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    You Ask, I Answer: Soaking Grains & Phytate Levels

    I just ran across a website that advocates soaking or sprouting whole grains prior to using them to neutralize the phytic acid and make the nutrients in the grain more bioavailable.

    Since the person blogging about this stuff is NOT a doctor, scientist, or nutritionist of any kind, I wanted to get a second opinion on the value of the methods described/benefits obtained, etc.

    The article quotes someone by the name of Sally Fallon, who writes:

    Grains require careful preparation because they contain a number of antinutrients that can cause serious health problems. Phytic acid acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

    Other antinutrients in whole grains include enzyme inhibitors which can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas; irritating tannins; complex sugars which the body cannot break down; and gluten and related hard-to-digest proteins which may cause allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness.

    Is this true or mumbo-jumbo?

    — Kristina Hartman
    Concord, NC

    It is true that soaking and sprouting grains greatly reduces their phytate content.

    However, I don’t see any reason to soak grains prior to eating them, and here is why.

    Number 1: simply cooking grains reduces their phytate content to some degree.

    Keep in mind, too, that when you are cooking whole grains (whether it’s brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, or quinoa), they are already immersed in water.

    Number 2: phytates cause mineral deficiencies only when the diet is largely made up of grains (as is the case in many third world nations.)

    Eating whole grains as part of a diet that also includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, meat/meat alternatives and dairy/daily alternatives is not a health concern.

    Lastly, studies have shown that phytates offer some health benefits, including decreasing the risk of certain cancers (mainly colon, cervical, liver, and prostate) by slowing down and inhibiting maturation of cancer cells.

    As for “complex sugars the body can not break down” and gluten causing mental illness, I have no clue how the author came to such conclusions.

    Some people are allergic to gluten, but that does not make it a dangerous or unhealthy component in food for those who can eat it without experiencing symptoms.


    One Comment

    1. drawk said on March 2nd, 2009

      Gluten allergy is one phenomenon of a wider spectrum which includes allergy but also gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, and of course traditional celiac. These categories are increasingly in a state of flux, but when the entire spectrum is taken into consideration, it actually encompasses a signification percentage of people. (Focusing narrowly on allergy specifically yields an artificially low number of affected individuals). And for many of them mental disturbances can be as real a physiological consequence of gluten consumption as the digestive damage. For recent results of rather extreme examples of this, see for example “celiac disease mimicking amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)” by Martin R Turner, et. all in Nature Clinical Practice Neurology (2007) 3, 581-584. Also the recent recommendations that gluten-intolerance should be ruled out prior to making a diagnosis of MS as the brain lesions in both are identical.

      That said, as you mention, not everyone reacts to gluten – or at the very least, and this is where opinions on the matter begin to diverge – not everyone shows clinically significant symptomology of difficulty of gluten digestion. (Interestingly, though, this is also true of full-blown celiacs with confirmation by intestinal biopsy – many are asymptomatic even though the internal damage to the villi is occurring).

      Whether the consumption of unprepared grains is a general issue, or an issue only of concern to a sub-group with genetic or environmental pre-disposition to (glutanous) grain reactions is an area of active study and speculation.

      From what I have seen of the Weston A. Price Foundation (Sally Fallon’s organization), they err on the side of caution in this regard by building off the findings of Dr. Price’s observational work of the dietary behaviors of ‘uncivilized’ (in the neutral and non-derogatory sense of that word) in their preparation of grains and the contrast/comparison of the state of these cultures health before and after these traditional methods of preparation were abandoned.

      Their position may be overly cautious, but does in many regards appear to have enough merit to warrant (appropriately skeptical) consideration.

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