Soy: Cautions & Truths

         In North America, soy foods have appealed to vegetarians and health conscious men and women for decades now, as more and more people seek alternatives to animal products and seek to make substitutions for dairy due to allergies. 

         There is this huge misconception that the Asian populations have been consuming soy for thousands of years and that they consume it in place of meat. The reality is that soy was originally used as an important rotation crop for the Chinese populations in order to fix nitrogen into the soil. It was only after the discovery of important fermentation techniques something during the Chou dynasty (1134-246 BC) that soy became a popular food in the form of highly fermented tempeh, natto and tamari. 

      The average consumption of soy in China is actually only about two teaspoons per day and one or two tablespoons per day in Japan. Soy is considered more of a condiment and definitely not as a replacement for animal foods, as it is most typically consumed in a mineral rich fish broth. 

        The truth is, over consumption of soy foods can lead to mineral deficiencies, a depressed thyroid (hypothyroidism), disrupted endocrine function and potentially infertility and breast cancer. 

       Soy contains the highest levels of phytates of any grain or legume that has been studied and unfortunately those phytates are incredibly resistant to normal reduction methods such as sprouting and long, slow cooking and are only minimized during an extended and lengthy period of fermentation. Phytates interfere with mineral absorption and block enzyme activity. 

       Soy foods also contain Trypsin inhibitors, phytoestrogens as well as the isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, which are potent inhibitors of thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme involved in the synthesis of the thyroid hormones.

        In this author's opinion, fermented soy foods such as miso, tamari, natto and tempeh are they only safe soy foods. I encourage anyone consuming soy to treat it as a condiment, the way the Asians do, and to consume it along with mineralizing fish or bone broths. 







Grains, Legumes & Nuts: A Guide for Proper Preparation

     It is a huge accomplishment and something to give yourself credit for when you make the switch to from white flour products and refined grains to whole grain flour and grain products. I love when I hear about people snacking on almonds instead of potato chips. You are doing your body a big service by ditching the refined stuff that does nothing for you (except rob you of much minerals & upset your blood sugar), yet, there are other important steps to preparing grains, nuts and legumes, that must eventually be incorporated into any holistic lifestyle approach. Without taking these steps, those whole grains may actually lead to mineral deficiencies and associated issues such as tooth decay! Not what you are going for!

     Grains, nut and legumes contain anti-nutrients (substances that interfere with nutrient absorption or cause us to lose more nutrients than we gain by eating them) such as phytic acid (phytates) &  lectins, the primary anti-nutrients I am going to focus on in this post. These anti-nutrients bind important minerals and prevent them from being absorbed as well as can act as enzyme inhibitors, interfering with digestion. The good news is that there are plenty of things we can do when preparing foods to minimize the presence of phytates and lectins. 

      Firstly, let's deal with the issue of trying to neutralize or reduce the overall amount of phytates in our grains, legumes and nuts. There is an enzyme called phytase that neutralizes phytates. Human's do not produce enough of it to safely consume high volumes of phytates, and different grains contain varying levels of the enzyme. Furthermore, heat destroys it. For grains, sprouting (malting) reduces some of the phytates by activating phytase, but fermentation is the best way to reduce the most phytates. I generally try and sprout my grains, or start with a sprouted flour and then put that up for a long soak with sourdough starter, freshly ground rye flour (rye contains the most phytase enzyme) or whey before cooking. Oats contain almost no phytase and require a very long soak with rye starter. Rice also contains very little and requires a long soak in hot water (a mason jar with a lid will do). Be sure to cook brown rice in bone broth with kombu sea-weed and add a generous amount of butter. Remember, we are not trying to eliminate all phytates, but simply trying to reduce them to safe and acceptable levels.

     For beans, sprouting seems to reduce phytates the best. Soak your beans over night and then sprout them using proper sprouting guidelines for 2-5 days. When my beans are finished sprouting, I soak them again for 12-24 hours in warm water with a few tablespoons of whey before cooking. 

      Nuts require a long soak (18 hours) before dehydrating and a light roasting to minimize phytates as much as possible. It is not recommended to eat more than a handful of nuts or seeds per day- especially if they have not been properly soaked first.

