding a small amount of rolled rye flakes to your oat or corn acid-soak will help to reduce the high levels of phytic acid found in these grains. Soak the oats in filtered water for 24 hours before use. Add one to two teaspoons of an acidic medium (lemon juice, homemade soy yogurt) per cup of oats for acidity. To add additional phytase, add rolled rye flakes or ground buckwheat groats (see image). After 24 hours, gently rinse and drain the oats. Store them either in the fridge or mix with yogurt, plant-milk, fruits and nuts (activated, of course).
Besides the lectins and phytic acid contained in most legumes, the harder beans such as kidney beans, navy beans and black beans contain oligosaccharides. Humans do not produce the enzyme necessary to break down these complex sugars. When consumed, the oligosaccharides ferment in the lower intestine producing carbon dioxide and methane gases. Constant fermentation in your intestines leads to inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. There are conflicting opinions about whether an acid medium is necessary. The addition of the acid medium often times reduces the flavor and texture of the beans and that’s why I prefer to simply soak them in hot water (hot to the touch, but not boiling) for 24 hours- even better up to 36 hours. Change the water at least once during this time, followed by a thorough rinsing and then long cooking process (I use a pressure cooker which cuts down on the cooking time).
If you are interested in the whole process of activating and fermenting foods, I can strongly recommend Michael Pollan’s documentary “Cooked” on Netflix. (And if you are still in doubt about a plant-based diet, you might want to watch “Cowspiracy). Another good link to read up on phytic acid is the website http://www.phyticacid.org/. Snack on your newly activated nuts and enjoy the show! I will meanwhile submerge myself deep into my newest book on fermentation, written by on of the guru’s of fermentation, Sandor Katz.