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The Whole Food Guide To Healthy Grains
By Katie Mae Stanley - February 24, 2014
BHSChocolateChipMuffins Just say no to grains! Wheat is bad for you! I only eat gluten-free. Wheat is going to kill you! It's hard not to hear phrases like that almost every.single.day. If you tell someone you eat healthy they seem to either be in the whole grain everything camp or no grains at all camp and then berate you for not being like them. Do you want to know a secret? There is no "One" right diet for everyone. What works for one person might not work for another person. All of our bodies respond differently to foods. Soaked, sprouted, sourdough, gluten-free, grain free, grinding your own wheat... if you are new to real foods then your brain may be swimming, and even if you aren't, you might feel a bit lost. If you ask anyone if whole wheat and brown rice are healthy for them you can be sure that most people will respond with the affirmative, yes, of course they are, but what if some one was to tell you that maybe they aren't as good for you as they are made out to be? Whole grains are full of essential vitamins and minerals, but unfortunately when they aren’t prepared properly our bodies can’t use them. You see there is this thing called "phytic acid". All whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are covered in it. It is an enzyme in all whole grains that affects digestion and don’t allow your body to absorb those minerals and vitamins. Bummer right?

Let's start with a few basics.

Soaking grains is an ancient practice that most cultures practiced; some still do. It wasn’t until more resent years that we abandoned this practice.
Phosphorus in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract, clocking their absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Sprouting, overnight soaking, and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important predigestive process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are prepared according to these procedures.  Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon, Pg 25
The main purpose behind soaking, sprouting and sourdough is to make your breads more digestible by neutralizing harmful anti-nutrients in the grain. It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds. I prefer each method for different recipes. Not only does following these methods make it easier for your body, but I’ve also found that they give a better texture to baked goods. Soaking It’s pretty simple, it just takes a little thinking ahead. Twelve to twenty-four hours before you want to make the recipe, you mix the  flour, liquid and acid medium together in a bowl. You cover and leave on the counter until you are ready to bake. Acid mediums are what break down the anti-nutrients to make the breads more digestible. Acid mediums:
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Kombucha
  • Water Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Dairy Kefir
  • Cultured Buttermilk
  • Whey
Apple cider vinegar, whey, lemon juice and kombucha are my favorite acid mediums. They are very versatile and can be used to soak whole grains, flours and legumes. Milk kefir, yogurt, and cultured buttermilk are best reserved for flours and oatmeal.
Sprouting This is grain that has been allowed to germinate before it is dried and ground. I use this in recipes that don’t allow for a liquid. You can make your own sprouted flour, or purchase it on the Internet or in some health food stores. It can be used just like regular flour. The end product may be slightly crumbly. Sourdough Sourdough adds a wonderful complex flavor to breads. It has a nice tang without being overpowering. You can make your own sourdough starter, but I suggest buying a culture starter online. My starter is thick, so keep that in mind when making the recipes that call for sourdough starter; you might have to add a little more flour. In contrast, if your starter is thicker than mine, you may need to use a little more liquid.

Soaking Grains

Brown rice, buckwheat and millet: Soak for a minimum of 7 hours. (They require a shorter soaking time because they are lower in phytate) Wheat, barley, spelt and kamut:  Soak for 12 to 24 hours. (They are higher in phytate so they require a longer soaking time.) Oats: They contain the highest amount of pytate and should be soaked for no less than 24 hours. Whole Grains: Put your grain, water and acid medium in a pot or bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, a lid or towel. After soaking for desired time rinse to remove any bitterness if desired and proceed with recipe.  Normally you will use a little less water when you cook the grains because they will have absorbed some water. Baked Goods: For baked goods mix the  flour together with acid medium and liquid.  Let let them soak for 12 to 24 hours. Then proceed with the recipe.

The Issue With Flours

There is no way to go around it, the commercial whole grain flours you buy in the store are rancid. They are dense, contain fewer nutrients and have an off flavor. When you are accustomed to using flour from the store this is something that you don't notice. The best option is to grind your own. Not only is it a frugal option but from a culinary standpoint you will be amazed at the lightness and taste of your baked goods. When grinding your own grains it is important to either grind just enough for what you need or to freeze the rest. Within 12 hours the flour has gone rancid. In 24 hours up to 40% of the nutrients will have oxidized. After three days up to 80% of the nutrients will have oxidized. You can see that using freshly milled flour is important from a nutritional side as well. I use this grain mill. (affiliate link)

Wheat, what's the big deal?

If all--natural wheat isn't GMO what's the big deal? Wheat, even all--natural wheat, is not the same as it was thousands of years ago. It has been hybridized and modified to be resistant to disease, heat and drought as well as produce a greater yield. While this may seem like a good thing it also means modern wheat is lower in minerals and vitamins. Additionally it has a much higher gluten content that its ancient parent plants. Modern wheat can be connected with health issues such as:
  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Celiac Disease
  • PMS
  • Stiff Joint
  • Migraines
  • Bloating
  • Multiple other health issues
That being said I still use all--natural whole wheat. These problems are not true for everyone. If you are experiencing some of these issues it may be in your best interest (or vital necessity in the case of celiac) to go gluten-free for a time or at least consider switching to a ancient verity of wheat such as einkorn. (affiliate link)

To learn more about the negative effects of modern wheat on the diet consider reading Weeding Out Wheat. (affiliate link) http://intoxicatedonlife.com/weeding-out-wheat/

Whole Grain Recipes

Sourdough Pumpkin Spice Cake  Basic Soaked Scones Rose Petal Shortbread (Sprouted) Buckwheat Muffins Homemmade Rustic Pasta Noodles (Soaked) Buckwheat Soba Noodles Brownie Pudding Cake (Gluten-free) Whole Wheat Pizza Crust Sourdough Wheat Pretzels
How to you like to prepare your whole grains?


  1. Jessica
    I am writing down the soak times and taping it to my cabinet. Thanks for helping wade through grains when the party line is NO GRAINS these days. It's still a part of my family's diet, and I want to make it as digestible as possible. Good info!
    1. Katie Mae Stanley
      Katie Mae Stanley
      I'm so glad it was helpfull for you!
    2. Katie Mae Stanley
      Katie Mae Stanley
      I'm glad it was helpful! :)
  2. Sara Borgeson
    Great article. Thanks! I read so much against grains too, but my family has no sensitivities, so I keep using fresh ground whole grains. I don't always take the time to soak or sprout though. When I do soak I love the outcome. I have a question: if I fresh grind my flour and immediately put it in to soak, will it still be considered rancid like you mentioned when I go to bake it 12-24 hours later?
    1. Katie Mae Stanley
      Katie Mae Stanley
      No, maybe I should have clarified that better, it only goes rancid when left out on the counter or in the cabient when it is in its ground form. If it is in your soaking dough there is nothing to worry about.
  3. Tara
    This was a very informative article. I have been grinding my own wheat for over ten years now, but I am only just now realizing the importance of soaking. I feel very intimidated to learn a whole new way of baking. Do you have any cookbook or website recommendations for very basic bread recipes with the soaking process? Thank you.
    1. Katie Mae Stanley
      Katie Mae Stanley
      This is my recipe for whole grain bread that I've been making for years. http://nourishingsimplicity.org/2012/05/whole-grain-bread-soaked.html

      Nourishing Traditions has wonderful recipes http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00276HAWG/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00276HAWG&linkCode=as2&tag=httpmexicanwi-20