UPDATE 12/16 — After more reading and study, I no longer believe it’s necessary to soak grains, including oatmeal, before consumption. Stay tuned for an updated post on the potentially health-giving roles phytates play in the body.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I eat a lot of oatmeal. “Buy it in 50lb. bags because it’s cheaper and we go through it like crazy” kind of a lot. As you might imagine, this necessitates coming up with new ways to prepare oats other than dumping in a bunch of frozen blueberries and drizzling them with maple syrup. (Not that that’s a bad thing!)
In my quest to eat more whole-foods plant-based, I ditched most boxed cereals in favor of oatmeal and other whole grain breakfast options. I was trying to get away from sweeteners, additives and generally processed junk, and it turns out that I’ve been partaking of a pretty darn nutritious food. Oats are touted for their cholesterol-lowering ability, which comes from a type of fiber called beta-glucan. Fiber no only removes cholesterol while it’s still in the digestive system, preventing it from winding up in the bloodstream; it also helps to enhance immunity.
Oats protect against heart disease in another way–with antioxidants known as avenanthramides. By protecting LDL cholesterol from free radical damage, these antioxidants prevent the secretion of certain inflammatory substances in the body and keep immune cells from attaching to arterial walls. Less attachment means less chance of atherosclerosis, leading to cleaner blood vessels and a healthier circulatory system.
As if that wasn’t enough, oats also provide a good amount of manganese, a mineral that acts as a cofactor in hundreds of enzymatic reactions including those necessary for energy production; phosphorous, which works with calcium in mineralizing bone; and molybdenum, an important trace mineral in regards to liver detoxification of chemicals such as sulfites. All of this comes packed with healthy doses of fiber and protein to ensure healthy digestion and start your day off right with a burst of energy.
However, it turns out that oats harbor a pesky little problem: phytic acid. Unless countered by the phytase enzyme, phytates can block the absorption of some of the nutrients in a food, preventing your body from getting their benefits. Fortunately, the enzyme appears naturally in many grains, and one of the best ways to activate it is through soaking.
Problem #2: oats don’t contain enough phytase for soaking to break down the phytic acid. What does? Rye flakes! All you need is 1Tbsp per cup of oats. Add an acid medium such as raw apple cider vinegar along with some warm water and you’re good to go. The rye flakes provide the phytase and the cider vinegar brings acid to the mix, which is necessary to jumpstart the release of the enzyme.
(This post on the Nourishing Home blog has a lot more information on phytic acid and soaking!)
What this lengthy introduction is leading up to is this:
It probably shouldn’t have taken me until a week or so ago to come up with this one. The idea is pretty simple: take gingerbread spices and a bit of molasses, cook them in oatmeal and ta-da! You have a warming bowl of healthy, hearty oats that tastes like gingerbread cookies. Or gingerbread itself, whichever you prefer. I like to throw in some raisins or currants for chewy texture and an added touch of sweetness.
I’ve included my method for soaking as part of the recipe, but if you have a tried and true grain soaking ritual, go for it! Incidentally, I’ve found oatmeal to be much easier to digest since I started soaking it. In the past, it would sometimes sit heavy or make me feel like I’d eaten too much when I hadn’t. I prefer to drain and rinse oats after soaking because I find they taste less acidic and come out with a better texture that way. I also soak the dried fruit in along with the oats to make it nice and soft!
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1Tbsp rye flakes or whole wheat flour
- 1tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2Tbsp. currants or raisins
- water as needed
- 1 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- pinch of ground cloves
- grated ginger, to taste
- ½Tbsp molasses
- Combine the oats, rye flakes or flour, raisins or currants and cider vinegar in a large bowl and add water to cover. Soak overnight.
- When you’re ready to cook the oats, place the 1 cup water and the cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes.
- Drain the oats and rinse them in a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Add them to the cinnamon water along with the cloves, ginger and molasses. Cover and bring back to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook, partially covered, for 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for a couple of minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve, garnished with ground cinnamon if desired.
Bauman, E. NC106.3 Micronutrients: Iron, phosphorous, sulfur & the trace minerals. [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from Bauman College: http://dashboard.baumancollege.org/mod/resource/view.php?id=1450
Manganese. (n.d.). World’s Healthiest Foods. Retrieved 2/8/14 from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=77
The Nourishing Home. (2012, March 15). How to soak grains for optimal nutrition. Retrieved 2/8/14 from http://thenourishinghome.com/2012/03/how-to-soak-grains-for-optimal-nutrition/
Oats. (n.d.). World’s Healthiest Foods. Retrieved 2/8/14 from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=54