Are Traditionally Prepared Grains Healthy?
Mark’s Daily Apple
by Mark Sisson: Smart
Africa, Asia, and Latin America eat lots of grains and manage to
stay skinny, so what's the deal?"
You know this
line of questioning. We've all heard it. We've probably all pondered
it. It may have even stumped a few of you, left you stuttering and
stammering for a quick explanation. But by the time you think of
a reply (if you even have one), the moment has passed and they have
"won" the argument. A briefly open mind was now closed.
But let's be
honest: it's a valid question, and a tough one at that. We can't
just avoid the tough questions. So let's take this head on.
the answer is multifaceted. Health is not reliant on a single feature.
It's not just diet, it's exercise, stress,
community, genetics, infectious burden. Within diet, it's not just
what is eaten, but also what isn't eaten. It's how food is prepared,
whether it's cooked or eaten raw.
Find me a culture who thrived on grains
as a staple food, and I'll find you a culture who came up with some
elaborate preparation method to mitigate the antinutrients and enhance
the nutrient bioavailability of those grains. Find me a culture
whose health thrived on toxin-rich grains as a staple without mitigating
said toxins, and I'll be waiting a long time (and observing the
United States through smug Primal shades while I wait).
post, I'm going to explore the primary reason for why so many traditional
cultures who ate grains managed to stay thin and relatively free
of degenerative diseases: traditional grain preparation, including
soaking, sprouting, and fermentation.
If you're familiar with the Weston
A. Price Foundation's stance on grains, you're probably aware
of these preparation methods. Each step alters the nutritional experience
of the grain to varying degrees, making it more digestible, less
toxic, and tastier. I for one am not willing to go through hoops
to make grass babies go down easier, but the process is nonetheless
extremely interesting. And in the future, if any of my readers want
to give grains a shot, at least they'll do it right, or as right
as it can get. As I always say, the only reason to make
grains any part of your diet is as a cheap source of calories
that converts to glucose very quickly.
You know how
cool parents will drink or smoke with their teens to teach them
mature consumption of potentially illicit substances before they
learn to do it all wrong it in the wild world? This post is kinda
first do a quick rundown of what exactly we're trying to avoid,
deactivate, or mitigate. We gotta know what we're up against.
acid: Phytic acid is the main storage form of phosphorus
in grains. That’s awesome for the grain, which needs phosphorus,
but there’s a catch. Phytate also binds to many minerals, including
zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron, to name several. And, since
non-ruminants don’t possess phytase, which digests phytate and releases
the bound minerals for easy absorption, eating large quantities
of phytate-containing foods results in mineral deficiencies for
meat-eating apes. These deficiencies, taken to an extreme, can manifest
as tooth decay, which might explain why early grain eating populations
had worse teeth than the hunter-gatherers who preceded them.
inhibitors: Grains are seeds that require certain wet,
nutrient rich conditions for proper growth. Spontaneous germination
is counterproductive (you don't want your children settling down
in an area with high crime and high unemployment, do you?), so enzyme
inhibitors prevent it. When moisture abounds (like, when soaking
grains), the inhibitors are deactivated and sprouting occurs. So
why should we care? Certain other enzyme inhibitors also inhibit
our ability digest the grains. If you're relying on grains as a
dietary staple, you can't afford not to wring every last drop of
nutrition out of them.
I covered lectins
fairly comprehensively in a previous post, so I'll keep it brief.
Lectins are nature's pesticides, protecting the tiny grain from
predation. They can perforate the intestinal lining, disrupt our
immune systems, and there's even evidence that they bind to leptin
receptors in the hypothalamus (potentially triggering leptin resistance).
You know this guy. Found in wheat, rye, and barley, he's a real
bastard of a protein – and possibly not just to celiacs. There's
some evidence that true fermentation can break down gluten, but
not all of it. Some Italian researchers used a unique blend of bacterial
species to break down 99% of the gluten
in sourdough bread, but it was under strict, extremely contrived
laboratory conditions. More on that later.
how do traditional cultures take care of the aforementioned?
nuts and seeds before, and soaking grains is the same idea.
The grains are covered with water, placed in a preferably warm place,
and soaked for between 12 and 24 hours. There's not much more to
it than that. After soaking, you drain them, rinse them, and let
the grains sit out for a couple days. To get grains to sprout, rinse
and drain them a couple times each day until sprouts emerge.
on phytate: If the grain contains phytase, some of the
mineral-binding phytic acid will be deactivated, but not much. And
if the grain has been heat-treated, which destroys phytase, or it
contains very little phytase to begin with, the phytic acid will
remain completely intact. Overall, neither
soaking nor sprouting deactivates a significant amount of phytate.
on enzyme inhibitors: Well, since the seed has been placed
in a wet medium and allowed to sprout, the enzyme inhibitors are
obviously mostly deactivated. Digestion is much
improved (cooking will improve it further).
on lectins: The evidence is mixed, and it seems to depend
on the grain. Sprouted wheat, for example, is extremely high in
WGA, the infamous wheat lectin. As the wheat grain germinates, the
WGA is retained
in the sprout and is dispersed throughout the finished plant.
In other grains, sprouting seems more beneficial, but there's always
some residual lectins that may need further processing to deactivate.
on gluten: Sprouting
reduces gluten to some extent, but not by very much. Don't count
on it. A little bit goes a long way.
the rest of the article
August 5, 2011
© 2011 Mark's Daily Apple
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