Monday, August 8, 2011

Final Conclusions on Soaking Grains

When I started this blog I envisioned my search for truth in food. I imagined my trying out recipes, some working and some not working. But most of all I saw a community of people commenting and giving me tips of what to look and where to look.

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.

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays and Fight Back Fridays


  1. HA! Love your closing paragraph!

    And I just have one crock of sauerkraut fermenting on my counter, and my husband thinks I'm a loon as well.

    the Iowa Expat from

  2. From one loon to another, great post. You did a great job of sorting out the facts and sharing it with us. Thanks!

    I'm so excited that you started a sourdough starter- if you're like me you'll have a love/hate relationship with it. It truly is an art and I've had the same recipe turn out drastically different- maddening! But, when it's right, it's oh so good!

  3. So the part about sourdough was interesting to me because I have a wheat intolerance and I recently noticed that sourdough bread doesn't affect me the way wheat does. I didn't know anyone else had similar experience's.

  4. I've read somewhere (Cultures for Health website?) that different fermenting foods shouldn't be stored near each other. You might want to separate all your jars and crocks!

  5. COB, I don't mean to be overly critical, but would you please clarify the statement that some people report that soured or soaked wheat-products do not give them a "celiac response." I have to be highly skeptical of this. Especially since celiac disease cannot be taken lightly by those who have it.

    If someone truly has celiac disease, then they are having an auto-immune reaction to as little wheat as can be found accidentally left on a cutting board. Symptoms of a reaction are not necessarily evoked by the underlying auto-immunity. For example, my girlfriend has celiacs disease and is considered a non-responder. She was completely unaware of her condition until she became severely anemic. And to this day, she wouldn't know if she ate contaminated food - that is, unless she chronically did so, and became nutrient deficient.

    Given that gluten is a very tough protein (it easily survives the stomach), I'm confident that people with celiac's disease must avoid even the most vigorously prepared wheat. At least until a study shows negative intestinal biopsies in celiac patients who have regularly consumed these in the diet.

  6. This is a great roundup on info on the topic. I definitely think that everyone should have a good look at the facts and make their own mind up.

    Answers will vary depending on:
    how sensitive you are
    how easy it is for you to give up grains
    how much time you are willing to invest to make the grain safer.

    I'd like to link to your conclusions when I continue my Should You Eat Bread series.

    One small request. Could you please make the mention of my post clickable :)

  7. Moose, I completely hear you. My "belief" and I put that in quotes because I am not formally educated in the subject, is that celiac disease is a conglomeration of many gluten allergies and disorders. The term 'Celiac Disease' is today actually more of an umbrella term. There are a vast number of people who present with celiac symptoms that test negative on the blood test for celiac. Yet even for these people, going gluten free helps alleviate symptoms.

    My hunch is that people with compromised digestive symptoms are being lumped into this category, when they are not truly gluten intolerant. But many people with celiac symptoms both mild to more severe report that fermented grains don't bother them that much. Fermentation does have some effect on the breakdown of gluten. I am not making that up, even Shuree mentions it above. I think people with true gluten issues that are on the very severe side of the scale will likely still have problems eating fermented products that contain gluten. Still, it is worth a try for many who lie elsewhere on the spectrum.

    All of the above is actually completely different from a wheat ALLERGY too. So there's lots of stuff lumped into one term. And I think that is the biggest problem with the term celiac and why it's numbers are growing. Limiting grains surely will do alot to help anyone with symptoms.

  8. Hi Ruth, the post is clickable. But the link color when it is a link that you have visited before is a slightly lighter grey than the actual type. Links you haven't visited are a bright blue. I will see if I can change it so that it is highlighted better. :)
    Thanks for all your help! I would appreciate being included in your blog!

  9. Apropos your comment to Moose, I think Celiac is a very specific thing and usually labelled as such. And then there is a whole group of people who are sensitive to gluten/wheat who test negative for celiac. I don't think you can label them celiacs.

    Celiacs might psychologically have it easier, because they have a specific ailment that is recognised by the medical community. Some doctors and other tend think gluten sensitivity is a fad or a fake illness because there is no clinic test for it. But if you suddenly feel much better without gluten, it's pretty damn real!

    You're right about it being clickable. Don't know how I missed it. Read your post early morning, pre-coffee :(

  10. Ahahaha... "my husband thinks I'm a loon..." I can relate to that! I've got jars everywhere too. I think he's used to it by now, though. :)

    I haven't been eating grains for the past two months and I feel great. So I'm leery of starting them up again, but if/when I do, I am definitely trying sourdough!

  11. Great post. I think we should be encouraging "heretical" ideas - it is far too easy to be lulled into groupthink, and like you said, most people who write blogs (myself included) don't have any real authority on these topics other than interest and personal experience. I am especially skeptical of soaked recipes for things like scones and pie crusts. They are NOT traditional and they don't taste as good! Sourdough, on the other hand, is very traditional and sooo much more delicious than yeasted bread.

  12. My husband definitely does not think I am a loon - he thinks it's all pretty delicious :)))

  13. Again another excellent post. Thank you for sharing your outlook on this whole thing.
    I have to say I am in 100% agreement with you. I will continue to soak only what I do for my sour doughs. Grains are not that big a part of our diet as an every day norm.

  14. Thank you for an interesting article and links. I soak my GF oatmeal overnight with kefir water added. I was skeptical about the whys etc but my daughter who is GF and has severe reflux (age 6) immediately noticed a difference when she ate it. She said my tummy does not hurt. And in the six months since I started soaking oatmeal, her complaints have gone way down and she has grown a lot (which sadly for her has been unusual). I sometimes soak my bread flours and other grains but I notice less effect from those - it is the oatmeal that is most noticeable. In the beginning my husband did not believe me and served her oatmeal unsoaked. After eating it, she said you did it the old way and my stomach hurts now. So for those with sensitive stomachs, it does make a difference.

    In the article on Gluten Free I noticed it did not mention what I have read numerous places - the wheat in America today contains far more gluten than the wheat of 50 years ago and we eat far less different strains of wheat. The wheat grown now has been bred to be a "super" wheat so it is very different than generations ago. In addition, America is consuming far more wheat in their diets than generations ago.

  15. I wanted to second that anyone with actual definitive Celiac Disease should NOT eat any gluten-containing grains, ever, whether soaked or not. Even those who are not officially diagnosed should probably be evaluated or monitored if introducing gluten so that testing can be completed. The effects of celiac disease can be devastating and silent, as mentioned above. An entire generation was treated in childhood with the gf diet and then introduced to wheat as teenagers and adults, only to be re-diagnosed in their 50's, often with additional health problems like osteoporosis, cancer, or concurrant autoimmune diseases.

    Those with gluten intolerance, or questionable sentivity, may find that soaking/fermenting helps and makes them tolerable. It's never a bad idea to be officially evaluated for celiac disease, though, if you have concerns, as the long term side effects can be rather devastating. Osteoporosis at 35, anyone?

    Honestly, if it runs in the family and you have symptoms, I'd vote for avoiding gluten-grains. You can soak/ferment your non-gluten grains.

  16. You may be interested in reading the book, "Wheat Belly" by Dr. William Davis. He is a preventative cardiologist who practices in Wisconsin. He explains the history of wheat and how the "wheat" we consume today is a completely different product than the wheat from before about 1950. He then goes on to explain all the negative aspects of wheat. I think it explains the "mystery" of why so many diseases are on the rise in our world today. Check it out!