How to eat whole grains, pulses and nuts the right way – Yes, you read the title right!
Health conscious mommies are including a variety of whole grains, legumes and even nuts in your diet. Aren’t you?
But are you preparing them the right way?
Are you getting the full nutritional benefits?
Are you soaking them before you eat? Did you answer no?
Wondering why on earth would you soak them before you eat? Then this article is for you.
Back when I stayed in a hostel, one of my friends used to soak her almonds overnight and eat them in the morning. She claimed they tasted much sweeter that way. But I was too lazy to remember to do such ‘complicated things’ the previous night!
Fast forward to the present- I am a mommy now and all that I lack is a formal degree in nutrition and food. Yes, I put that much research and hard work into my family’s nutrition.
One of the things I have learnt over these years is the need to soak whole grains, nuts and pulses.
Whole vs. refined grains:
We are growing increasingly aware of the health benefits of whole grains as compared to refined grains and flour.
Whole grains are basically grains which have not been stripped off any of their constituents. They are –
- Bran (outermost layer)
- Germ (innermost layer)
They may be crushed, rolled or steamed- but none of their constituents would have been removed- examples are broken whole wheat (brown wheat rava) and steel cut oats.
A grain or its flour is called refined when the outer bran and the innermost germ is removed and it only contains the endosperm. This is done to improve the texture and increase the shelf life, but obviously, a lot of good fibre and nutrients are lost in the process. Examples are maida and polished rice.
Whole lentils such as chick peas, green gram and peanuts are considered healthier than their split counter parts, which are chana dal, moong dal etc. However, the latter are also considered quite healthy.
Nuts are also great foods as long as you don’t eat them roasted with loads of salt and oil.
Having said this, it is important to prepare these super foods in the right way to reap the nutritional benefits out of them. In this post, we will discuss all about this.
Why should they be soaked?
You would have seen your grandmothers and mothers go to great lengths to sprout pulses, grains etc before they cook. But our world has changed.
We are busy people. Who has time for so much planning? Giving your chana or brown rice ten whistles in the pressure cooker will do the job, won’t it? It might not.
There is probably good reason why our grandmas chose to soak and sprout.
Grains, especially their bran, contain anti nutrients in the form of phytic acid, gluten, lectins and enzyme inhibitors. They are called anti nutrients because they bind to the minerals in our gut and prevent proper absorption of iron, magnesium and such essential minerals.
Phytic acid in small amounts is not harmful.
If we include too much of whole grains and legumes in our diet, which we consider healthy, this can lead to mineral deficiencies and digestive issues in the long run.
Sprouting grains and legumes is a great way to reduce anti nutrients, as well as to improve the bioavailability of nutrients in the foods.
If you do sprouting at home, you will know that the first step to sprouting is soaking your seeds in water for several hours. When you do not have time to sprout, simply soaking will be the ideal step which can help us overcome this issue.
Why will a plant based food contain anti-nutrients?
We know the benefits of eating plant based food. We clearly know whole grains, legumes and nuts are nutrient dense. But how can we knowingly consume something containing toxins?
We started consuming grains and legumes in large quantities only after the discovery of agriculture. That’s about ten thousand years ago. Before that, people were hunter-gatherers and they relied on vegetables, fruits, roots and meat.
If you have heard of the paleo diet, you would know that grains and legumes are simply not allowed in the diet because our paleolithic ancestors did not eat them. Hence the theory that our body has not fully evolved to digest the grains and pulses. Now, grains are the seeds of cereal grass and beans or pulses are the seeds of peas family.
Seeds are reproductive material. They are designed to survive harsh environmental conditions and propagate themselves so that more plants can grow from these seeds. They contain smart chemicals that will prevent themselves from being absorbed by the animals that eat them.
These chemicals are gluten, lectins, enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. The seeds come out intact through the poop of these animals so that more plants can grow from them.
Good for the plants, but not good for humans, you see?
Nuts are the seeds of trees and they too contain anti nutrients for similar reasons. When the conditions are right for growth, the anti-nutrients break and a new plant is ready to grow out of soil. Till then, these anti nutrients ensure that the seeds remain intact.
Our smart ancestors have found methods to reduce the effects of these anti nutrients. We have forgotten most of their practices in our modern lives. But today, we will revisit them and understand the reason behind such practices.
How to reduce anti-nutrients?
Cooking is a way to reduce anti-nutrients, but only to a very small extent. This can be combined along with other preparation methods for an effective reduction of anti-nutrients.
Soaking grains and legumes reduces the anti-nutrient effects and improves bioavailability of nutrients.
It’s a way of tricking the seeds to think that conditions are right for them to grow into a plant. This causes the seeds to break up the chemicals. In that process, they become more digestible.
- Soaking grains
First, wash the grains thoroughly. Then soak them for 8-12 hours or overnight, in warm drinking water, along with a tablespoon of acidic medium such as yogurt, whey, vinegar or lemon.
The acid is important to break down the anti-nutrients. In the morning, drain the water, rinse them and cook as usual.
- Soaking legumes
For soaking legumes, it is advisable to skip the acidic medium and just soak in very warm water. This is because when you add acid, the legumes do not soften well while soaking.
Some people suggest adding little baking soda to the soak water, but this can alter the taste of the dish.
