How to properly soak and sprout nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes to reduce phytic acid, lectins, and other antinutrients naturally found in these foods, which can harm the digestive tract and prevent nutrient absorption.
Nuts and seeds can make a wonderful, nutrition-packed snack to take with you on-the-go. However, what a lot of us don’t realise is that, like grains and legumes, they can also contain substances (known as antinutrients) that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Through the simple process of soaking and/or sprouting, it improves their nutrition and reduces antinutrient levels, making them more beneficial to the body.
These plant foods (especially raw seeds) contain naturally occurring antinutrients like phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Phytic acid helps protect the nut or seed until ideal growing conditions occur and germination can begin.
Enzyme inhibitors are there to prevent the seed from sprouting too early.
Both these antinutrients impact humans by binding to nutrients in the body, preventing absorption, which can contribute to nutrient deficiencies and digestive issues.
What’s more, nuts and seeds store phosphorus as phytic acid, where it becomes a phytate once it binds to a mineral. While in the digestive tract, this process can stop nutrients from being absorbed and reduce the body’s ability to digest these foods. So, while nuts and seeds may be considered good sources of protein and nutrients, it doesn’t necessarily mean your body can absorb these nutrients.
While digestive processes can neutralise some phytic acid, it’s important to soak, sprout or ferment foods that are particularly high in this antinutrient to reduce levels even further. You can dehydrate them afterwards to restore them back to their crunchy, tasty selves again.
Traditionally, many cultures used to soak, sprout or ferment nuts, seeds, grains and legumes before consuming them as they understood that it would enhance absorption and help deactivate antinutrients like phytates, lectins, tannins, gluten, and other harmful compounds. However, this step is hardly ever taken with large scale commercial production since it is very time consuming. Yet, it’s a simple process we can do at home.
How to Soak, Sprout and Ferment Nuts, Seeds, Grains and Legumes
What we’re essentially doing is mimicking nature’s natural germination process of turning a seed into a plant. The method is pretty much exactly the same for nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes alike – only the time required to soak or sprout changes.
How to Soak
There are two elements to soaking: warm filtered water and salt.
According to Katie Wells from Wellness Mama:
The warm water will neutralize many of the enzyme inhibitors and increase the bioavailability of many nutrients, especially b-vitamins. The salt helps activate enzymes that deactivate the enzyme inhibitors present in nuts.
When soaking grains or legumes, a more acidic substance is needed as there are higher levels of phytic acid in these foods. This acidic medium can be yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, whey, milk kefir or coconut kefir (all dairy mediums need to be cultured). Baking soda is added for legumes.
Soaking Nuts and Seeds
- 2-3 cups raw, organic nuts or seeds (do not mix different seeds/nuts together, soak one kind at a time)
- 4 cups warm filtered water
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- Place nut/seeds in a large bowl or jar, then add the water and salt and gently mix through. Make sure the nuts/seeds are completely submerged in the water.
- Leave at room temperature to soak. See table below for the length of time required to soak for each individual nut and seed.
- Drain and rinse well, then spread on a baking sheet or dehydrator sheet, and bake in the oven at the lowest temperature – 65°C (150°F) is preferred – or dehydrate until completely dry. If you plan to use these nuts/seeds to make homemade plant milk, you can skip the dehydrating step and blend them up right away.
Soaking Grains and Legumes
- 2-3 cups raw, organic grains or legumes (do not mix different grains/legumes together, soak one kind at a time)
- 4 cups warm filtered water
- 1 tbsp of sea salt
- 4 tbsp acidic medium
- Pinch baking soda (for legumes only)
To soak grains:
- Place grains in a large bowl or jar, then add the water, salt and acidic medium, and gently mix through. Make sure the grains are completely submerged in the water. For every 1 cup of liquid you will need 1 tbsp of acidic medium. See table below for the length of time required to soak each individual grain. Leave at room temperature to soak.
- Drain and rinse well, then spread on a baking sheet or dehydrator sheet, and bake in the oven at the lowest temperature – 65°C (150°F) is preferred – or dehydrate until completely dry. If you plan to use these grains right away to cook with you can skip the dehydrating step. Soaked grains take less time to cook.
To soak legumes:
- For kidney-shaped beans, place in a large bowl or jar, then add the water and a pinch of baking soda, and gently mix through. Make sure the legumes are completely submerged in the water. See table below for the length of time required to soak for each individual legume. Leave at room temperature to soak. Change the water and baking soda once or twice during the soaking time.
- For non kidney-shaped beans, place in a large bowl or jar, then add the water, salt and acidic medium, and gently mix through. Make sure the legumes are completely submerged in the water. For every 1 cup of liquid you will need 1 tbsp of acidic medium. See table below for the length of time required to soak for each individual grain. Leave at room temperature to soak. Rinse legumes several times during the soaking time to prevent them from fermenting.
