With the increasing awareness about healthy foods, our plant-based food consumption is increasing consistently. But do we know that nuts, seeds, beans and grains are not easily digestible food sources? Various plant compounds are responsible for this. These compounds make it difficult for the digestive system to absorb many essential nutrients, making the food we eat, shall we say, substandard! Shocking, right? Especially when we thought we were eating such highly nutritious and real foods, avoiding the processed blends and making healthier choices.
This is where soaking comes into the picture. Many of us have vague memories of our grandmother’s kitchen counter where some or the other food ingredient would be resting soaked in water for hours. This practice has been traditionally used over generations, but the meaning and logic have been lost in translation. They might not be unaware of words like “bioavailability” or “biochemical reactions”, but by merely soaking their beans and grains, they were doing right all along. This is what a lot of research today proves – many plant-based foods need to be soaked to make the nutrients more bioavailable.
So, let’s get into the details of the why of soaking nuts, seeds, grains and beans.
Some plant compounds called enzyme inhibitors act as an armour, which is a brilliant line of defence mechanism that the plant needs to keep growing until the environment is conducive. But in humans, these enzyme inhibitors make it difficult for the other nutrients to be absorbed and digested completely.
Various strategies can be adopted to jump this hurdle and make more nutrition available to us from these plant-based foods. Soaking, sprouting, boiling and fermenting help us to do that – of which soaking is the easiest for us to adopt in our busy lives.
Antinutrients commonly found in foods
These antinutrients are responsible for reducing the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium by binding to these minerals.
These are not necessarily bad as they are antioxidant polyphenols but do diminish the digestion of nutrients by binding themselves to minerals and proteins.
They are very common in most plants and are also responsible for reducing the absorption of nutrients.
Proteolytic enzyme inhibitors
They bind themselves to beneficial enzymes and proteins, thus making the natural protein difficult to absorb.
Pre-soaking beans and such foods reduces all these compounds as they either break down in the water, making the essential nutrients to flow or they can leech into the water, thereby once again making the nutrients bioavailable.
Benefits of soaking nuts, seeds, beans and grains
Makes food easy to digest
Pre-soaking beans, grains and nuts is known to neutralise most of the antinutrients and enzyme inhibitors, making the foods easily digestible. It can break down gluten which is often claimed to be hard to digest along with certain complex starches and fibre.
Increases absorption of nutrients
Soaking releases the nutrients and elevates the foods’ inherent nature to nurture our bodies. Certain vitamins become denser, and proteins become more viable to us. It produces favourable enzymes that aid in absorption.
Makes the taste and texture of foods more inviting
Soaking also gives the food a softer texture while decreasing the cooking time by increasing the water content in them. Meals become more palatable and appetising by the enhanced flavour.
Reduces bloating and gas
Soaking also inhibits the effects of certain compounds which are known to cause gas and bloating in us. These compounds are also touted as being notorious in causing diarrhoea and digestive discomfort if not broken down by soaking.
How to soak
These soaks are typically done overnight for legumes, grains and nuts. They require anywhere between 6 – 24 hours depending on which food is soaked and to get the full potential of the nutrients and enzymes that are released.
Short or quick soaks
These soaks could be anywhere between 1 – 4 hours, but the full benefits of the nutrients might not be unlocked though it promises to give you better texture and reduces the cooking time.
After the soaking, you can enjoy the nuts and seeds on their own or can move on boiling or sprouting of the grains, seeds and legumes according to your recipe.
Of note: Always drain out and rinse the foods as the water used for soaking now contains the leeched antinutrients that we have managed to unlock from the foods. Use fresh water if moving on to boiling.
So go ahead and find out if soaking helps you and if you have been doing it already, we hope you will be more mindful of all the benefits you have been nurturing in your foods.
Article by Payal Kurian