- Soaking nuts
For soaking nuts, mix two teaspoons of unrefined salt in water and soak the nuts such that they are fully under water. Here, the salt helps with breaking down the anti-nutrients.
The nuts like almonds and walnuts can be soaked overnight,whereas cashews and pecans will do well with just couple of hours of soaking. Pistachios can be soaked for up to four hours. But I personally prefer roasted pistas and hence do not soak them.
If you would like to store them for longer, you can dry them in a baking oven in the lowest temperature setting (115 to 150 degrees). You can also spread them in a tray and sun dry them covered with a piece of cloth. This way, you can make large batches instead of soaking the nuts on a daily basis.
Ensure they are fully dry, else they will get moldy over time.
Seeds like sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds can also be soaked, although I haven’t ventured into that.
Although the skin of almonds or pulses may be high in anti-nutrients, there is no need to remove them after soaking. This is because the skin is also a major source of nutrients. After soaking, we do not have to worry anymore about anti nutrients.
If you are worried whether soaking will also remove useful nutrients, fear not. Since you are soaking the whole seed along with the skin, this will not happen.
Note: Unrefined sea salt or Himalayan salt is suggested for soaking. If I do not have them at home, I add rock salt instead of table salt.
Sprouting is taking soaking one step ahead. After the initial soaking and rinsing, wrap it in a wet piece of cotton cloth. At least thrice a day, rinse the seeds and wrap them again in wet cloth.
In two to three days of continuing this process, you will find small sprouts have grown on them.
Ensure that the grains are rinsed at least thrice a day. Do not use warm water for soaking or rinsing if you plan to sprout. Lack of rinsing can facilitate growth of unwanted bacteria and cause an off smell to your sprouts.
Sprouting not only breaks down anti nutrients and improves bio availability of nutrients, it also produces plenty of digestive enzymes that is going to aid the digestion in your tummy.
Sprouting takes more prep time, but it is totally worth it. Not all seeds are good for sprouting. One thing that I always sprout at home is the green gram. I do not even cook the sprouts because it is already quite soft.
Note: For kids, pregnant women and old people, cook the sprouts as there is a risk of bacterial contamination during the sprouting process.
The process of fermentation by wild yeast or beneficial bacteria also helps to detoxify the grains. A typical example of fermented Indian food is idli and dosa.
The fermentation of the batter makes them much easier to digest. If you are into baking, sour dough bread will also fit into this category.
#5. Roasting nuts
Nuts can be roasted instead of soaking them.
Roasting is not so good at fighting the phytates, but who doesn’t love snacking on roasted nuts? So, save that roasting for an occasional tasty snack, but stick to soaking for the rest of the times.
Exceptions to soaking:
With this, we have discussed the various methods to prepare our grains, legumes and nuts to improve their digestibility. Every rule has an exception, doesn’t it? Let’s explore the exceptions now.
Anti-nutrients are usually concentrated in the bran of whole grains.
Polished rice, for example has its bran removed. While this removes a good majority of nutrients from rice, it also removes the anti-nutrients. Hence, soaking is not needed for polished rice. However, you should be soaking your brown rice and rinsing them before cooking.
Similarly, the oats that we usually buy is either quick cooking oats or rolled oats. These have already been processed by means of cooking or steaming before they reach our kitchen. Hence, there is no point soaking them.
In a nutshell, you need to soak only whole seeds that come without processing and the bran or skin is intact. If it is processed, you can skip the soaking. But remember that processed foods have lesser nutrients in general and hence it is not a good idea to eat them.
Other benefits of soaking nuts:
We have discussed to great lengths the health benefits of soaking nuts. If that didn’t convince you, let me tell you there are other good reasons to soak.
#1. Soaking improves the taste and texture of the food
You would have noticed that walnuts have a bitter taste when eaten raw. Soak them overnight and see the difference in taste. Similarly, almonds taste much better when soaked.
If you are using whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, you will see that soaking them overnight makes them much softer to eat than cooking as it is. (I would like to reiterate-rinse them after the soaking). Quinoa also loses its mild bitterness after soaking.
#2. Soaking reduces cooking time
Obviously isn’t it? You have given your whole grains several hours to soak. You will see that they need lesser water while cooking and their cooking time reduces tremendously.
Spend five minutes at night soaking your ingredients and you will find your busy mornings a little less hectic. The additional benefit is that of course, your LPG cylinder is going to last a little longer.
#3. Your digestive issues will improve
Some of you are already facing digestive issues like gluten intolerance or leaky gut syndrome. Or perhaps, your body is low in vital nutrients despite eating a healthy and balanced diet?
Did you notice a heavy feeling in your tummy after you had an overload of unsoaked nuts?
Then it’s time to rethink from the anti-nutrient perspective. Start soaking your grains, pulses and nuts today. See if it improves your digestive health and don’t forget to let us know how things have improved.
I hope you have learnt something new today via this blog. When I first read about soaking grains and nuts, it was really out of the blue. But now it has become an integral part of our lives.
A little planning can go a long way in improving your family’s health. So go, soak your seeds. And get soaked in good health.
Do you already soak your grains and nuts? What are your reasons behind soaking?
Are you ready to start soaking your kitchen staples from today? If so, tell me how the experiment goes.
I am all ears to hear from you.