Nature has set it up so that the nut, grain and seed may survive (insects, microbes, animal predators, etc.) until
proper growing conditions are present. Nature’s defense mechanism includes nutritional inhibitors and toxic
substances that can be removed naturally when there is enough precipitation to sustain a new plant after the nut,
grain or seed germinates. When it rains the nut, grain or seed gets wet (soaked) and can then germinate to
produce a plant. So we are mimicking nature when we soak our nuts, grains and seeds.
Nutritional inhibitors and toxic substances found in nuts grains and seed can be minimized or eliminated by
soaking. These inhibitors and toxic substances are enzyme inhibitors, phytates (phytic acid), polyphenols
(tannins), and goitrogens.
What are Enzyme inhibitors?
There are digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes. Digestive enzymes such as amylase, protease, lipase, etc.
help break down food to be used in biological processes. Metabolic enzymes help in every biological process
the body does (one example is the enzyme kinase that transfers phosphate groups). Enzyme inhibitors will clog,
warp or denature an active site of an enzyme. They may also bind to the enzyme changing the polarity of the
enzyme, which will prevent the intended molecule from binding to the enzyme.
Sally Fallon, esteemed nutritional researcher states, “Once again, the habits of traditional peoples should serve as a guide. They understood instinctively that nuts are best soaked or partially sprouted before eaten. This is because nuts contain numerous enzyme inhibitors that
can put a real strain on the digestive mechanism if consumed in excess.”
What are Phytates?
“All grains contain phytic acid (an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound) in the outer layer or bran.
Untreated phytic 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 unfermented whole grains may lead to serious
mineral deficiencies and bone loss. The modern misguided practice of consuming large amounts of
unprocessed bran often improves colon transit time at first but may lead to irritable bowel syndrome and, in the
long term, many other adverse effects.”
What are Polyphenols?
“Tannins are naturally occurring plant polyphenols. Their main characteristic is that they bind and precipitate
proteins. They can have a large influence on the nutritive value of many foods eaten by humans and feedstuff
eaten by animals.”
Remember, these polyphenols do have a purpose in nature. “The antimicrobial activities of tannins are well
documented. The growth of many fungi, yeasts, bacteria, and viruses was inhibited by tannins.”4
“Unlike chocolate, carob contains no stimulants; it does, however, contain tannin, a substance that reduces the
absorption of protein through the intestinal wall. Roasting neutralizes most of the tannins so buy only powder
made from roasted carob pods.”
What are Goitrogens?
Goitrogens are naturally-occurring substances found in foods. These substances can suppress thyroid function.
Millet is one an example of a goitrogens. “Tempering the grain to 26 percent moisture overnight prior to
milling resulted in a flour with no goitrogenic activity.”6 Foods containing goitrogenic substances include Pine
nuts, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, lima beans, and vegetables such as Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts,
Cabbage, Mustard, Sweet Potatoes, Kale, Turnips, kohlrabi, Rutabaga, Radishes, Spinach, Cassava, and all
foods containing soy. Cooking may help to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in foods where
nutrients would be lost in the soaking process, such as vegetables. Other foods such as cherries, apricots,
peaches, pears, and strawberries also contain goitrogens and usually don’t have the best flavor when cooked or
soaked. (Although Sharon’s cooked Peach Cream Pie in Nourishing Traditions is definitely an exception!)
What are Anti-nutrients?
Phytates, tannins, and goitrogens are anti-nutrients (compounds in food that decrease the nutritional value of the
food by making the nutrient unavailable or undigestible for biological processes). Other anti-nutrients are
lectins, oxalates, and saponins.
“The principal goitrogens in soybeans are the estrogenic plant hormones known as isoflavones. The
antinutrients known as saponins in soy may also be goitrogens. Cooking and processing methods, using heat,
pressure, and alkaline solutions, will neither deactivate nor remove isoflavones or saponins.”9
“Strong chelating substances, such as phytic acid in grains, oxalic acid in green leafy vegetables and tannins in
tea may bind with ionized minerals in the digestive tract and prevent them from being absorbed.”10
Why soak nuts, grains and seeds?
1. To remove or reduce phytic acid.
2. To remove or reduce tannins.
3. To neutralize the enzyme inhibitors.
4. To encourage the production of beneficial enzymes.
5. To increase the amounts of vitamins, especially B vitamins.
6. To break down gluten and make digestion easier.
7. To make the proteins more readily available for absorption.
8. To prevent mineral deficiencies and bone loss.
9. To help neutralize toxins in the colon and keep the colon clean.
10. To prevent many health diseases and conditions.
“Soaking allows enzymes, lactobacilli and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralize a large portion
of phytic acid in grains.
Soaking in warm water also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, present in all seeds, and encourages the production
of numerous beneficial enzymes. The action of these enzymes also increases the amount of many vitamins,
especially B vitamins.
