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  • Writer's pictureSara Scherbakov-Coutts

Should We Soak Our Plant-Based Foods?

Updated: Feb 20


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 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.


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. If you have a strong and healthy gut, you should tolerate most plant based foods just fine in moderation.

*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 healed their gut, and then we can try reintroducing these foods unsoaked to see how their body reacts.


  • 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 - 4-6 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.

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