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Everyone is telling you that whole grains reign nutritionally supreme, but what they are not telling you is that it is easy for “whole grains” not to live up to the nutrient rich, good-for-you standards they are held to. As I explained on Monday, processed whole grains in packaged foods like cereal, cookies and crackers, are hardly better than their refined counterparts.

Unfortunately, there are some setbacks to natural whole grains that can inhibit the nutritional benefits if not properly prepared. Enzyme inhibitors and natural substances that the plants use to protect their seeds can almost completely prevent the digestion and absorption of whole grains. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary to soak all grains before cooking them.

Phosphorus in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium,copper and zinc in the intestinal tract, blocking their absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Sprouting, overnight soaking, and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important pre-digestive process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are prepared according to these procedures. – Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon

Soaking grains will help those who have digestion troubles by easing the labor of grain breakdown and absorption. For every grain eater, soaking will benefit your body by providing more accessible and digestible nourishment.

Soaking is an easy process that can be done several days beforehand.  In a large, non-reactive bowl, soak your grains in water with 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice, vinegar, keifer or buttermilk (to provide an acid that works to neutralize the nutrient blockers).

After 12 to 24 hours rinse your grains and prepare as instructed.  For baking purposes it works well to soak your grains in the liquid (buttermilk, yogurt, milk or non dairy alternative) called for in the recipe.  After soaking add the rest of your ingredients and prepare as instructed.

Here are two of my personal favorite soaked whole grain breakfast treats!

Creamy Morning Oats with Fresh Fruit

3/4 Cup Organic whole rolled oats
1 Cup Organic unsweetened plain keifer
1 tsp. Cinnamon
½ Cup fresh seasonal fruit of your choice (pears are a great pick in the winter and blueberries are my summer favorite)

Combine all ingredients except fruit in a medium sized ceramic or glass bowl. Cover and soak overnight at room temperature.  In the morning add fresh fruit and enjoy!

Unbelievably Fluffy Whole Grain Waffles

2 Cups whole-wheat flour
1 ¼ Cup plain keifer or ¾ cup plain yogurt to ¾ cup milk
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
4 eggs split into yolks and whites
½ cup vegetable oil

Combine flour and keifer or milk and yogurt in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add baking powder, salt, sugar, egg yolks and vegetable oil to flour mixture and mix to incorporate.  Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold in egg whites gently in three parts until just incorporated. Do not over-mix the egg whites in the batter or the fluffy consistency will be lost. Pour waffle batter onto hot waffle iron and cook until golden brown. Serve immediately with fresh fruit, yogurt or syrup.

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The status of grain in the modern diet is debated as if it held a place in office: should it be impeached from our dietary guidelines, should we use it to solve world hunger or should we blame it for the obesity of a nation and the degradation of worldwide environmental systems?

Some nutritional scholars believe that grains should be avoided completely, arguing that our bodies did not evolve to digest grains and they cause a downward spiral in many facets of your internal health. Ancient Eastern medicine traditions, on the other hand, hold grains as an important element of dietary balance. Recent western medicine research has popularized “whole grains” to an almost divine status; launching campaigns that assure dieters and skeptics that anything labeled whole grain is an automatic health food.

You are confused? So am I. Avoiding grains completely is difficult and may not be the best option, but popular refined forms of grain are digging a rut into the health of many. I am going to venture out on a limb and say forget it: forget the great debate, proceed with moderation and, as always, keep in mind that whole foods are always better than their processed counterparts. Somewhere in-between the “whole grain” coco puffs and the Paleolithic style no grain diets there has to be level ground:  a few whole grains from natural sources, a few indulgences and a happy and healthy body.

Figuring out how grains fit into your lifestyle and how they impact your health as an individual may be the best place to start. Pay attention to how you feel after eating a particular grain and make note of whether it was processed, whole, soaked, raw or cooked.  You may find that some grains like quinoa, whole oats and millet are easier for your body to digest and provide more prolonged balanced energy.

There is some truth behind the recent “whole grain” campaign phenomena in that whole grains contain fiber, nutrients and protein that improve the way your body digests, uses, and stores grain-based foods. Whole grains have also been shown to play a role in helping improve cognitive function and mood. However, alleged “whole grains” in your honey nut cheerios, are probably not going to do the deed. The processing and additives that go into cereals, breads, cookies, crackers and the like are more than enough to destroy the health benefits of a natural whole grain.

Proper grain preparation methods are crucial to the health benefit they impart and may alleviate the health issues that grain opponents cite. Not eating packaged and processed grain products and taking the time to prepare whole grains at home is necessary to help your body absorb the nutrients. Soaking grains overnight helps germinate the dormant energy of the seed, release nutrients and ensure proper digestion.

Breakfast is the often the best (and most delicious) time to indulge in some healthy whole grains. During sleep your body’s systems slow down and burn energy reserves for basic function so it is important to wake up the process by providing healthy fuel. Whole grains provide the energy and nutrients your body needs to get your metabolism running and to power all internal organs for full daily function. But, no matter what the health claims a cereal box says, steer clear and start experimenting with homemade whole grains instead.

Soaking old-fashioned rolled oats in almond milk with a dash of cinnamon is one of my favorite easy go-to’s.  Check back this Thursday for some easy at home and on the go healthy grain preparation tips and recipes.