My Nutritional Census and The Art Of Soaking (Grains, Nuts, & Legumes)

2010 is the year of the census, or so we’ve been hearing a lot lately.  It’s also my fifth year into this gluten-free, dairy-free, mostly sugar-free lifestyle, and time for me to take a nutritional count.  Am I getting enough of the nutrients I need?  What am I missing?  When you cut out whole food groups, such as dairy, that is definitely something to consider.  I’ve always felt that since I eat so many whole grains and fresh-from-the-farmers’-market fruits & vegetables that I wouldn’t have to worry about not getting enough vitamins or minerals such as calcium.  After all, our paleolithic ancestors didn’t consume dairy and they survived to procreate and evolve into our current population, didn’t they?  And the amount of grains, nuts, beans & legumes I eat should surely provide enough protein to replace meat at several meals a week, right?

Yet I’ve always had this nagging feeling that I’m missing something.  The past five years I have really struggled to maintain my weight.  I’m sure some people would love to have that problem, but for me it’s an issue.  I have difficulty building muscle tone and I’m often fatigued.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll recommend to you again the book Real Food by Nina Planck.  What I’ve learned is that those stone-age humans (and some more recent societies) that didn’t consume dairy ate a lot more meat and other animal products (eggs, organ meats) that met their nutritional needs.  I realized that combining plant protein is extremely complicated and much less efficient than getting it from animal sources, and there are animal fats that are truly necessary in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.  Not only that, but many plant foods contain digestive inhibitors that make their many nutrients less easy to absorb. 

So in the past month I’ve began an experiment, to incorporate more animal foods into my diet, and truly be an omnivore.  I’ve been eating (with success) lots of goat and sheep’s milk yogurt & cheeses (full-fat), as well as cultured butter – these cultured dairy products are much easier to digest because of the enzymes and probiotic bacteria that are good for your digestion.  They have one added benefit – the process of culturing removes the lactose.  That is a fact I only learned recently!  The dairy products I do consume I always get from grass-fed sources, often at the farmers’ market.  These traditionally-raised foods have much higher vitamin & nutrient content and contain better quality fats that are not altered by industrial processing.  I have also been eating a lot more eggs, including raw egg yolks (pasture-raised eggs only – they are much healthier and contain a lot more omega-3’s & beta-carotene, but less cholesterol), as well as pastured chicken liver.  I take a quality brand of cod liver oil (fish oil) and a spoonful of virgin coconut oil every day for immunity.  And you know what?  I feel great!  My skin is clearer than ever.  I have not put on any weight yet but I have a lot more energy and I sleep better.  I also feel like the yogurt cultures are significantly helping my constant battle against candida, as well as helping me digest the rest of my food better.

Another aspect of historic diets that I am learning about is how societies used to soak all their grains, beans and nuts to make them more digestible.  Did you know that the little white marks on your fingernails are caused by a zinc deficiency?  I would get them all the time.  I just learned that something called phytic acid, found in whole grains, blocks zinc absorption.  However, if you soak the grains in water before cooking, it removes or greatly reduces the phytic acid.  (It also reduces the cooking time.)  Non-traditional, unfermented soy products (such as soy protein isolate) are also high in phytic acid, so if you’re eating soy, it’s best to eat traditional foods like fermented tofu, tempeh, miso and tamari. 

Raw nuts also contain an ingredient called oxalic acid, which inhibits calcium absorption.  But again, if you soak the nuts first, it greatly reduces the amount of oxalic acid.  (Oxalic acid is also found in some leafy greens like spinach.  Spinach is very high in calcium, but ironically, if you eat it raw, the oxalic acid prevents you from absorbing much of that calcium.  Cooking it will reduce the oxalic acid.)

Here are some tips for how to soak your grains, nuts & legumes.  All it takes is a little planning ahead.

  • Soak nuts for about 12 hours or overnight, if you are going to eat them in the morning (I like to have a bowl of yogurt and soaked, raw almonds & walnuts after a workout) or make nut milk.
  • Steel-cut oatmeal, grits or polenta for breakfast?  Soak them overnight (add a pinch of salt with the corn) and rinse and drain in the morning.  The oats take about 1/3 less time and 1/3 less liquid to cook.
  • Rice, quinoa, millet or lentils for dinner?  Cover them with water at in the morning or at lunch time (rinse the quinoa first), and they will be good to go by dinner time. Soaking reduces the cooking time by about 1/3, and you also need to add about 1/3 less water for cooking (always drain the soak water and use fresh for cooking).
  • Soak dried beans for at least 12 hours or overnight, before slow-cooking the next day.  I am not sure why it helps, but if you add a strip of dried seaweed to the beans while cooking, it makes them much easier to digest.  Trust me, it works!
  • Store covered, at room temperature while soaking.
  • It is also recommended to add a small amount of acidic medium, such as yogurt or kefir, while soaking grains. Jenny of the Nourished Kitchen has a great post with that and other tips here:


If you have spots on your fingernails like I do and want to make up for a zinc deficiency, oysters contain 10 times more zinc than any other food.  Enjoy them once or twice a week.  Other foods high in zinc include liver, shellfish and pumpkin seeds.  My spots are now almost gone and I haven’t gotten any new ones in a few weeks.

Of course, high sugar consumption also depletes your body of many vitamins and minerals, so it’s important to keep that in check.  If you eat any sugar at all, at least make sure you are balancing it with fiber & protein to slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.

If there’s anything I’ve learned on this journey of the past five years, it’s that there is a nutritional learning curve.  There are always new discoveries, but the important thing is to listen to your body.  Only you can know if your diet is working for you.  Read what you can about nutrition, but take everything with a grain of salt.  Make sure you are eating from a variety of sources, and follow traditional wisdom on how to cook and combine foods.  Our ancestors knew how to feed themselves without any of the scientific advances we have today!  And most importantly – eat real food!

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