The Importance of Soaking Plant-Based Foods
Updated: Mar 14
WHAT ARE ANTI-NUTRIENTS?
Anti-nutrients are chemicals found in plant-based foods that block the absorption of nutrients and can cause symptoms of GI distress, bloating, stomach pains and nutrient deficiencies. In nature these foods are made to stay dormant until the time is right to start growing; they contain enzyme inhibitors to help accomplish this. When spring comes around, the water from the rain soaks into the seed, releases the enzyme inhibitors and allows the seed to grow. It is these inhibitors that can be difficult for some people to digest and can interfere with nutrient absorption.
Some examples include:
Tannins – decreases nutrient absorption, especially iron – Examples: tea, coffee, legumes (*if you struggle with anemia it's best to drink your tea and coffee a few hours away from your iron containing foods or supplements)
Lectins – damaging to the digestive tract and interfere with iron, zinc, phosphorus, calcium – Examples: all legumes, beans, nuts, seeds
Phytates/Phytic Acid – reduce uptake of iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium – Examples: whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes
Saponins – interferes with general nutrient absorption – Examples: legumes, whole grains
Protease Inhibitors - inhibits digestive enzymes from being released therefore impairing digestion of all nutrients – Examples: seeds, legumes, grains
Goitrogens/Glucosinolates – reduce iodine uptake – Examples: brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, broccoli
Oxalates – reduce calcium uptake – Examples: all leafy green vegetables, tea, beans, nuts, beets
SOAKING LEGUMES, NUTS, SEEDS & GRAINS
Soaking these foods removes these chemicals to make digesting them easier, and help us absorb the minerals and vitamins contained in the food. Soaking can also remove the bitter flavor of the food, as this bitterness is usually a result of the enzyme inhibitor. You'll notice these foods will taste sweeter after soaking and won't cause digestive distress.
IS IT NECESSARY TO ALWAYS SOAK YOUR FOOD?
No, it is not always necessary to soak your food.* It's all about balance. Some studies suggest that these same chemicals have health benefits, such as phytates reducing the risk of cancer. The best thing you can do for your health is to vary your diet and how you choose to prepare your foods.
*Note: There are a few specific cases where I would recommend people should always soak their food. These tend to be people who struggle with chronic nutrient deficiencies like anemia or GI issues like bloating, constipation or diarrhea, stomach pain etc. I usually recommend soaking foods at least until we have balanced their hormones and/or healed their gut, and then we can try reintroducing these foods unsoaked to see how their body reacts.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU SOAK DIFFERENT FOODS?
Adzuki - 8 hours
Alfalfa - 8 hours
Almond - 8-12 hours
Barley - 6-8 hours
Brazil Nut - 2-4 hours
Buckwheat - 15 minutes
Cashew - 2-2.5 hours
Chia - 2 hours
Chickpea - 12 hours
Corn - 12 hours
Fenugreek - 8 hours
Flax - 2 hours
Hazelnut - 8 hours
Hemp - Do Not Soak
Kamut - 7 hours
Lentil - 8 hours
Macadamia - 2 hours
Millet - 8 hours
Mung - 1 day
Oats - 6 hours
Pecan - 4-6 hours
Pine Nut - 2 hours
Pistachio - 4 hours
Pumpkin Seed - 4-6 hours
Quinoa - 2 hours
Rice - 8 hours (important for removing arsenic)
Sesame Seed - 6 hours
Spelt & Rye - 8 hours
Sunflower Seed - 3-4 hours
Walnut - 5 hours
Wheat - 7 hours
You might find various guides that suggest different soaking times. The times listed here are an average minimum recommend time for soaking. If you don't have the full time available to soak them, even soaking for half the time can be helpful.