Scientists have learned that the proteins in grains, especially gluten, are very difficult to digest. A diet high in
unfermented whole grains, particularly high-gluten grains like wheat, puts an enormous strain on the whole
digestive mechanism. When this mechanism breaks down with age or overuse, the results take the form of
allergies, celiac disease, mental illness, chronic indigestion and candida albicans overgrowth. Recent research
links gluten intolerance with multiple sclerosis. During the process of soaking and fermenting, gluten and other
difficult-to-digest proteins are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available
What can be used to soak nuts, grains and seeds?
I have found many references to soaking nuts, grains, and seeds in water, salt water, or a warm water mixture
with something acidic like yogurt, whey or lemon juice. It seems within 7 to 24 hours the enzyme inhibitors are
neutralized and the anti-nutrients are broken down regardless of the method you choose. There is evidence that
the process works when you see sprouting begin.
“Nuts are easier to digest, and their nutrients more readily available, if they are first soaked in salt water
overnight, then dried in a low warm oven (or dehydrator). This method imitates the Aztec practice of soaking
pumpkin or squash seeds in brine and then letting them dry in the sun before eating them whole or grinding
them into meal. Salt in soaking water activates enzymes that neutralize enzyme inhibitors….”1
“Soaking the nuts and seeds in water neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors and can increase the vitamin and mineral
“Because they are acidic, buttermilk, cultured milk, yoghurt and whey (as well as lemon juice and vinegar)
activate the enzyme phytase, which works to break down phytic acid in the bran of grains. Sour milk products
also provide lactic acid and lactobacilli that help break down complex starches, irritating tannins and difficult3
to-digest proteins. Soaking increases vitamin content and makes all the nutrients in grains more available. This
method has the further advantage of so softening whole meal flour that the final product is often
indistinguishable from one made with white flour.”11
I usually soak my nuts and seeds in salt water this way they will be salty and I know that salt helps digest
protein. I will soak my grains in plain water or yogurt if I am making a recipe like pancakes.
How long does the soaking process take?
It takes at least 7 (seven) hours to properly break the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors se compounds down. I
have soaked for as little as 7 hours and as long as 48 hours.
“As little as seven hours of soaking in warm acidulated water will neutralize a large portion of phytic acid in
grains. The simple practice of soaking cracked or rolled cereal grains overnight will vastly improve their
nutritional benefits.” “Flour products should be soaked at room temperature for at least 12 hours but better
results may be obtained with a 24-hour soaking.”
Are the nuts, grains and seeds used wet?
I have enjoyed almonds wet. If you choose to try consuming anything in the soaked state, make little batches
and store them in the refrigerator. Usually everything that is soaked is dried in a dehydrator or oven on the
lowest possible setting for 24 – 48 hours to remove all moisture.
Wheat berries can be soaked whole for 8 to 22 hours, then drained and rinsed. Some recipes use the whole
berries while they are wet, such as cracker dough ground right in the food processor. You can also dry sprouted
wheat berries in a low-temperature oven or dehydrator, and then grind them in your grain mill and use the flour
in a variety of recipes.15
Nuts, grains, seeds and legumes can be ground up to use as flour in many recipes after they have been dried.
Any advice on what to do with legumes?
Maureen Diaz recommends soaking any beans or legumes in water and vinegar for at least 12 hours before
cooking. Soaked and dried beans (white and navy have the most benign flavor) may be ground up and used as
flour for thickening and baking. This is helpful for those on a gluten free diet.
Paul Pitchford in his book, Healing with Whole Foods, has a wonderful chapter on legumes that explains the
healing properties of each bean, how to improve the digestibility of legumes (11 tips), techniques for cooking
legumes (Beans, Peas and Lentils) and a nice collection of recipes. The end of the chapter also covers Miso,
Tempeh and Tofu recipes, healing properties, nutrients, uses, words of caution and best results in preparation.17
One of his recommendations includes placing soaked kombu or kelp seaweed in the bottom of the pot when
soaking legumes. Add 1 part seaweed to 6 or more parts legumes. This is for improved flavor and digestion,
more nutrients, and faster cooking.
His recommendation for soaking: “Soak legumes for 12 hours or overnight in four parts water to one part
legume. For best results, change the water once or twice. Lentils and whole dried peas require shorter soaking,
while soybeans and garbanzos need to soak longer. Soaking softens skins and begins the sprouting process,
which eliminates phytic acid, thereby making more minerals available. Soaking also promotes faster cooking
and improved digestibility, because the gas-causing enzymes and trisaccarides in legumes are released into the
soak water. Be sure to discard the soak water. After bringing legumes to a boil, scoop off and discard foam.
Continue to boil for 20 minutes without lid at beginning of cooking to let steam rise (breaks up and disperses
The added step of soaking may seem like an inconvenience, however, all the added health benefits
will make this preparation wisdom well worth the effort!