Soaking for Health

Nuts, seeds, and grains are nutritional powerhouses. But in order to capitalize on their nutritional profile and protect ourselves from natural toxins that protect them but harm us, they need to be soaked and dehydrated or sprouted. 

Some of the principle reasons why soaking is beneficial to our health:

  •  it removes anti-nutrients like phytates, tannins and goitrogens
  • it helps to neutralise enzyme inhibitors
  • it increases the potency of nutrients such as Vitamin B
  • it makes proteins more readily available
  •  it eradicate toxins contained in the colon and encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria like lactobacilli which we know is vital for intestinal and colon health
  • it promotes the growth of healthy enzymes vital for healthy digestion

Nuts, grains and seeds are one of the ultimate gifts from the gods. So the gods made sure the natural order protected them. To ensure survival of the species, nuts, grains and seeds contain inherent toxic inhibitors that protect the plant from germination until the ideal conditions are present. It is not until they get wet and there is sufficient moisture that they germinate. To read more on nuts and seeds – follow this link and you can read more on sprouting on this link

This natural protective phenomenon is a wonderful thing for the survival of the foods. But if not neutralised before consumption by humans, it can really wreak havoc in our digestive systems if consumed in vast amounts. Have you ever noticed after eating a lot of grains, nuts or seeds that you have a horrible stomach ache? These toxic substances that protect grains, nuts and seeds from destruction from insects and microbes act as enzyme inhibitors in the human digestive process and spell bad news for our health if we get too greedy without soaking them.

We are all familiar with the most well-known digestive enzymes that we learnt in Biology 101, protease, which digests protein, lipase, which digests fats, and amylase, which digests carbohydrates. Well, these ingenious protective components the gods bestowed on nuts, seeds and grains are not such “happy chappies” inside the human body. It only makes sense I suppose.

What do warriors do? They wage war! Well, they wage a war of sorts. They act as enzyme inhibitors upon entering the body and interfere with the chemical order of our natural enzymatic activity.

Another problematic component contained in grains is the presence of phytates. There are a lot of anti-nutrients present in foods that inhibit the absorption of nutrients. I will just focus on phytic acid, which is ever present in grains. Nuts and seeds do not generally contain phytates. But grains are riddled with them. Health and nutrition panels are always preaching the virtues of whole grains. But it is in the outer layer or the bran of the grain that the phytic acid is found. I am not for one minute suggesting that we all switch to the milled and refined grains that have the outer part removed but also every other good part! Phytic acid inhibits the absorption of iron, calcium, copper, zinc and magnesium, which makes it a very undesirable little pain if not properly eradicated. That is where soaking comes to the rescue!

Soaking raw nuts and seeds increases the nutritional content of Vitamins such as Vitamin A, C and, in particular B Vitamins. Soaking nuts and seeds in warm salted water activates the beneficial enzymes that then neutralise the enzyme inhibitors making them more digestible and easily utilised. Soaking grains in an acidic warm water solution (I use lemon juice or apple cider vinegar diluted in water) also encourages the production of these friendly enzymes, and beneficial bacteria, which, in turn, neutralizes the phytic acid in the grains that put such a strain on the digestive system.

We remember the first time we soaked brown rice for 36 hours. Even though I knew it would ferment and that was the goal, I still found it difficult to believe that something so smelly was so good for me! But since making macrobiotic pickles and cultured vegetables, we have embraced the virtues of live fermented foods.  By lacto-fermenting foods we are boosting their nutritional profile which enhances the digestive process and the growth of friendly bacteria. Nuts, seeds and whole grains are no different. They are much easier to digest, and their nutrients are more potent readily available, and they taste a lot bitter if they are first soaked in warm water for varying degrees of time.

If you are saving the nuts and seeds for later use you will need to dehydrate or sprout and dry them. However, if you are using them in smoothies or soups you can just soak and rinse. I do it all the time. If I am preparing milk for smoothies or soups, I just soak, rinse, blend and chow. With grains, I really only eat millet, quinoa, amaranth and brown rice these days. I always soak, rinse, cook and serve.

