Grains: Friend or Foe?
Updated: Feb 1
Grains have become quite a hot topic in the nutrition world. Whether you're hardcore vegan and preach the many benefits of grains in your daily diet, or hardcore carnivore and are aggressively anti-grains there seems to be a lot of misinformation regarding grains, their nutritional value, whether or not we should be eating them, how to properly prepare them, and more. Allow me to simplify some of this confusion.
I do not believe that grains are inherently harmful to human beings. They however CAN be quite harmful when prepared incorrectly, which many home cooks and restaurant chefs do often! Grains contain high amounts of anti-nutrients which are essentially a plant's mechanism for protection in the wild and are vital for helping the plant know when to sprout and grow. When we consume ill-prepared grains, these anti-nutrients can cause all sorts of health issues. Take phytic acid, for example, when consumed in high amounts, it can block the absorption of magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc from our food, leaving us starving for those important minerals!
Many may argue that “well early humans didn’t eat grains, so we shouldn’t either” While there's something to be said for sticking to a primal, Paleolithic diet, they forget to mention that all pre-industrialized cultures that consume grains, utilized proper preparation techniques in doing so. In our current age of industry and technology, convenience trumps quality, and those proper techniques fall by the wayside. Today, wheat is refined down to devitalized white flour, grains themselves are grown in pesticide-laden soil, and they are processed at high temperatures turning them rancid and destroying the nutrient quality. We then consume these products, which hurts our bodies, deprive us of nutrients, and leave us overall sick and diseased. So how can we tap into our ancestor's grain prep techniques and avoid all these modern-day health issues?
Soaking and Sprouting
Let's step back in time a few hundred years and take a look at cultures that eat lots of grains. In India, lentils are fermented for roughly 48 hours before cooking. In Africa, corn is soaked overnight before adding to dishes. In Asia rice was often germinated (or sprouted) which is a 2-3 day process of soaking, rinsing, and draining that resulted in small sprouts emerging from the rice. All of these processes make the grain easier to digest, and easier to extract nutrients from.
These processes can involve either soaking grains in warm water with an acidic medium (such as kefir, vinegar, or lemon juice) or a long slow ferment (such as sourdough bread).
There are also lots of different animals that eat high amounts of grains. Those animals also tend to have multiple stomachs and a long digestive tract. Whereas humans have the opposite, one stomach, and a short digestive tract. This means we are great at consuming meats, extracting their nutrients, and expelling the remnants quickly, but not so great at processing high amounts of grains. For humans, doing so can lead to IBS and other GI issues.
Properly preparing grains essentially acts as “the first few stomachs” before it reaches ours, where the bacteria from the fermentation process “digests” some of the matter before we consume it! Pretty cool, right?
Foods to accompany grains
Another caveat to mention is that even if soaked or sprouted, It’s quite hard for our bodies to extract all of the wonderful nutrients from grains when eaten alone. We need fat-soluble vitamins (Such as A, D, E, and K) to help us absorb calcium, phosphorus, and Iron from said grains. This means that eating responsibly sourced animal fats from raw milk, butter, cream or lard can help us to get all those nutrients, and avoid further health issues.
So what does this mean for you?
Properly preparing grains, while it may not be “the norm” in society today is extremely important to your health if grains make up a large part of your diet (Im talking to you vegans and vegetarians!). If you want to get the absolute most from your grains, check out the Weston A Price foundation for some of the most comprehensive resources on proper grain sourcing and preparation and explore the simple recipes below!
Take charge of your own health, go against the norm, do your own research - for your own vitality and longevity!
Sprouted Grain Recipe: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-sprouted-grains-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-204466
Sourdough Bread Recipe: https://www.baked-theblog.com/sprouted-grain-sourdough-bread/
Sprouted Lentil Recipe: https://traditionalcookingschool.com/food-preparation/recipes/3-dishes-from-sprouted-lentils/
Soaked Oatmeal Recipe: https://nourishedkitchen.com/soaked-oatmeal-recipe/