If you’ve been around the real food circuit for any amount of time, you’ve probably read about the importance of soaking your grains. I first learned about soaking grains five years ago when I started my real food journey, but I became serious about it after reading Nourishing Traditions and Cure Tooth Decay.
The whole practice of soaking is designed to reduce the amount of phytic acid contained in grains, nuts, legumes, etc. Phytic acid is considered an antinutrient because it binds with minerals in our food and makes them unable to be absorbed by our body.
For awhile I made every effort to soak everything that could possibly contain phytic acid. If I didn’t plan ahead and ended up having to give my kids real, whole food that wasn’t “properly prepared” I would then suffer from major mom guilt. In fact, there were many days I just wanted to give up real food because I couldn’t keep up with all the rules. Furthermore, some things just didn’t make sense to me. That’s when I began to question soaking and decided to research it grain by grain.
I already wrote about wheat, namely sourdough. You can read about that in my article The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread. Sourdough bread is fermented with a long rise time which is very effective at breaking down the phytic acid. One reason it’s so successful is because wheat contains a large amount of phytase which is needed to break down the phytic acid.
I wrote about rice and you can read about that in my article Should we be Eating Brown or White Rice. In that article I came to the conclusion that I’m really not going to sweat soaking my rice. If I have time I will soak my brown rice (most phytic acid is in the outer layer), and if not I will just eat white rice. However, I need to update that article since reading the 2015 Consumer Report on rice arsenic levels – brown rice contains up to 80% more arsenic than white rice. Plus, rice does not contain enough phytase to break down the phytic acid, so if you are not adding phytase to the soaking liquid, you really aren’t going to be reducing the phytic acid very much by soaking.
So we do soak our wheat, sometimes soak our rice, and today I want to share why I decided that it’s really not worth it to soak our oats.
When I first began soaking our oats, I ran into a lot of conflicting information. Some sources said soak overnight in warm water (but it has to be a certain temperature), others said soak with an acid like apple cider vinegar or buttermilk (which makes the resulting food a bit bitter tasting), others said don’t soak with dairy. It was enough to drive me crazy. Now the research is showing that all of those soaking methods are not super effective at reducing phytic acid. One study showed that soaking oats for 12 hours barely reduced the phytic acid by 25%. This is because oats, like rice, contain barely any phytase. So now we need to add phytase, like wheat flour or buckwheat to the soak if we want to accomplish a reduction of phytic acid.
Why I no Longer Soak My Oats
Call me crazy, or logical, whichever you prefer, but I always like to ask “Is this how God designed for us to eat this food?”. I mean, it seems we always make everything so complicated and I don’t think God meant for our food to be a complicated thing. I think back to the old testament and how the Pharisees had created all these rules for themselves to live by. I feel like the real food world does this too, but is it necessary? The whole adding flour to oats and letting it soak just seemed unnatural. Would ancient cultures think to do this?
I decided the only way to find out the answer to that question was to look up ancient recipes containing oats to see how they were prepared. Now I certainly didn’t find an exhaustive list of all oat recipes ever made by man. I did discover that for a long time, oats were considered animal food, not human food. Even today only about 3-4% of oats are produced for human consumption. During the medieval time-period, people made recipes like this Oatmeal Gruel and this Oatmeal Pudding, none of which were soaked. Of all the recipes I found, I only found one recipe that would meet the requirements of a long soak with added phytase. I was actually quite surprised to find this recipe. It’s a Russian drink from the sixteenth century called Kissel made by soaking oats with a piece of rye bread to cause it to ferment. After researching recipes and time periods, I still felt like my opinion could go either way. Some cultures effectively soaked oats, others didn’t. What should we do?
In my research I also found a couple of other factors that helped to form my opinion:
- One study done on rats showed that the small intestine made more phytase when the rats were fed food high in phytic acid. (source) Now we don’t know if this is true in humans, although we do know humans have a small amount of phytase in the small intestine. But it wouldn’t surprise me to know that God designed our bodies to adapt to the foods we are eating.
- Another study showed that the probiotic lactobacilli is a great source of phytase and can help break down phytic acid in food that we are eating. (source) Our family regularly consumes fermented foods and drinks which was encouraging to find out that those probiotics are breaking down the phytic acid allowing our bodies to digest more of those valuable minerals. I will just make sure to add a fermented drink or yogurt to our meal when we are eating unsoaked oats.
- We supplement our minerals. I daily add these mineral drops to our water and kombucha. Therefore I do not rely on grains and diet alone for our mineral needs. We also eat meat and do not rely on plant matter as our only source of iron. If we were vegetarians, I would probably make more of an effort to soak all grains.
- Phytic acid can actually serve a good purpose. I know that it is generally regarded at a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing in the real food world, but phytic acid can help prevent heavy metal toxicity, may help prevent cancer (source), can protect against kidney stones (source), and more.
So there you have it friends. I am not a doctor, just a mom who is trying to live a simple and healthy life. In conclusion, I am not against soaking my oats, but I really don’t see the necessity in it and in my current stage of life, I’m not going to put undue pressure on myself to do something if the results are going to be limited. Frankly, we like the flavor and taste of our oats better when they haven’t been soaked for a long period of time. Plus I’m not entirely convinced that God designed oats to be prepared with a phytase starter. There’s some food for thought. But don’t take my word for it, do your own research and decide for yourself what is best for your family!