Hopefully you remember when we began talking about anti-nutrients. Today we’ll continue that discussion by focusing on how you can overcome the anti-nutrients in one of our favorite breakfast foods: Oats.
Oats, or Avena sativa, are a hardy cereal grain and are a concentrated source of fiber (in fact, they have the most soluble fiber of any grain) and nutrients such as manganese, selenium, tryptophan, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin B1 (thiamin), magnesium, protein, vitamin E, zinc, copper and iron.
A Glossary of Oat Terms
Yes, I’m serious! There’s a lot more to the humble oat than you think.
Oat berries, oat groats or oat kernels are the whole oat grain, with just the inedible outer hull removed. What is left behind is the bran (contains the fiber AND most of the phytic acid), the germ (contains many of the nutrients), and the bulk of the grain, called the endosperm.
Steel-cut oats are produced by running the whole grains through steel blades that thinly slice them. They are dense and chewy when prepared. (Traditionally, steel-cut oats are also called Irish oats, but the Irish oats you buy in the grocery store are typically closer to rolled oats. See below for further information on Irish oats.)
Scottish oats, traditionally, are produced by grinding the groats into a fine meal, creating a porridge-like cereal when cooked. Again, the Scottish oats at the grocery store are typically closer to rolled out. Also, see below.
Old-fashioned oats or rolled oats have a flatter shape, and are usually heated in some way before flattening.
Quick-cooking oats are processed in the same way as old-fashioned oats, except they are cut finely before rolling. They should generally be avoided because of the additional processing which can lead to quicker rancidity and nutrient loss.
Instant oatmeal is produced by partially cooking the grains and then rolling them very thin. This should be avoided for the above reasons, and because sugar and other ingredients are often added.
Choosing the Right Oats
Oats are very subject to rancidity due to the high levels of polyunsaturated oils they contain. Oats are only harvested once a year (in the fall), and yet can go rancid within three months. To combat this, commercial oats in the U.S. are heat treated to about 200 degrees (F) for four or five hours. Heat treatment kills enzymes that accelerate oxidation and helps to prevent a bitter taste, but it also damages the fragile polyunsaturated oils as well.
Irish and Scottish oatmeals, said to be “unheated,” are actually heated for the same reasons, but usually at lower temperatures. McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oats are heated to 113-118 degrees but Hamlyn’s heats to 212 degrees. The U.K. brand Alford is kiln dried for four hours, but their website does not provide a temperature. Truly raw rolled oats are available here and may be available at your local health food store. (It is imperative to make sure they are fresh and properly stored.)
Properly Preparing Oats
Oats need to be properly prepared to reduce the levels of phytates. Oats are naturally very low in phytase (which breaks down the phytates), particularly if they have been heated. (One study found that unheated oats contained as much phytase activity as wheat.)
If you are new to soaking and/ or sprouting grains – don’t worry! Recent research is indicating that the preparation method many of us have been following from Nourishing Traditions is actually insufficient to reduce phytic acid levels. So if this is all new to you, you’ll learn the right way, instead of having to change your habits. (And speaking of habits… this all will become habit. I know it seems like a lot when it’s a new idea, but when you do things enough, it becomes old hat. We’ll be covering meal-planning soon, and that will make a world of difference as you take on preparing grains before use.)
It’s also important to note that a Nourishing Traditions-style soak will improve the digestibility of the oats, just not reduce enough of the phytic acid.
Basic NT Oat Soaking Technique
1 cup oats, rolled or cracked
1 cup warm filtered water
2 Tbsp. whey, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk (lemon juice or apple cider vinegar can be used in cases of dairy allergies)
Increase ingredients in these ratios depending on your number of servings desired.
Combine all ingredients and soak overnight (at least seven hours) at a warm temperature.
OK, onto the new research…
It is now believed that more is needed to effectively reduce the phytic acid in oats. For instance, new studies show that without initial germination, even a five-day soaking (much longer than the overnight soak recommended in NT) at a warm temperature in acidic liquid has been shown to insignificantly reduce phytates due to the low phytase content of oats. Sprouting (or malting) oats for five days at 52 degrees F and then soaking for 17 hours at 120 degrees F has been found to remove 98% of phytates, and adding malted rye further enhanced oat phytate reduction. Even for me, that seems like a little too much…
So what are we to do?
Begin with unprocessed/ unheated (or minimally heated) oats. One benefit to choosing rolled oats is that a portion of the bran is removed, which contains a large portion of the phytic acid. (But use caution if choosing store-bought rolled oats: WAPF states that it is unclear whether heat-treated oats are healthy to eat regularly.)
Soaking these in acidulated water (as found in the NTtechnique above) for as long as 24 hours, kept at a steady warm temperature, will reduce part of the phytic acid as well as the levels of other anti-nutrients, and result in a more digestible product. To keep proper temperature (about 100 degrees F) some suggest using a hot plate. You may be able to just keep them in the oven with the light on, depending on your particular oven. You can also heat them in your crockpot to about 100 degrees, and then turn it off and keep it covered, or move the covered crock to your (unheated) oven. To test with your (clean!) pinkie finger, 100 degrees should feel very warm, but not feel painfully hot.
The best answer seems to be to continue preparing oats according to traditional methods provided in Nourishing Traditions, adding in one or more tablespoons of freshly ground rye flour. Rye flour contains high levels of phytase that will be activated during the soaking process. You can keep whole rye grains in your freezer and grind a small amount in a mini grinder for adding to these oats (and other grains!) during the soaking process. Phytic acid is further reduced when you increase the soak time and maintain proper temperature, when possible.
Before We Get to the Recipes…
Rami Nigelwrites in his article Living with Phytic Acid about how this new research fits into the context of eating how traditional healthy cultures did, and the importance of looking at the entirety of our diets.