Here is a table to help you remember general soaking guidelines: 

Grain/Legume Soaking Times Neutralizer & Water Amount Cooking Guidelines
Rice & millet 8-12 hours minimum at least twice as much water: grain 40-60 minutes
Quinoa 24 hours min w/ 1x rinse 1:3 water + 1 Tbsp acid (whey, ACV) 30min
Oats 12-24hours warm, add acidic, add rye 20-40min
All other grains 12-24 hours 1:2 water; add something acidic 20-60 min
Lentils 7-24 hours, warm add whey, APV or lemon juice 45-60min
Garbanzos 24-48 hours in warm (rinse every 7 hrs) Add whey, ACV, or lemon juice 4-6 hours, shorter the longer soaked
Kidey-shaped beans 18-24 hours warm recommend to use 2 Tbsp Baking Soda for every cup Simmer 4 hours or until soft
Nuts & seeds 18-24 hours warm Add salt & something acidic Dehydrate & gentle roast

       The soaking and fermenting of these foods will help reduce anti-nutrients such as phytates and lectins and increase the available mineral content of the foods. To minimize the risk of these anti-nutrients further, cook with bone broth and sea-weeds for added minerals, add grass-fed butter and make sure your diet contains plenty of vitamin D, vitamin A and Vitamin C. These nutrients have all been shown in studies to help mitigate the effects of phytates. For example, vitamin D is used up in the body to reduce impacts by phytates and consuming extra vitamin D had a positive effect on phytate impact. For more information on this, research the Mellenby Studies. 

       Soaking and fermenting grains and beans may seem like a lot of work- but once you start doing it, you'll realize that it actually saves you cooking time and improves the flavors in the food- two added bonuses that make it well worth the extra few minutes it requires to improve the nutritional content of your food! 


A Brief History of Kefir

Have you heard about water kefir yet? While many people have become familiar with a popular fermented beverage called "kombucha", water kefir remains a much lesser known fermented beverage. 

According to Sandor Ellix Katz, author or one of my favorite books, 'Wild Fermentation', "The kefir story is full of intrigue. The first kefir grains are said to have been a gift from Allah, delivered by his prophet Mohammed. The grains were treasured by the people who possessed them, passed down from generation to generation, and definitely not shared with strangers. Early in the twentieth century, the "All Russian Physicians' Society" became interested in obtaining the mysterious source of this healthful drink. Since the keepers of the grains did not wish to share them, this required deception and culture thievery. The scheme involved a young Russian woman named Irina Sakharova, whom the physicians hoped would be able to charm a Caucasus prince, Bek-Mirza Barchorov, into giving her some kefir grains. He refused, she tried to leave, he had her kidnapped, she was rescued, and he was charged in the Czar's courts. For reparations, the young woman was awarded the treasure she sought; the court ordered the prince to give her some of his cherished kefir grains. In 1908, she brought the first kefir grains to Moscow. Kefir became, and remains to this day, a popular drink in Russia. In 1973, at age 85, Irina Sakharova was formally recognized by the Soviet Ministry of Health for her role in bringing kefir to the Russian people".

Wow! Isn't that amazing? And now thanks to that woman I have a fridge full of both milk kefir and water kefir to keep my family healthy!

I make both kombucha and water kefir (and milk kefir), but my first choice of beverage between the two, is definitely water kefir. It actually has more probiotic strains than kombucha and takes much less time to make. It is the perfect beverage for a hot summer day! Unlike kombucha, which has about a 2% alcohol content, water kefir is alcohol free, making it a wonderful probiotic drink for children, as well as adults! My son guzzles it! 

Is My Kombucha Scoby Moldy?

Whenever I'm talking to people able making fermented beverages, many are very concerned about mold or harmful bacteria. I have heard of people even going as far as sending their kombucha samples to a lab for testing before consuming! 

Generally speaking, with most fermentations, if it looks and tastes good- it's good. Food safety rules change drastically depending on where you are in the world. One cultures inedible, "rotten" or "dangerous" food, may be another's delicacy. Now with kombucha, you definitely don't want to mess around if you've got mold. 

A kombucha scoby can go moldy if your fermenting conditions are unsanitary, you have forgotten to cover it with a coffee filter or clean cloth to keep out airborn particles, or if you divide up your scoby too much and then try and get a tiny piece to ferment a very large batch of tea and sugar (which is the mistake I once made and you can see the results below!)

That is a moldy scoby! Those little brown, stringyish bits you see on your scoby are not. Those are simply yeast. If your scoby goes moldy, do not drink the kombucha or reuse any of it's babies. You'll have to obtain a new mother from someone and start over.

If your scoby looks healthy and your kombucha tastes good- sweet, sour and pleasant- than it's good. No need to pay money to send it to a lab! After all, making it yourself is supposed to SAVE you money. Cheers!