Should You Soak and Sprout Your Grains?

"Sprouted Wheat Berries" by Veganbaking.net licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/Added text and border

I am not a doctor and have not been professionally trained.  My writings are based on my own personal experiences and research and are not to be taken as medical advice. Please take a look at our medical disclaimer before reading the below information.

It’s a common belief within the real food world that soaking and sprouting grains is a traditional practice and necessary to safely consume them. Getting Real in Your Kitchen investigates such claims to ensure they are truthful.  The two questions we want to tackle today are:

  1. Is it traditional to soak and sprout grains?
  2. Should grains be soaked, sprouted, and fermented?

Is it traditional to soak and sprout grains?

Let’s start at the Bible, a very reliable, historical source.

The Bible never mentions soaking and sprouting, despite the prevalence of grains in Scripture.  If you’re familiar with Food for Life you probably know of their sprouted grain products in packages that display Ezekiel 4:9,

"Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.”

This verse says nothing about soaking and sprouting, and although I don’t think Food for Life is trying to convince their customers that it does, I also think some people might begin to associate this verse with sprouted grains.

Based on the Bible commentaries I have studied, the storage jar held a mixture of better quality and lesser quality grains. It was intended to symbolize upcoming scarce times during the future siege and captivity.  This indicates:

  • The lack of food would make God’s people content with whatever meager sustenance they could obtain.
  • They would mix the better tasting with the lesser quality grains to make the superior grains last longer.
  • God’s people would be forced to reside in other nations.

I find Food for Life’s quote very interesting:

We discovered when these six grains and legumes are sprouted and combined, an amazing thing happens. A complete protein is created that closely parallels the protein found in milk and eggs. In fact, the protein quality is so high, that it is 84.3% as efficient as the highest recognized source of protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. There are 18 amino acids present in this unique bread - from all vegetable sources - naturally balanced in nature.”

According to Sue Becker, the high protein content of this mixture would be reduced by soaking and sprouting. She believes Ezekiel did not take that step.  She says:

Individually, grains and beans lack certain necessary amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.  However, when grains and bean are combined, they perfectly complement each other, forming a complete protein.  In a long term fast, much body mass is lost due to a lack of nourishment, particularly protein.   When grains or beans are sprouted some protein is lost.  I believe this bread was not sprouted, and the incredible supply of complete protein and other nutrients perfectly nourished Ezekiel for over 400 days!”

Moving on from the Bible, let’s now consider Dr. Edward Howell.  I had to trust others were representing him correctly when they repeated his theory about ancient grain harvesting methods, because I could not find any quotes from him on the subject.  Jordan Rubin, author of The Maker’s Diet,  wrote that Howell claimed the stalks were left in the field, allowing the seeds to sprout.
Think about this for a second.  What conditions are required for germination?  Damp, moist conditions.  But what else does that lead to?  Rotting!  So the seeds would have to be damp, but this would mean their storage time was very limited.

"Surrounded by Grain" by Ian Sane
licensed under 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) 


Assuming Dr. Howell really did believe this, I simply can’t accept his theory.  It’s far from my intention to discredit Dr. Edward Howell or the work he has done (I think he has done quite a bit of good work, actually). I am only trying to find the truth.




Sue Becker has done her fair share of research and she can’t find any historical references to soaking grains.  Her article, Phytic Acid: Friend or Foe, is worth reading, though I don’t agree with everything she writes.

Let me be clear, I am not an expert on this, and others have done more extensive research than I have. Although I am not aware of any proof that soaking and sprouting is an ancient tradition, it’s also possible that I just didn’t find it in my research.

However, I am not really concerned about whether or not soaking and sprouting is an ancient tradition.  Getting hung up on that would distract us from exploring the potential benefits of soaking and sprouting and deciding if this should be incorporated in our meal preparation.

So now let us move on to the more important question. 

Are there health benefits to soaking and sprouting grains?

Remember, damp conditions are required for sprouting.  Until these requirements are met, the seed’s protective mechanisms prevent germination. 

These protections come in the form of:


Unfortunately for us, these anti-nutrients may not be safe to consume.  This is where soaking and sprouting is supposed to save the day, making it possible to safely enjoy grains.

