When I posted my article last week, Do I Really Need to Soak My Grains? I was kind of nervous. I even weighed whether I should share the heretical post on the normal Real Food Blog Hops that I participate in. But...over 350 hits later and I think I discovered that I am not the only one who is confused.
Usually when one finds bits of information that seem contradictory it is normal to assume that some are true and some are false. Sorting through the true and the false takes time, but makes sense in the long run. But what happens when there are many bits of information that are contradictory but they are all true? What then? In my opinion you have on your hands a good old fashioned mystery. One must find the one situation in which all pieces of the story are in fact true. I LOVE mysteries. But rarely do they get solved in 48 minutes of airtime like on my much beloved Law and Order. In the case of soaking grains, much of my information was obtained from blogs like mine. I love reading blogs, but one must understand that they are opinion based and usually written by people like myself who really have no academic background in the science on which they write. The only thing that qualifies me to write about food is that I got a '5' on my AP English exam 14 years ago and I think I write a damn good research paper. But even I do not spend the time I need to get the fully researched picture all the time. And I assume that other bloggers are the same. That is why no writer is any better than the sources that they quote. Blogs that correctly quote lots of good articles are sure to rise to the top of their game.
But back to my conundrum. In the case of my soaking grains, what was I to do? Let's consider all the information.
* Substances like Lectins, Phytic Acid and other anti-nutrients reside mainly in the bran of the kernel of grain. These substances keep us from accessing all the available nutrition. These substances can also lead to severe gastrointestinal distress in sensitive people and minor gastrointestinal distress is others.
* Most people, about 85%, digest grains with no problem.
* Rates of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease have risen dramatically in the last 50 years, as have most other degenerative diseases and cancers. This has been proven by testing stored blood from 50 years ago. The rates of potential celiac among the stored samples was far lower than folks living today. Here is the Mayo Clinic article that details where and when the study took place.
* Despite what anyone else might tell you, celiac disease is presently found in approximately 1% of the population. Gluten sensitivity, or a more mild form of the disease, is found in an estimated 10-15% of the population.
* Soaking or fermenting grains for 12-48 hours in warm water, water with whey or an acidic liquid like keifer and yogurt does increases the digestibility of the available nutrition on a grain whether the grain is whole or refined. (I am citing Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon)
* Soaking grains diminishes the celiac reaction in many sufferers. Some report that while they cannot eat traditionally prepared breads they can have 'soured' or soaked version like sourdough, etc.
* Sprouted grains and flours have some of the highest lectin content available because as the plant begins to grow it produces more anti-nutrients that discourage you from eating the plant.
* My great-grandmother and likely her mother and grandmother would never have left a bowl of pancake batter sitting in yogurt overnight on her counter top. Why doesn't the step of soaking (as it is presented today) survive in any recipes? And if the rates of celiac were so much lower 100 years ago, why? Why did so many cultures eat refined white bread daily and not experience the same amount of degenerative disease that we are experiencing today?
* I am not sick. While I have imagined that I have gluten sensitivity in the last couple of years, I only experience symptoms when I eat huge quantities of wheat, like 4-5 servings a day. I am likely just one of those people for whom gluten-free is a fad.
I asked many of those questions in my post last week. And I have to thank everyone who responded and commented and in general just read the post. Everyone who commented helped me gain more insight. And everyone was so supportive! I imagined being railed against for my heresy. But that didn't happen at all. And this wonderful community of people has given me links and suggestions. You all really added value to my search. And I definitely feel like I am not the only one who is confused. I think if more people were confident about the topic of soaking grains I would not have gotten the immediate traffic bump. Clearly people are confused by the contradictory information.
Writing this post has been a learning experience. Honestly, the topic of soaking grains annoys me. I feel a little criticized, like someone is wagging their finger at me telling me that I have been doing it wrong all these years. I have eschewed most store bought bread, yet I keep getting the impression that my additive free, organic, high-quality sprouted bread is still silently killing me and my ignorance...maybe I am over-internalizing that just a tad. Still, how could all of the above things be true? Surely some of them had to be false. Either soaking wasn't worth the effort or I was damaging my gut by eating improperly prepared food. And what about this so called 'traditional preparation'? It is nothing I have ever heard of before I got interested in food...or had I?
