Let's Talk Phytic Acid - Nuts, Grains, & Legumes

We've all heard that Nuts, Seeds, Whole Grains, & Legumes are supposed to be good for us. Then, why can they often cause bloating and gas?

The Answer? Because they haven’t been prepared properly.

All of these foods have certain enzymes in them that the body can’t break down, especially one called Phytic Acid (also called an anti-nutrient). The enzymes provide a natural protective coating for the nut or grain which keeps it safe from predators and premature sprouting.  

But what is good for the nut or grain in the field is not good for our body and its digestion. It is these "anti-nutrients" that can cause us to bloat and toot and generally feel crummy. The phytic acid can also inhibit the body from absorbing some of the good-for-you nutrients those nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes are chocked full of.

The best way to break down the phytic acid and other anti-nutrients is to Soak your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes in water before you eat or cook them. This simple process of soaking helps to soften and break-down the anti-nutrient coating, making these good-for-you foods easier to cook, digest, and love eating.

Here’s the scoop on how to prepare each of these:

NUTS & SEEDS:

First, be sure to buy Raw Nuts or Seeds (preferably organic if you can afford it) – you can now find them at virtually any grocery store, but be sure they are labeled “raw.” Put the desired amount of Nuts/Seeds into a glass bowl and cover with good quality water. Soak nuts overnight or for 8-10 hours.

After soaking, Drain the Nuts/Seeds & Rinse them very well to flush away all of the anti-nutrients and phytic acid.

My Nuts/Seeds are Soaked, Now What?

  1. You can make Nut/Seed Milk or Nut/Seed Butter - see recipes below.
     
  2. Soaked and drained Nuts/Seeds can be kept in your Refrigerator for 2-3 days to munch on or to make into Nut/Seed Milk later.
     
  3. Dry your Nuts/Seeds.

    - You should dry Nuts/Seeds before making nut butter.
    - To safely store Nuts/Seeds outside the refrigerator they must be dried thoroughly.
    - Drying also gives Nuts/Seeds their deliciously satisfying "crunch." 

    If you have a food dehydrator, follow the directions that came with it. If you don’t own a dehydrator you can use your oven instead. Set the oven to its lowest temperature, spread out the Nuts/Seeds onto a baking sheet into a single layer and pop in. Prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon, and let the nuts dry overnight. Before you remove them from the oventaste one to be sure they are completely dry – larger nuts will take longer to dry, smaller seeds will take less time. Cool completely. Then store in a canning jar in your pantry for up to 2 months.


GRAINS & LEGUMES:

Whole Grains such as Brown Rice, Millet, Amaranth, or Kasha should soak for 8-10 hrs. Rinse them thoroughly, then cook according to instructions. Your cooking time may be shortened due to the soaking so keep an eye on them.

For smaller grains like quinoa, split peas, or lentils you’ll only need to soak them for 2-3 hours, then rinse and cook as usual.

Legumes/Beans should be soaked for at least 12 hrs. Cooking them with a piece of Kombu seaweed will continue to break down the enzymes that make legumes hard to digest. You can find dry Kombu at most stores these days, but definitely at Natural Grocer’s, Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage, and Asian markets. Use a 3″ piece for one recipe of beans.


NUT MILK:
Makes 1 quart


Almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and sesame seeds all make great nut milks. You’ll need to soak your nuts overnight, then rinse them under cool filtered water before using.

1 cup soaked, rinsed  nuts
3 cups of filtered water
1 Tbs honey or 2 soaked dates (optional)

  1. Add all ingredients into a good quality blender or VitaMix. Process the mixture for about one minute.
     
  2. Strain the milk through a nut bag – or, go to the hardware store and buy paint straining bags for a fraction of the price – gently squeezing the bag to extract the milk. I like to strain the milk into a large measuring cup then transfer to a quart-sized canning jar.

Nut milks will store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. They do not microwave well, and while a bit watery, they taste delicious and have no extra, unnatural ingredients.


COCONUT MILK:
Makes 1 Pint

1 cup unsweetened coconut, fresh or shredded coconut can be used
2 cups very hot water

  1. Using a blender, process coconut and water on highest speed for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Strain using a nut milk bag.
  3. Put coconut pulp back into blender with 1/2 cup very hot water. Process on high for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Strain and store in refrigerator.

NUT BUTTER:
Makes 2 cups


2 cups nuts - almonds, peanuts, cashews – soaked & dried
2-3 Tbs. Coconut Oil
2 Tbs. honey (optional)
1 tsp. salt – Celtic sea salts are the only salt you should use - you can easily find Redmonds brand at the grocery store these days

In a food processor or VitaMix, grind nuts and sea salt to a fine powder. Add coconut oil and honey (if using) and process until “butter” becomes smooth. If using a food processor this can take up to 15 minutes. If using a VitaMix it can take as little as 2 minutes.

It may be somewhat liquid but will harden when chilled. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (I use Ball canning jars for storing everything. They’re glass, inexpensive, made in America, and are easily cleaned and reused).

So, there you have it. Nuts and grains that are good for you and won’t leave you feeling like a puffer fish. Now get out there and soak your nuts and grains!

Sources:
http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/be-kind-to-your-grains-and-your-grains-will-be-kind-to-you/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774556
http://www.dailyom.com/library/000/000/000000603.html