Why Should I Activate My Grains?

Buzzwords are pretty fascinating to watch – especially within the realm of health trends. Out of nowhere they creep into the daily vernacular and ceaselessly poke us and prod us until we finally cave in and ask the goddamn question –How the hell do you pronounce Açaíand why should I give a damn?! And then before you know it everyone is asking the question and all of a sudden it is mainstream. The latest craze to cross this threshold would have to be ‘Activation’ specifically when referring to food preparation. I bit my lip… I ignored the ‘activated’ products in health food stores… but finally it got me… I had to ask… what the hell is food activation?! Short answer?… Activation is bloody complicated. I found very scientific explanations (like this one) and after reading it a couple of times dumbed it down for myself. Here’s the deal…

The Great Grain Debate

The whole process of ‘activating’ foods comes back to the Great Grain Debate: are they good for us or not? Grains are packed full of nutrients like protein, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals which – at surface level – qualify them as healthy option. BUT on the other side of the fence, grains also contain antinutrients (like Phytates, lectins and gluten) which bind to vitamins, minerals and enzymes and make all those aforementioned nutrients impossible to absorb or digest.

I think of it a bit like getting a beautiful, organic floret of broccoli and then deep-frying the hell out of it! Sure, it started healthy but the process that we have used to consume it renders all those valuable nutrients utterly useless. The same argument applies to legumes, nuts, seeds and eggs – which is why these little superfoods are sometimes wrongly considered the pariah’s of wellbeing.

So what does ‘Activating’ have to do with it?

The antinutrients found in grains and nuts are basically Mogwai’s – they are allergic to water! When we soak these foods before consumption we can dramatically reduce the amount of antinutrients in them and improve their digestibility. This is how many traditional cultures (like Indian) have prepared their grain for centuries – a culture that has far fewer of the dietary ailments and diseases of Western Cultures. Look at the below Global Obesity Map, compare India (still using traditional activation methods) with Australia or the US (do not activate foods) and make up your mind on whether grains and legumes are the problems or just the way we consume them…

How to activate

Easy. Soaking your grains/nuts/legumes for 12 – 24 hours is the first step to activate the food. In the case of grains though, they are covered in an insoluble fatty layer which make is very difficult for water (on its own) to penetrate the surface and dissolve all the nasty phytic acid. To counteract this it is important to add a mild acid to penetrate this layer. The best type of acid to use is Citric (lemon juice!) but acetic acid (vinegar) or lactic acid (whey or yoghurt) can work too.

Example: Activating Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) has the most protein out of any other grain. That’s not it’s only asset – these little babies are packed full of nutrients like iron, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, zincmagnesium, fibre, vitamin B6 and the antioxidant Vitamin E. They also contain over sixteen triterpine saponins – translated to cancer fighting superheroes!

Basically, with all these beneficial vitamins I wanted to ensure that I am absorbing as many as possible – get some bang for my buck! Being pregnant has also made me super-vigilant that what I put in my body doesn’t only affect me anymore. So here is how I activate it;

  • Get 200grams of Quinoa and rinse thoroughly
  • Place into container and cover with water
  • Then add 2 tablespoons of Acid. I always use 2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice but you can use Whey, Yoghurt or Vinegar (go for unpasteurised Apple Cider if possible). Stir the acid gently through your Quinoa.
  • Cover and leave at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Ideal would be 24!
  • After it has soaked rinse and then cook however you like. I cooked mine in vegetable stock and then mixed through chopped vegetables, mint and coriander. Threw in some sultana’s and (activated) cashews for good measure.

I hope this has helped shed some light on why we should activate grains! When I hear the word ‘Activation’ I don’t just roll my eyes and think of the utterer as a health nut… I get it… and I dig it baby!!! If you want to read more about it I found this article really useful too. Happy soaking!