Soaking Beans, Seeds and Grains to Reduce Lectins, Optimize Digestion and Nutrition
We all know that old refrain: Beans! Beans! The Magical Fruit! The More You Eat, The More You… you know the rest. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Beans, seeds and grains (in small quantities) can be an amazing source of protein and vitamins. Properly soaking beans, seeds and grains is just one key to making them digestible and removes lectins and saponins.
Beans are Great Colon Food if You Cook Them Right
The whole mission of a bean, seed or grain is to be a seed of its mother plant, continuing beanly-evolution. For this to work, the bean must pass through your digestive system as intact as possible in order to “seed” itself outside of your body.
Evolutionarily speaking, these seeds want to come out your other end without being broken down. In other words, beans, seeds and grains want you to expel them out whole and unharmed. Before the modern toilet, the bean would germinate and reproduce itself in the earth once released back to the soil. It appears the evolution of beans, grains and seeds simply haven’t caught up with technology, having not gotten the memo about plumbing!
So why eat them at all? It turns out, beans are a great source of resistant starch – the nutrients the colonocytes, or colon cells, love to feed on. However, without proper preparation, you can miss out on a lot of their nutritional value, and they can wreck havoc on your digestive system. These foods don’t have to give you gas or bloating and soaking them the right way is the key to making them digestible.
Why does something so good hurt so bad?
Beans and other seeds have their own natural defense system that includes anti-nutrients such as phytates, saponins and trypsin inhibitors. That is to say, the stuff evolutionarily designed so the bean can pass through our systems unscathed.
These anti-nutrients are also what allow beans to be stored for a long time without going bad. Pretty great if you’re a bean or other seed, but pretty lousy if you’re a human trying to eat them without having endless gas, bloating or stool changes (Mega Lousy for a first date, for sure).
Additionally, the phytic acid that protects the bean also prevents you from absorbing all the good nutrients that beans have to offer. Beans then cause gas and discomfort because they are hitting your gut in a form that’s hard to digest. Over time, eating unsoaked beans can really irritate the gut and contribute to health problems, such as IBS, SIBO and leaky gut.
Some harder beans, like kidney, black, and navy beans also have oligosaccharides (large, complex sugars) that can completely do a number on your digestion.
Let’s look at the facts:
As detailed on the Weston A. Price website, “Legumes have their own agenda, which is to germinate, grow and perpetuate their genetic inheritance, rather than go softly into your cassoulet. These seeds are well-armed with anti-nutrients… and some have specialized complex sugars that can wreak painful revenge upon the mammalian gut that consumes them without proper disarming. But long ago clever humans devised ways to coax these sometimes headstrong legumes into many safe, savory and nutritious transformations.”
In other words, although beans have been a part of human diets around the world for thousands of years, our modern use of beans “is not healthy or appropriate fare for humans and our digestive systems.”
In order to render them appropriate fare, we need to soak our beans until they are soft and cook them slowly over low heat. This will remove all of the afore-mentioned anti-nutrients.
In the case of softer beans like lentils and peas, “the soaking helps denature phytic acid, and gentle cooking makes the vegetable protein digestible, especially if served with digestion-enhancing spices.” However, this is not enough for harder beans like kidney, black or navy beans. These “contain certain oligosaccharides (large, complex sugars) that can completely confound digestion.”
To quote the Weston A. Price foundation again, “mammals do not produce the enzyme alpha-galactosidase in their digestive tracts, which is necessary to break down these sugars. When consumed, these oligosaccharides reach the lower intestine largely intact, and in the presence of anaerobic bacteria, ferment and produce carbon dioxide and methane gases. As a result, we feel a good deal of discomfort, not to mention embarrassment in polite society.
The solution has been to prepare the beans in a way to neutralize or otherwise get rid of these sugars in the resulting cooked beans.”
What about nuts?
Phytic acid is also present in nuts and seeds, so these should be soaked as well to maximize digestibility. According to the Weston A. Price foundation, “based on the accumulation of evidence, soaking nuts for eighteen hours, dehydrating at very low temperatures—a warm oven—and then roasting or cooking the nuts would likely eliminate a large portion of phytates.
Nut consumption becomes problematic in situations where people on the GAPS diet and similar regimes are consuming lots of almonds and other nuts as a replacement for bread, potatoes and rice. The eighteen-hour soaking is highly recommended in these circumstances.