How do we square what we know about oats with the fact that oats were a staple in the diet of the Scots and Gaelic islanders, a people known for their robust good health and freedom from tooth decay? For one thing, high amounts of vitamin D from cod’s liver and other sources, helps prevent calcium losses from the high oat diet. Absorbable calcium from raw dairy products, consumed in abundance on mainland Scotland, provides additional protection.
In addition, it is likely that a good part of the phytase remained in the oats of yore, which partially germinated in stacks left for a period in the field, were not heat treated and were hand rolled immediately prior to preparation. And some Scottish and Gaelic recipes do call for a long fermentation of oats before and even after they are cooked.
OK, Onto the Fun Stuff
Our Family’s Favorite Breakfast Porridge
1-2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
Toppings: Raw milk/ cream, fresh fruit (blueberries, cut-up strawberries, apples), dried fruit (raisins, apricots, cranberries), shredded coconut, chopped nuts (soaked and dehydrated), coconut oil, honey or additional maple syrup…
Soak oats in warm water and acidic medium using the NT method above with the addition of rye flour.
In the morning, drain off any residual water, and place in saucepan with about 2 cups fresh filtered water. (It is not necessary to drain, but it is helpful if you use an acidic medium with a strong taste. If you don’t drain, adjust amount of cooking water accordingly.) Bring to a boil, and mix in vanilla and maple syrup. Let simmer for about five minutes or until desired consistency.
In serving bowls, mix in raw milk or cream if desired, and top with your favorite toppings. (It’s also fun to put out bowls of toppings and let everyone scoop their own for a family ‘sundae-style’ breakfast.)
This is a great first soaking recipe to start with because you will notice how you don’t have that rock-in-your-gut feeling, and yet stay easily satisfied until lunchtime!
Crockpot Oatmeal for a Crowd
This is a great make-ahead breakfast for Sunday or holiday mornings, or for when you have overnight guests. You can cut the recipe in half if you wish.
4 cups oats
4 cups warm filtered water
1/2 cup whey or other acidic medium, see above
4 or more Tbsp. freshly ground rye flour
3-1/2 – 4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sucanat (or other natural sweetener)
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 diced apples
1 cup raisins (or other dried fruit, chopped if necessary)
1 cup nuts of your choice (dried and dehydrated)
Soak oats according to NT method above with the addition of rye flour. (For this recipe, which cooks overnight, make sure to start the soaking at least 7 hours prior, preferably more.)
Grease inside of crockpot with a bit of the butter. Add drained oats, the rest of the butter, and remaining ingredients. Mix well. Cover and cook on low heat overnight (or 8-9 hours).
And now here comes my absolute favorite recipe, and that EXCITING NEWS I told you about! The following recipe is going to be featured in a compilation soaked grain E-cookbook entitled Is Your Flour Wet? Soaked, Sprouted, & Soured – Grains Recipes from Our Kitchens to Yours! I am very excited, and there’s exciting news for you, too. Katie at Kitchen Stewardship, who is putting together this cookbook, is going to make it available to you for FREE. This will be an invaluable resource, so stay tuned for the release date on that.
Now, onto the recipe. This is a delicious snack, is awesome on yogurt and ice cream, and can even be used as a cold cereal with milk on busy mornings (replacing toxic extruded cereals). Read to the end for additional notes and recipe variations.
Soaked Granola (AKA Yummies)
4-1/2 cups oats
4-1/2 cups warm filtered water
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. whey or other acidic medium, see above
4-1/2 or more Tbsp. freshly ground rye flour
1/2 cup organic ground flaxseed
2 tsp. green stevia (or 1/2 cup sucanat)
1/2 cup sprouted sunflower seeds (available at Live Superfoods)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or nut of your choice), properly prepared*
1/2 cup chopped almonds (or nut of your choice), properly prepared*
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. sea salt
1/3 cup liquified coconut oil
1/4 cup raw honey (Tip: Use the “dirtier” honey that rises to the top!)
1 tsp. organic vanilla
1. In a large bowl, combine the oats, warm filtered water, whey (or other acid) and rye flour. Place in a warm location and soak overnight.
2. In the morning, strain the oats in a large mesh colander. Rinse well and let drain.
3. Spread on parchment paper-lined trays and place in a dehydrator** at 135 degrees and dry for about 2 hours. (The goal is not to make them entirely crispy, but just to dry them out a good bit.)
4. When oats are dry, break apart if necessary and place them into a large mixing bowl. Add in flaxseed, stevia (or Sucanat), sunflower seeds, nuts, cinnamon and salt. Mix well.
5. In a separate small bowl, whisk together liquified coconut oil, honey, vanilla and about 1/4 cup filtered water and add to oat mixture. Mix well.
6. Dehydrate until desired crispiness (at 135 degrees, this is usually 4-1/2 hours).
7. Add optional mix-ins, if desired.
*To prepare your nuts for optimal digestion, place 4 cups of nuts in a glass mixing bowl, cover with filtered water and a 1 Tbsp. sea salt. Soak for 7 hours, and then dehydrate until desired crispiness. Store in an airtight container (or the fridge for longer storage).**
**If you don’t have a dehydrator, use your oven on the lowest possible temperature. Adjust times accordingly. (Keep in mind that the higher temperatures used in an oven will destroy some of the beneficial enzymes in certain foods, so you should consider a dehydrator as a future investment!)
Other notes: You can use this method of soaking and drying oats (steps 1- 3) to ensure that you have readied oats on hand. Simply dehydrate (or bake) for a longer period of time until oats are completely dry. Break apart and store until needed for any recipe. You can even use them in a pinch like ‘quick-cooking’ oats for a fast breakfast.
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