2 ways to reduce anti-nutrients in legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds

What are anti-nutrients?

Whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds naturally contain so-called anti-nutrients. The most important are:

  1. Phytic Acid: All whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds contain phytic acid (most in the outer layer or bran). Phytic acid can combine with important minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc) and block their absorption in the intestinal tract. This may lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss in the long run. 
  2. Enzyme Inhibitors: All whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors. Enzymes are needed to properly break down nutrients, so that the body can absorb them. If those enzymes are inhibited, the food cannot be digested and nutrients cannot be absorbed easily and/or completely. 
  3. Gluten: Gluten is a protein in grains that is very difficult to digest for the human body. 

The well-meant advice to eat lots of those plant based foods can thus lead to insufficient nutrient absorption and in general puts a lot of strain on the digestive system, potentially causing damage to it in the long run. This is especially true since we have to a large extent abandoned traditional preparation methods, replacing slowly-fermented sourdough breads with quick-rise, yeast based whole grain breads for example. However, it’s through those traditional processes described below that the anti-nutrients are (partially) neutralized, making the grains/legumes/nuts/seeds easier to digest and vitamins/minerals available for absorption.

1. Soaking / fermenting

Most people know that beans or peas should be soaked before cooking. What most people do NOT know is that:

  • Soaking prior to cooking is a good idea for ALL grains and legumes, incl. lentils and whole grain rice for example
  • It is best to use tepid and not cold water
  • The ideal soaking time is much longer than normally indicated
  • For some kinds of grains/legumes it is best to add some acid medium

Whole grains:

  • Put your whole grains in a bowl and cover with warm (not hot) water.
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice, raw apple cidre vinegar, whey, yogurt, buttermilk, kombucha or kefir. 
  • Cover and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours depending on the grain 
  • Rinse
  • Cook in fresh water or continue to sprout (see below). 
  • Note that the cooking time will be greatly reduced, so watch out you do not overcook them!

Whole flour, oatmeal, nut flour, etc.:

  • Put your flour or oatmeal in a bowl.
  • Cover with either warm (not hot) water to which 1-2 tablespoons of whey, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir or lemon juice has been
    added, or cover with 100% yogurt, buttermilk or milk kefir. 
  • Cover bowl and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  • Cook your oats / use your flour for baking without need to rinse (maybe add some more fresh water)  

Note: This procedure applies to all store bought flours or oatmeals, since those are still loaded with anti-nutrients. If you produce your own flour or oatmeal from fermented and/or sprouted grains, nuts or legumes, you don’t need to follow this procedure.


  • Legumes are soaked for 12-24 hours in warm water – black beans, chickpeas and lentils in acidic water (add whey or lemon juice), all other beans in neutral, warm water (you might want change the soaking water several times).
  • Rinse
  • Cook in fresh water or continue to sprout. If they do not become soft during cooking, try to add a tiny amount of baking soda to the cooking water (and then watch out they do not become too mushy!)

Nuts & Seeds:

  • Put your nuts or seeds in a bowl and cover with warm (not hot) water.
  • Add pinch of sea salt.
  • Cover and leave at room temperature for 2-24 hours depending on the nut/seed.
  • Rinse
  • Dry in food dehydrator or oven or use in wet state (don’t store them in wet state though since molds are created).

2. Sprouting

Sprouting has additional benefits over simple soaking/fermenting:

  • it further decreases anti-nutrients
  • it starts breaking down difficult-to-digest proteins, fats & complex carbohydrates (which are the ones responsible
    for gas production after the consumption of lentils, beans or peas)
  • it makes nutrients more available
  • it even increases the amount of certain vitamins (esp. vitamin C)
  • it allows you to eat them raw (even lentils or beans!) or at least significantly reduces cooking time if you still prefer
    to cook them (e.g. lentils are ready in 2 minutes)

As a result, sprouted grains, legumes, nuts & seeds (those that sprout – not all of them do) are easier to digest, will cause less digestive problems and provide you with more nutrients. 

So how to do it?

  • After having soaked your grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, rinse them and put them either in a special sprouting jar or in a simple sieve/strainer.
  • Rinse 2x per day (1x morning, 1x evening)
  • After 1-5 days sprouts should appear. 
  • Use directly or put in the fridge and use as quick as possible.


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