It is best to avoid nut butters unless they have been made with soaked nuts—these are now available commercially. Likewise, it is best not to use nut flours—and also coconut flour—for cooking unless they have been soured by the soaking process.”
The good news is that you can easily get past defenses of nuts, seeds, grains and beans with a little work and can enjoy their benefits with less discomfort – huzzah! These foods have been part of the human diet for millennia, but to make them digestible, you have to soak them and cook them over a low heat in order to remove the anti-nutrients, especially phytic acid. Here’s how:
Kidney shaped beans and dried/split peas
Add a pinch of baking soda and enough water to cover in a large pot and soak uncovered for 12-24 hours. Drain, rinse and cook as usual.
Examples of kidney shaped beans include:
· Red kidney beans
· White kidney beans (cannellini beans)
· Pinto beans
· Anasazi beans
· Black eyed beans (black eyed peas)
· Great Northern beans
· Lima beans
Non-kidney shaped beans (and other legumes)
For more oval shaped beans and other legumes, soak for 12-24 hours in filtered water to cover plus 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice for every cup of dried beans/legumes used. Drain, rinse, and cook as usual.
Examples of non-kidney shaped beans include:
· Black beans (turtle beans)
· Navy beans
· Fava beans
· Adzuki beans
For maximum digestibility, it is best to rinse and refresh the filtered water and baking soda or the acidic medium once or twice during the soaking period. If you forget, no worries.I try to always soak beans for the full 24 hours instead of just overnight.
Grains are similar, and we benefit from removing the anti nutrient coatings on the outside of grains. Here’s a quick recipe to make your oats more digestible:
Overnight Breakfast Oats
1 cup Gluten-free oats
2 cups filtered water,
1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- Combine oats, 1 cup of water and Apple Cider Vinegar in a bowl overnight (covered if you have cats or other sweet beasts who may try to devour your breakie right off the counter!)
- In the morning, add 1 cup filtered water and cook over medium for 3-10 minutes, tasting as you go – they will cook much faster than usual
Here is a quick how-to from the book Nourishing Traditions on soaking different types of nuts and seeds:
Raw Pecans & Walnuts
Soak 4 cups pecan or walnuts in warm filtered water with 2 teaspoons sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Rinse and place on a stainless steel baking sheet and bake in a warm oven set at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally.
Soak 4 cups almonds in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Rinse, place on a stainless steel baking sheet, sprinkle with salt/honey/other flavorings if desired and bake in a warm oven set at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally. (Note: Most almonds that are available have been pasteurized or otherwise treated. If they are no longer raw, soak them according the instructions for cashews below.)
Because “raw” cashews are not truly raw (heated to 350 degrees while in their shell to neutralize a toxic oil called cardol.), it’s not necessary to dehydrate them at a low temperature to preserve enzymes. Soaking still makes them more digestible, though! Soak 4 cups cashews in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for no more than 6 hours. (Because they are not raw they do not contain valuable enzymes that prevent spoilage, so 6 hours is the max) Rinse, place on a stainless steel baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake at 200-250F until dry, turning occasionally.
Soak 4 cups raw peanuts in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Drain and rinse. Place on a stainless steel baking sheet. Bake at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally.
Raw Pumpkin Seeds
Soak 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24hours). Drain and rinse if desired, but they’re good unrinsed as well. Spread on a stainless steel baking sheet. If desired, sprinkle with flavorings such as salt and honey or chili and lime before placing in the oven. Bake at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally.
Raw Sunflower Seeds
Soak 4 cups sunflower seeds in warm filtered water with 2 teaspoons sea salt for 7 hours. Rinse and place on a stainless steel baking sheet in a 105-150F oven for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally.
Victoria Albina, NP, MPH is a licensed and board certified Family Nurse Practitioner, herbalist and life coach, with 20 years experience in health and wellness. She trained at the University of California, San Francisco, and holds a Masters in Public Health from Boston University and a bachelors from Oberlin College. She comes to this work having been a patient herself, and having healed from a lifetime of IBS, GERD, SIBO, fatigue, depression and anxiety.
She is passionate about her work, and loves supporting patients in a truly holistic way - body, mind, heart and spirit. A native of Mar del Plata, Argentina, she grew up in the great state of Rhode Island, and lives in NYC with her partner. A brown dog named Frankie Bacon has her heart, and she lives for steak and a good dark chocolate.