There’s WHAT in my wheat??

Phytic acid.

Actually, its in almost all grains and nuts and seeds. Whole grains and nuts and seeds, I should say. So you think you’re doing something good by eating Whole Wheat bread on your sandwich. And you are, because even with phytic acid, it is better than refined and bleached white flour. But it can also be a little dangerous. You like to live on the edge, I know.

In the bran or the hull of the grain, nut, or seed is phosphorus. This phosphorus is tied up in the bran by phytic acid. Phytic acid combines in the intestinal tract with micronutrients like iron, copper and zinc and even macro nutrtients like calcium and magnesium and blocks their absorption into your body. This makes them an “anti-nutrient”. We’re all about getting more nutrients in our food, but we’re unknowingly ingesting ANTI nutrients every time we eat oatmeal, pasta, etc… Phytic acid also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. (That’s what this whole popular raw-foods diet is all about… enzymes… and we’re inhibiting them with our improperly prepared.. or un-prepared grains.)

So when phytic acid binds with its strong binding power to these important minerals, the mineral is no longer bio-available to our bodies for use. It is now non-absorbable to the intestines. This could be a very big deal to vegetarians who count on grains, nuts and seeds for some of their minerals that they don’t get from meat and animal products and also to third-world countries who depend heavily on these cheap and available foods to sustain and nourish them. Zinc deficiency is a real problem, causing fertility issues among other things. Calcium mal-absorption has obviously become quite an epidemic in our country with bone-loss and osteoporosis. There are myriads of problems that can occur because of the lack of these very important minerals.

Phytic acid is also in: Sesame seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, tofu, oatmeal, beans, soybeans, corn, peanuts, wheat, wheat germ, brown rice, chickpeas, lentils…. and I’m sure there are others.

But there is a solution: soaking, sprouting or fermenting! When you see “sprouted whole wheat bread” at the store, this is why. A seed or grain that has been “sprouted” or germinated no longer has the phytic acid inhibiting mineral absorption. Traditional societies (with opposite diets of us Westerners) soak (in an acid medium) or ferment their grains before eating them. This sort of pre-digests the grains so that all the nutrients are more available. Soaking and lacto-fermenting can also accomplish this.

Many people who are allergic to particular grains may tolerate them well when prepared with one of these methods. An added bonus: this type of preparation also helps to break down complex sugars, making them more digestible.

So, how do you soak?

1. With an Acid Medium. 12-24 hours (depending on the grain) before you are going to make a recipe, prepare to soak. If the recipe calls for liquid, mix the grain with the liquid and an acid medium. If the mix is too dry, add the other liquid ingredients the recipe calls for (honey, oil). Use warm water to start the breakdown of the phytic acid.

Acid mediums to use: – lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, cultured buttermilk, cultured yogurt, whey, milk kefir, coconut kefir, water kefir. (For dairy, you must use a cultured product for it to have an effect and for it to be safe to sit out at room temperature.)

This doesn’t really belong here, but Soy is high in phytic acid, so any soy product needs to be fermented to avoid the mineral blocking effect in the body. (think miso and tempeh… more on Tofu and sprouting and fermenting later.) Soy protein isolate, in particular (as commonly found in… everything… like popular protein shakes, etc…), are very high in mineral-blocking phytates (and thyroid-depressing phytoestrogens and enzyme inhibitors that depress growth and can cause cancer.) Although you can’t really soak soy (I don’t think?), soybeans are able to be fermented. Like I said, more on fermentation later. That’s a post… or two or three… in and of itself.

Brown Rice, Millet, and Buckwheat are fairly low in Phytic Acid, therefore only need to be soaked for 7-8 hours. This is also the reason I use Brown Rice pasta (mostly) instead of whole wheat pasta.

Oats are extremely high in phytic acid, so a 24 hour soak is necessary!

All other grains, 12-24 hours.

Beans Cover with warm water and leave in a warm place for 12-24 hours. For black beans, stir in whey or lemon juice.

2. Let sit at room temperature and cover with plastic wrap (or towel, plate, etc…) to keep from drying out.

3. After soaking, add the rest of the ingredients (if any) and proceed with recipe as written.

Here are resources for further reading:

Phytic Acid and Mineral Loss in Grains & Legumes

Phytic Acid e-course

Be Kind to Your Grains by Sally Fallon

Also read: Nourishing Traditions (where most of the information above was gleaned from)