- Drain and rinse well, then place in a pot with fresh water, and cook for 4-8 hours on low heat until beans are tender.
How to Sprout
There are some important notes to consider when growing sprouts. Please read this article for cautions and specific instructions for sprouting.
Sprouting goes a step further from soaking and helps reduce levels of enzyme inhibitors even more. Often, products marketed as “sprouted” are merely “activated” by the process of soaking (you’ll know by the look of them whether they’ve been sprouted or not), but certain nuts, seeds, grains and legumes can sprout after a few cycles of soaking, rinsing, and exposing to air to enable germination.
Some nuts like macadamias, pecans and walnuts will not sprout, while raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds make the best candidates for sprouting. Some beans – like kidney beans – on the other hand, are toxic when consumed raw and should never be eaten sprouted.
Special care should always be taken to avoid bacteria growth in sprouts. If you’d like to add the additional step of sprouting, simply soak the nuts/seeds/grains following the above process, then rinse and follow the below sprouting guide. Sprouting will only work with non-irradiated seeds/nuts/grains/legumes and only with certain varieties.
Using special sprouting seeds, which are free of any bacteria that would be killed if you were to simply boil them as usual, are advised to help avoid this bacteria growth.
Sprouting Nuts, Seeds, Grains and Legumes
The most common seeds used to grow sprouts are:
- Broccoli seeds
- Red clover seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Mung beans
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- 1/2 cup soaked nuts/seeds/grains/legumes, must be organic and non-irradiated
- Filtered water
- Large mason jar
- A sprouting lid or cheesecloth and a rubber band
- Make sure all equipment is clean and sterile.
- Once soaked, rinse nuts/seeds/grains/legumes well with filtered water then drain. This helps clean off any resin containing antinutrients.
- Place nuts/seeds/grains/legumes in large glass jar, then place sprouting lid or cheesecloth securely on jar, and flip jar upside-down at a slight angle – sitting in a bowl – so that excess water can drain out and air can get in.
- Continue rinsing the sprouts with water several times a day, returning the jar to the tilted position each time. See table below for the length of time required to sprout for each individual nut and seed.
- You should see signs of sprouting within a day or two.
- When finished sprouting, rinse thoroughly in cool, filtered water, then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.
Unfortunately, with hybridised, highly sprayed and highly processed modern grains, even applying these traditional methods may not be enough to reduce all of the harmful properties found in these foods.
Mark Sisson sums up the effects of soaking and sprouting in his article about traditionally prepared grains:
Effect 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.
Effect 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).
Effect 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.
Effect 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.
Soaking and sprouting may help to reduce antinutrient levels in these foods, but as Mark explains above, some of these components may still remain intact. Thus, I believe it’s best to consume these foods in moderation, and receive most of our nutrients from fresh wholefoods and a varied diet.
Soaking and sprouting tutorial
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
Have you soaked or sprouted nuts, seeds, grains or legumes before? How did it go? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,
Wells, Katie. (Updated: July 30, 2019). The Importance of Soaking Nuts & Seeds. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/59139/soaking-nuts-seeds/
Wells, Katie. (May 8, 2020). Spill the Beans: Are They Healthy Or Not?. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/2029/are-beans-healthy/
Wells, Katie. (Updated: July 30, 2019). How to Grow Sprouts In Your Kitchen. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/36686/grow-sprouts/
Wells, Katie. (Updated: May 22, 2020). Are Sprouted, Soaked, & Fermented Grains Healthy?. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/3807/sprouted-soaked-fermented-grains-healthy
Halle, Cottis. Are Soaking Grains & Legumes Necessary & How to Properly Soak & Prepare Them. Whole Lifestyle Nutrition. Retrieved from https://wholelifestylenutrition.com/health/is-soaking-grains-and-legumes-necessary-and-how-to-properly-soak-and-prepare-them/
Sisson, Mark. Are Traditionally Prepared Grains Healthy?. Mark’s Daily Apple. Retrieved from https://www.marksdailyapple.com/soaked-sprouted-fermented-grains/
Kooienga, McKel, MS, RDN, LDN. (August 3, 2020). How to Use Soaking and Sprouting (And Why It’s Beneficial!). Nutrition Stripped. Retrieved from https://nutritionstripped.com/guide-to-soaking-and-sprouting/
Move Nourish Believe Team. (January 30, 2019). How to Soak & Sprout Grains, Nuts, Seeds & Beans. Move Nourish Believe. Retrieved from https://www.movenourishbelieve.com/nourish/how-to-soak-and-sprout/
Masters, Tess. (March 18, 2013). How to Soak & Sprout Nuts, Seeds, Grains, & Beans. Vegetarian Times. Retrieved from https://www.vegetariantimes.com/skills/how-to-soak-sprout-nuts-seeds-grains-beans/