Mark “Daily Apple” Sisson recently had a post about traditional grain preparation that got me thinking about all those little evil seeds and grains that we avoid as adherents of a Paleo/Primal lifestyle. He expertly (as usual) explains how soaking, sprouting, and fermentation make previously indigestible foods easier to digest.
For the record, I’m not talking about absolutism here. I get it. We all belong to a big world of gluten-filled, sugar-crusted ubiquity. The occasional off-plan food moment will happen. Let’s all forgive ourselves for that plate of huevos rancheros (SOOO good!) and move on. I also understand that these grain preparations are part of some food philosophies (WAPF comes to mind), but I’m still not clear about exactly what they’re contributing nutritionally.
These traditional prep methods have made a big comeback (Seen all that sprouted wheat bread at the store?), but riddle me this. To soak, sprout, or ferment grains, seeds, and legumes is to directly admit that what you’re about to eat is NOT MEANT TO BE EATEN. Sorry to get all Kanye on you, but I’m genuinely confused about this. I also agree with Mr. Sisson that learning to extract nutrients from such poor source material is a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability. But it’s no longer an issue. So why, when we have the most amazing real foods available to us all the time in unprecedented quantities, would you go through the trouble of trying to make something with very little nutritional value palatable?
This is also what confuses me about the gluten-free movement. Why would you wholeheartedly embrace the idea that wheat is evil for us and not make the leap that other grains could be just as bad for similar reasons? Why stop there?
I think one of the big reasons for the gluten-free disconnect is that some parents find themselves the proud owner of a kid who needs to go gluten-free. And they don’t want them to miss out on all the good kid stuff like chips, cookies, and cereal. But a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie full of sugar, grains, and probably vegetable oils. And it’s still putting money in the pockets of the Industrialized Food Complex.
Another reason might be that celiac disease is seen as a disease that the rest of us don’t suffer from. In all my research so far, I’m beginning to believe we’re all on some sort of spectrum with grain tolerance, but that it’s kind of like the rule about poison oak: There are those who get it and those who just haven’t gotten it yet. Besides, just because someone doesn’t have an issue with their weight doesn’t mean it won’t manifest in other ways.
And for both camps, it’s also a bowing to cultural pressures. “We’ve always had bread with dinner, so maybe if I sprout the wheat and make sourdough, it’ll be okay.” “I feel like we need something on the side to go with our stir-fry/curry/stew/etc.” “But beans are good for you!”
Here’s a bit of a counter-argument for us Paleo/Primal folk. Many of us eat lots of nuts, especially almonds if we veer into substitution territory. If you don’t already know this, I apologize in advance, but nuts contain phytic acid. Take it away, Mr. Sisson:
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.
So, are you eating soaked nuts? Do you avoid nuts altogether? I’ve been thinking about this issue a bit lately, and I’ve stopped mindlessly snacking on nuts, but I’m pondering how far down that road I’m going to go. I can buy pre-soaked almonds at my local co-op, but am I really going to roast them at home (we eat a LOT of almonds around here)? And what about almond butter and flour? Will I make my own out of the sprouted almonds? The answer is a resounding no.
I really don’t mean to berate anyone out there enjoying a slice of sprouted wheat toast with sprouted-almond butter on it, but I think it behooves all of us to be honest about what we’re doing. In my mind, traditionally prepared foods = Prius. Which is to say they go a little down the road, but they’ll never get you there. Which is to say nice try, but until you drive a car that uses zero gasoline and doesn’t plug into the grid at all, you’re not actually saving the planet. Which is to say…what was I saying again?
Oh yeah, WHY??!! Every bite of one of these foods is taking up room that would be better filled with something real. Like cabbage. Or some grass-fed bison tri-tip. Or fresh coconut milk. Heck, even a piece of fruit. Nobody out there, and I mean nobody, can tell me that I’m better off eating a bowl of soaked oatmeal in the morning instead of a three egg omelet with Swiss chard, tomatoes, and a side of blueberries. Besides, since traditional prep only reduces, and can’t eliminate, all the bad stuff they contain, why would you risk it?
It’s scary to have to avoid so many familiar foods, I know. I’ve been there. I was depressed for a few days after learning what it was I had to do to get healthy. But then, the cloud lifted, it got fun and exciting, and now it’s second nature. There are serious psychological barriers we put up in our own minds, but that’s all they are—imaginary. Like when I was in Croatia pre-Primal and couldn’t stomach the idea of sardines for breakfast, but now I wouldn’t bat an eye.
New goal: Let’s not eat things that require nutritional mitigation. Go for the gold as often as you can.