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Soaking Grains

Release bound minerals and increase digestability


Why soak grains

To release nutrients and decrease antinutrients

  • Soaking grains prior to consuming them is an ancient practice the art of which has been lost in this modern age where almost everything is processed and highly refined. 
  • Soaking them overnight in either water or a low-fat milk, liquid yogurt, kefir or milk substitute such as rice milk, has the advantage of softening the grains and seeds, increasing mucilage and increasing digestibility and nutrient availability. This step is highly recommended.
  • Soaking also has the potential to diminish anti-nutrients in the grains.
  • Using liquid yoghurt or better still kefir, is recommended as this food has live bacteria such as Acidophilus or Bifidus and these organisms will start the digestion process breaking down many of the antinutrients in the muesli and freeing up bound nutrients as well.


  • “Our ancestors, and virtually all pre-industrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles.” (Fallon and Enig 1999). Grains, nuts and seeds contain numerous antinutrients such as protease inhibitors, phytates (phytic acid), polyphenols (tannins), and goitrogens that can lead to thyroid disease.
  • Many societies know the inherent dangers of eating grains and have discovered over the millennia how to minimize the impact of these dangerous compounds in commonly consumed food. In India both rice and lentils [a legume] are soaked [fermented] for at least 2 days before being consumed as idli or dosas (Fallon and Enig 1999). African natives soak corn overnight before adding it to soups or other foods for consumption.

Minerals bound by phytate

  • It is thought that only around 15% of available minerals are absorbed by the body in cereals due to the binding [strong chelation] of these minerals by phytic acid. “In adults, phytic acid has been reported to inhibit the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and manganese but not copper” (Hurrell 2003).

Using phytase an enzyme that breaks down phytates to our advantage

  • Whole grains such as wheat, rye and buckwheat are potent sources of phytase “The phytase activity of grains and seeds varied over a wide range …and the most potent sources of phytase were rye, wheat and buckwheat” (Egli 2001). (Liu, Wang et al. 2007), and when these grains are added to other cereals complete degradation of phytates occurred in 1 – 2 hours!
  • “By adding 10% whole wheat, whole rye or whole buckwheat to complementary foods (e.g., wheat and soy, millet and cowpea, and rice and chickpea foods) it was possible to degrade phytic acid completely in 1–2 h by holding the mixture in aqueous solution at the optimum pH of the phytase”(Egli, 2001).
  • Soaking mixed grains and ensuring grains with high phytase activity are also included, will enable phytase to release bound minerals trapped in the grain matrix.
  • The optimum pH for phytase in the dissertation by Egli et al was between 5.0 - 5.5 i.e. an acidic pH. This is why yoghurt, kefir, sour apples*, berries* or lemon juice* added to the muesli mix and soaked overnight helps to activate the phytase.
  • The NutriDesk muesli recipe uses these and other grains to our advantage.

Soaking breakfast grains e.g. muesli, in probiotic liquids like yogurt and kefir

  • The use of milk and in particular yoghurt to the muesli mix provides organisms that help to digest some of the antinutrients and activate the enzyme phytase to break down phytic acid.
  • The original Bircher-Benner recipe used lemon juice, cream, sour apples and advised that the oats in the muesli be soaked overnight. The acid pH of these additions helps bread activate the phytase enzyme in the cereal which then breaks down phytic acid releasing the bound minerals.
  • Yogurt is an acidic food and can be used to soak muesli overnight. The acid of the yogurt [lactic acid from the conversion of lactose] will help to activate phytase-rich grains and the probiotics will also help to digest proteins and neutralize antinutrients.
  • Grains can simply be soaked in water. Adding some lemon juice to lower the pH can help activate intrinsic phytase activity to breake down the phytic acid within.

*Acidity in terms of pH of a particular food does not correlate with the Acid-Alkali concept of foods. Some sour and acidic [pH acidic] foods such as lemons may actually have quite an alkaline response with regard to kidneys and potential renal acid load [PRAL].
Please view the free tutorial ‘Acid Alkali Foods’. The berries and raisins in fact have an alkaline effect on the kidneys [a good thing].

Protein digestion and allergies

  • Proteins may also be partially digested which then decreases the allergic potential of grain proteins.
  • Studies have shown the beneficial effect of fermentation of grain or legume products with regard to immunogenicity [allergy potential]. (Song, 2007).

Easy option for soaking breakfast cereal grains.

  • Soak with liquid Yoghurt [easily obtained in a supermarket]
  • Use liquid yoghurt [+/- some lemon juice] to just cover the amount of muesli calculated for you within the NutriDesk diet.
  • The acidophilus and bifidus bacteria will begin the digestive process while in the fridge over the next 8 – 12 hours.

Kefir - A little effort required

  • Soak with kefir [for those with a little time up their sleeves]
  • Kefir ‘grains’ are a gelatinous mix of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. These fermentation ‘grains’ contain a host of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus caucasus, Streptococcus and Acetobacter species including yeast species such as Saccharomyces kefir.
  • According to ‘The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods’ “Kefir bacteria can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt does not seem to accomplish.” (Murray, Pizzorno et al. 2005).
  • The number of organisms in kefir will also help to partially digest proteins such as gluten in gluten-grains, free important minerals such as zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium bound to phytates, they can help neutralize tannins.
  • You can obtain kefir grains which can be reused. There are kefir specialists that can provide you with these cultures to create your own kefir at home. These are easily found on the internet just mention your location such as ‘kefir in Sydney’. These cultures can be used in a variety of milks or non-milk liquids such as soy or rice milk. It is easy enough to obtain instructions on how to use kefir to ferment milk or non-milk products.

Add enzymes to the soaking grains?

  • One theory of food allergies states that food allergies are the result of undigested protein fragments that stimulate an immune response.
  • Larger protein fragments have a greater antigenic potential than small fragments of protein.
  • Adding digestive enzymes to the muesli and soaking this overnight has the theoretical benefit of cereal protein being broken down into small fragments that are not likely to stimulate an allergic response.
  • Simply empty the contents of one capsule that contains a broad-spectrum of digestive enzymes into the muesli mix and place in the refrigerator overnight.  (Oelgoetz, Oelgoetz et al. 1935)
  • If you have a severe food allergy then do not depend on this method for protection

Gluten digestion by specific enzymes

  • If you have a wheat sensitivity or gluten sensitivity then it is important to eliminate wheat or gluten in the diet.
  • This is easier said than done as gluten can be a contaminant in many foods.
  • Studies have shown that predigestion of food with papain [a papaya enzyme] can neutralize the gluten to make this inactive --- this is thought to work by the papain enzyme liberating ammonia from gluten protein making it non-antigenic and benign [Gut 1964;5:295-303].
  • However, papain may not be tolerated by people due to its allergenic potential
  • Taking an enzyme supplement that has DPP4 activity with meals may just help gluten-sensitive individuals tolerate meals that contain gluten or are purpoted to be gluten-free. If you have this problem, carrying an enzyme supplement with you at all times will be prudent action especially if you will be eating out. See references below.

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