Ruth at Ruth's Real Food posted a very interesting post at her blog last week, just when I was open to hearing about proper preparation of grains. Her take was that modern factory produced bread was allowed to rise only 5 hours, not enough time to properly breakdown the grain for digestion. Add to that additives and dough conditioners and food coloring and you have one scary loaf of bread. EUREKA!! This was the missing link for me! I have heard of the modern bread preparation on the wonderful blog Fooducate, they wrote a post about it last spring. And incidentally, they just published an amazing article on gluten and cealic disease yesterday. Thanks Fooducate!My great grandmother surely would have made bread at home and she surely would have allowed it to rise, probably taking all day. This was starting to make sense. Maybe the step of soaking was hiding in all those old recipes under rising time.
I also in the post lamented my inability to find a good online post detailing the process, what do the bad anti-nutrients do, and what does the soaking, fermenting and sprouting do for them? Why is there little good information for an exacter like me? Am I wasting my time soaking? Then my dear friend Sara commented that she had recently read a great post from Mark's Daily Apple that questioned whether traditionally prepared grains were healthy. Mark details exactly what is IN the grains that makes them bad, then he details what different preparation methods do to reduce the effects of the antinutrients. His information is invaluable. Go and read the article. His conclusions? Sprouting does little to mitigate anti-nutrients and gluten, fermentation does a heck of alot more. But the preparation doesn't do enough to make him want to eat grains (he is one of those Paleo People).
Elizabeth also commented that there are such a thing as Overnight Pancakes. And yes, I did find some recipes online. Although mostly these recipes are to alleviate busy morning schedules, the soaking seemed like it would be helpful. But...since they are all refrigerated there is no fermentation. I don't know how much anti-nutrient eliminations these recipes would offer. But you got me thinking Elizabeth (see tomorrow's post).
And lastly to bobsgirl, I hear you. She commented something many of us are thinking "while reading your post I thought about reports from several years ago on how unhealthy the populace has become from eating 'white' bread/flours ..the answer and improved health we were told, came from eating whole grains. My question; how could so many have improved health and less disease from whole grain consumption if there are so many 'bad' things in it for us?" I haven't done adequate research on this, but my bet is that people who are interested in eating whole grains also are interested in eating lean meats and lots of fresh vegetables. Overall whole grains as part of a larger healthier diet might make it look like whole grains were the catalyst for health, but my gut says no. My gut says that if everyone just changed their hamburger buns and pasta to whole wheat and made no other changes to their Standard American Diet that our national health would be largely unchanged.
So now, after reading all these posts, what do I do? Do I soak? Not soak? Do I worry? Do I throw caution to the wind? Well, I think it is yes, maybe, no and sort of.
I do think after reading all this information that it is worth it for me to try and soak my grains more often. I have...gulp...started a sourdough starter. Which is a huge step for me. And I am not sure if my marriage can handle more jars on the countertop. (Haha, just kidding). But seriously, I have two jars of kombucha, keifer, a jar of fermenting pickles and now a sourdough starter sitting on my counter? My husband thinks I am a loon.
But...I agree with Mark from Mark's Daily Apple, reducing grains is one of the best things you can do for your health. They are not really a fantastic source of nutrition and they crowd other healthier things off the plate. And I think we waste alot of time and energy grinding our own flour and hemming and hawing over 'whole this' and 'organic that', when our time would be better served adding another vegetable to our dinner plate daily, eliminating overly processed oils and sourcing grass fed meat. Reducing grains is not a small thing or a 'little tweak' to the Standard American Diet. Reducing grains is what helps people get OFF the SAD. So if I forget to soak the flour to the pancakes that will be my only grains in a day? Screw it. I am making pancakes anyway. And if I feel like having croutons on my salad lovingly made from in house baguettes from my dearest Fairway Grocery Store? Screw it, I am going to enjoy my croutons.
BOTTOM LINE: If grains are not a huge part of your diet, and you generally take care to properly prepare them, don't feel guilty about eating some unsoaked muffins. Save your worries for what is going on in Washington and on Wall Street.
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