Have you ever had trouble digesting a meal that was heavy in beans or grains, or even felt fatigued after a few too many nuts? These are just a few symptoms that people experience on a regular basis, and often attribute these symptoms to the food itself and swear it off for good. Fortunately and unfortunately, food and our bodies are never that simple.
So much of a certain food’s nutrition profile and how each body reacts to it is dependent on the way that it is grown, harvested, and processed…not just the name of the food itself. And there are certain foods like grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts that are often the culprits in this issue of digestion. There are certain components that these foods all have in common that will help us understand this a little better, and I will explain below.
I will emphasize that wheat, gluten, and nut allergies/sensitivities/intolerances are all entirely real things that can severely affect someone. When we think about an allergy, we are looking at the immune system and how it is affecting multiple organ systems; severe allergies can be life- threatening. In contrast, food intolerances and sensitivities are more directly involved with the gastrointestinal system and how well it can break down that particular food or component. These can be severe as well, especially in the case of Celiac disease; but even so, people with intolerances and sensitivities are not at risk for anaphylaxis. The topic of different forms of processing positively or negatively affecting someones’ ability to tolerate a food is only in the case of an intolerance or sensitivity, not a true allergy.
Ok, so why grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts? One commonality we see with these foods is their shelf stability. These are our pantry staples in many cases. They last so much longer in our kitchens than any other food, and that is because the environment we keep them in is dry. This allows us to hold onto the food longer, as it has not yet germinated, or completed its cycle. That only happens in the wild when rain, humidity, precipitation, etc. can occur. So, this seems like a beneficial thing, right? Well, yes in the case of food preservation, but not so much in digestion.
Humans do not have the capacity to fully break these foods down before germination. The other commonality between these foods is that they contain enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. Although these are not inherently bad things, these components actually make digestion more difficult, as well as bind to important nutrients/minerals and remove them from the body. They naturally occur on these foods to keep us from eating them before they are “ready”.
So this brings us back to my point on how it really isn’t always just about the food itself, and more about the processes it goes through. Now that we know this about nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains, what can we do to make them easier on the body?
Soak and sprout! Either doing so at home, or buying products that specifically note their sprouted status. All beans, nuts, etc. require different ways of soaking or sprouting, so I recommend looking up each particular one you are interested in, or making sure to look for bags of nuts and legumes that are sprouted, and even loaves of bread and other grain products at the store.
Some of my favorites are:
- Food For Life sprouted Ezekiel bread (usually found in the frozen section)
- TruRoots line of sprouted grains, beans, lentils, etc.
- One Degree sprouted oats and cereals
- Thrive Market line of sprouted rice, popcorn, flour, etc.
We are basically working to copy nature so that our bodies can process this in the best way. This will not only make digestion easier, but allow for those foods to hold onto the important minerals that phytic acid often takes with it; so we end up getting more nutrient density for the same amount of food.