It turns out, soaking and sprouting does improve the safety of grains, although it does not completely annihilate all anti-nutrients.

  • Phytase is an enzyme that deactivates phytic acid.  This process is initiated with soaking and sprouting.  
  • Enzyme inhibitors are also deactivated.
  • Lectin deactivation is dependant upon the type of grain. Some respond to soaking and sprouting better than others.
  • Gluten reduction is possible

Fermenting maximizes the breakdown of anti-nutrients, but even this extra step will not fully eradicate all harmful substances.

  • Phytic acid is further deactivated.  The more phytase the particular grain contains, the less time it will take to deactivate the phytic acid.  The same is true in reverse.
  • Enzyme inhibitors are also further deactivated.
  • Lectins are also further deactivated.
  • According to Mark Sisson, substantial gluten reduction cannot be achieved through simple fermenting methods used at home.  He says, “Some Italian researchers used a unique blend of bacterial species to break down 99% of the gluten in sourdough bread, but it was under strict, extremely contrived laboratory conditions.”

Even soaking and sprouting
can't remove all anti-nutrients
"Sprouted Wheat Berries in Jar" by Kim Knoch
Licensed under 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


Mark Sisson goes into a bit more detail on the above points in his article, Are Traditionally Prepared Grains Healthy?

If you want to learn even more, there are studies that show the benefits of soaking and sprouting.






Should grains be soaked, sprouted and fermented?

This is a somewhat difficult question because there are other factors that were not present during the period ancient grains were first grown and eaten.


If you are healing your gut or have a sensitive digestive system, don’t eat grains.  It’s best to avoid them, no matter how they are prepared.

But if you don’t have any gut issues and your digestive system works beautifully, then I think you can enjoy them occasionally.  If you choose to include grains in your diet, I recommend you keep the following points in mind:

  •  It’s best to soak, sprout and ferment them in order to minimize anti-nutrients as much as possible  
  • Buy organic when possible to avoid pesticides
  • Try not to make grains the bulk of your diet


Although you may be one of the fortunate who can tolerate grains, you still don’t want to overdo it. As already mentioned, modern grains are far different from ancient grains, which means even properly prepared grains may still contain some harmful substances that should be limited or avoided.

In addition, the nutrient quantity in grains is low compared to the nutrient quantity in fruits, vegetables, and meats (although soaking and sprouting does increase vitamins in grains).  Try to prioritize meats, veggies, fruits and healthy fats when meal planning, and then throw in some properly prepared grains for a treat, or when you need a fill in.


Is Banning Bread an Attack on God?

Grains are prevalent in the Bible, but that does not imply we should continue eating them today.

Some Christians are upset by the advice to avoid grains. They reason that God gave it to His people, so it must still be a good food.  The problem is grains are not what they used to be, and the average body is not what it used to be.

God gave His people bread before we corrupted grains. Just because bread was a good food in biblical times does not mean we should continue to eat it regardless of all other factors.  When our bodies don’t work well, or our grains have been messed with, we need to adjust. God didn’t make a mistake in giving His people bread, but things are different now.

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35.

Jesus was speaking to a society that relied heavily upon agriculture and he wanted to make His allegory easy to understand.  Although most of us don’t have much exposure to agriculture, His statement can still help us to realize and understand that Jesus is the one who sustains and fills us.  Nothing else in the world can, whether we are talking about food, fame, fortune, or anything that we chase after. Just because we don’t eat bread, doesn’t mean we can’t believe our ultimate fulfillment is found in Jesus.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17)

“Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3).

Summary

  • We don’t know if soaking and sprouting is traditional, and there does not seem to be any historical reference to it.
  • There are health benefits to soaking and sprouting, which are increased with the additional step of fermenting.
  • Modern grains are different and more dangerous than ancient grains.
  • Those with sensitive digestive systems should avoid grains.
  • Those with healthy digestive systems can consume grains, but it’s best to focus on other foods with more nutrients.
  • If you are going to eat grains, make sure to properly prepare them by soaking, sprouting and/or fermenting them and buying organic when possible.  

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