I’ve had a few people ask me about the merits of soaking grains overnight to remove phytic acid. “What is phytic acid and why would I want to get rid of it?” you might ask.
Phytic acid is an antioxidant present in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Many people are adamant that it be removed from foods before consuming as it binds to minerals such as calcium, zinc, and iron, minimizing the amount that you’re able to absorb from that food. It’s been suggested that grains should be soaked or sprouted before cooking in order to remove the phytic acid.
The issue: it’s uncertain how much phytic acid is actually removed by soaking grains and beans. It seems that only about 10% of phytic acid is removed through overnight soaking (1). Also, it’s unlikely that, if you’re consuming a healthy diet including a variety of foods, you’re going to experience any malnutrition due to the presence of phytic acid in your oatmeal or bean salad.
Finally, it’s possible that there may be benefits to the consumption of phytic acid of which we’re unaware. For example, some research (admittedly not the greatest study, nonetheless) has indicated that phytic acid may actually be of benefit in Alzheimer’s disease prevention/slowing of progression. Even if this research proves to be meaningless it helps to illustrate how little we know about the individual components of food. This is one reason we dietitians are always harping on about obtaining as many nutrients as possible from whole foods. We don’t know precisely how all of these nutrients are interacting with each other in food and we don’t know how that impacts the benefits we obtain from foods.
While there’s no harm in soaking your grains, or sprouting them, there’s probably little benefit as far as phytic acid removal is concerned. And who knows, that may not be such a bad thing.