Soak Your Grains

"Wolves didn’t eat grains so dogs shouldn’t eat grains."  I’ve heard all the talk about how dogs can do without grains.  Actually, from what I’ve read, wolves consumed the stomachs of their prey which ate grains. So essentially wolves ate pre-digested grains. My personal belief is that grains can provide nutritional carbohydrates needed for energy. Let me just say that Kirby, at five years of age, has an abundance of energy! 

Allergies To Grains

Dogs can have allergies to grains which can cause dry itchy skin, excessive scratching or licking around the face or paws, bald patches, a high frequency of hot spots, ear infections, skin infections, diarrhea, and vomiting.  The most common allergies are beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, chicken eggs, corn, wheat, and soy in this order. I believe Kirby hasn't developed any food allergies because he has always eaten a rotational diet consisting of a variety of meats, grains, and vegetables.

If your dog has allergies to grains, consider substituting with quinoa, squash, sweet potato, and lentils.

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Why Soak Grains?

Since Kirby enjoys a variety of grains in his meals I have learned to prepare them for easier digestion by soaking them before cooking which makes them easier to digest, releases the needed enzymes to be more nutritionally available, and removes a lot of the starch. (I don't soak if I am grinding the grain to use as a flour in a treat)

Grains contain “phytic acid,” which is present largely in the bran. This binds to minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc, making them unavailable for absorption in the intestine.  A diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to digestive problems, allergies, serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

Soaking them in water activates germination, which is thought to reduce the enzyme inhibitors. For example, soaking activates the enzyme phytase, which then neutralizes phytic acid. Through the soaking process, the enzyme inhibitors are ‘neutralized,’ other beneficial enzymes are activated and the vitamin content increases, especially the B vitamins, vitamin C and Carotene.

What this means is that normal digestion depends on enzymes working to break down the food, starting with the saliva and running the course through the entire digestive system.  Enzyme inhibitors, found in whole grains, interfere with this normal digestion by stopping the enzymes from doing their jobs properly and stress out the pancreas.

Traditionally, cultures almost exclusively soaked or sprouted their grains before baking with them. In fact, humans have been soaking grains for thousands of years. The question arises that since soaking only reduces roughly 10% of the phytic acid is it really worth the effort?  It’s been found that the difference between soaked grains and unsoaked grains has a profound impact on the digestive system for many.  Also since soaking can break down gluten, those with sensitivities (and those without) are better able to tolerate soaked grains.

Standard guidelines for most grains:

  • Oats, rye, barley, and wheat should always be soaked.
  • Buckwheat, rice, spelt and millet can be soaked less frequently.
  • Whole rice and whole millet contain even less phytates so it’s not necessary to always soak.
  • Flax seed does not require soaking if eaten in small amounts.

How To Soak Grains

1. Measure out 1 cup of grain and pour into a glass jar or other container with a lid.

2. Add 2 tablespoons of an acid.*

3. Add 2 cups of water.  Stir and let it soak for 8-12 hours or overnight at room temperature.  It is not necessary to refrigerate the grain while it is soaking.

4. Drain the grain in a large colander and rinse, rinse, rinse with cool water. The grain is now ready to be cooked.  Soaked grains can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for one to two days. 

*Any soaking method will increase the nutritional qualities of a grain, but for optimal nutritional value, choose an acid such as plain yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice. Cultured products provide beneficial bacteria like lactobacilli which can begin to pre-digest the grain. The vinegar and lemon juice offer an alternative acid for those with true milk allergies. All acid choices discourage spoilage from unfriendly bacteria during a long soak.