A tip that might encourage you to take the extra time to soak grains: soaking whole grains really softens them up and makes them a lot more light and fluffy. A lot of people who have told me they don’t like the gritty taste and texture of brown rice are amazed with the difference soaking makes to this grain. Brown rice more closely resembles white fluffy rice once soaked for 24-48 hours! Give it a go, you will be pleasantly surprised.

As a general rule with nuts: the harder the nut, the longer you need to soak. Long soak nuts such as almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts are best soaked for about 12 hours. Common medium soak nuts are walnuts, Brazil nuts and pecans. They require less soaking time as they swell more quickly as they are oilier. Short soak nuts are cashews, macadamias and pine nuts. They require the least amount of soaking as they do not contain inner skins, and therefore not as many enzyme inhibitors.

Remember that the longer nuts, seeds and grains are soaked the more they swell and become water logged. If you are following quantities in recipes, particularly from sources that don’t soak their nuts, you might want to hold back some of the water recommended in the recipes in order to achieve the desired consistency. It is also really important to rinse and drain several cycles to ensure you remove all of the enzyme inhibitors.

Generally the rule is “floaters are bloaters.” Throw out any nuts that float to the top as they are generally rancid. It is better to be safe than sorry. Discard them and you will be better off. It is not uncommon to have a few floaters every time you soak. One other thing to note is that with some of the soft creamy nuts like cashews and macadamias, over soaking can remove some of the rich healthy oils that you want to utilise. For most nuts, the easiest and convenient thing to do is to soak right before you go to bed, and rinse, drain and dehydrate as soon as you wake up. Or soak before you go to work in the morning and then rinse drain and dehydrate overnight while you are sleeping. Then they are ready to use for breakfast in the morning!

Soaking legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds and grains overnight in a warm place, in clean warm water (140 degrees F) markedly reduces phytic acid content.

However, this method does not work with all plant foods – foods that also contain high levels of phytic acid such as brown rice, corn, oats and millet. Adding a complimentary tenth of freshly ground (using a coffee grinder) barley, buckwheat, kamut, rye, spelt and/or wheat when soaking any of these grains will work as the phytase in those grains will act on the others.

12 hours of soaking will reduce phytic acids levels somewhat but better results can be obtained with a twenty-four hour soaking.

Add an acidic medium to the pot too such as freshly squeezed, organic apple cider vinegar (unfiltered and unpasteurized) or pure unrefined sea salt. Use 10% of this medium to 90% of whatever is being soaked. Place one part kombu or kelp seaweed to six parts of legumes in the bottom of the pot when soaking them for improved flavour, digestion, more nutrients and faster cooking.

  • sea salt (pure unrefined) for nuts/seeds
  • apple cider vinegar or lemon juice for grains
  • kombu or kelp seaweed and/or bicarbonate of soda for legumes (pulses, peas and beans)

Rinse and refill the pot with fresh mineral water every 8 hours during soaking and again add one of the mediums above. Then finally rinse them well and pat them dry if drying out. They can be dried in the lowest setting of the oven with the door slightly ajar for 12-24 hours or air dried for longer. Then place in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

If consuming them without drying, keep covered in the refrigerator and eat within 5 days or so.

Nuts, grains, seeds and legumes can be ground up in a coffee grinder to use as flour in many recipes after they have been soaked rinsed and dried. Drying in a lowest setting in the oven with the door slightly ajar can take many hours so a dehydrator is useful.

Make sure not to place in a sealed container until absolutely dry to ensure no mould can grow.

During the process of soaking and fermenting, gluten and other difficult-to-digest proteins are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption. It increases levels of the B vitamins and reduces the polyphenols (tannins) and goitrogens levels in these foods which is also beneficial.

Shop bought dried beans have very high levels of phytic acid and most can be soaked overnight to reduce phytic acid levels.

How to Rinse and Soak Grains