Nutrition: Bringing Traditional Foods Back – Legumes, Grains & Nuts | Great Health Guide
Nutrition: Bringing Traditional Foods Back – Legumes, Grains & Nuts

Nutrition: Bringing Traditional Foods Back – Legumes, Grains & Nuts

“Bringing Traditional Foods Back – Legumes, Grains & Nuts” written by Jillaine Williams and published in Great Health Guide (Sept 2015). Traditional foods are making a comeback. Grain, legumes & nuts provide a great source of nutrition. Read other nutrition articles on our website. Great Health Guide is  a hub of expert-inspired resources empowering busy women to embody health beyond image … purpose beyond measure.

Nutrition: Bringing Traditional Foods Back – Legumes, Grains & Nuts written by Jillaine Williams

Welcome back to our series on Traditional Foods – the foods which our forefathers enjoyed, back when modern diseases like obesity and diabetes were a rarity (1). Having read part one and two in this series, you’re now aware of the importance of good quality fats in your diet along with the powerful healing capacity of organically produced, fresh, heirloom vegetables and fruit. Today we will look at nuts, seeds, grains and legumes, a group of foods which are similarly nutrient-dense and at the same time, the source of much confusion and discussion around the health blogosphere.

A couple of new diets that you may have come across include the Paleo Diet (2) and the Specific Carbohydrate Diets (SCD) (3). I mention these because legumes, nuts, grains and seeds are either over emphasised or omitted in these diets. Take the Paleo Diet for example – we are advised to avoid all grains and legumes along with all processed and modern industrialized foods such as refined oils (4). Now refined and industrialized foods can go, you’ll get no argument from me, however the subject of legumes is somewhat contentious and in my experience ‘the science’ sometimes requires a good dose of skepticism. 

When we look at the traditional diets of healthy, nourished groups including Jewish, African, Oriental and Latin Americans, we find that careful preparation and cooking methods were adopted to reduce so- called anti-nutrients. Paleo aficionados site these compounds such as phytic and oxalic acids as the reasoning behind their recommendations to eliminate them from the diet. Soaking, rinsing and slow cooking has been the solution throughout history and continues to this day in well-versed kitchens. 

Cholent, for example is a traditional Jewish dish that continues to use these methods. Pre-soaked and well-rinsed beans are very slowly cooked on an open fire together with herbs spices, vegetables and meats. When legumes are prepared in this way complex compounds are broken down in preparation for sprouting. 

Phytates and trypsin inhibitors are designed by nature to prevent digestion within the stomach of birds and animals that eat them causing humans considerable digestive discomfort when not correctly prepared. Sure it takes a little time and effort to soak and rinse your beans and lentils, however I’m sure you’d agree that your health is worth the investment. Not to mention the social up-side to reducing bloating, pain and gas production when legumes are carefully prepared (5). For more information and recipes follow this link to ‘Putting the Polish on those Humble Beans’.

You will have noticed in the articles referenced above that all grains have similarly been ousted by the Paleo movement. Granted, there is a time and place for their removal, such as in the case of the ever-growing incidence of digestive inflammation and irritability (6)

This is where the SCD and GAPS diets (Gut & Psychology Syndrome) play an invaluable role in restoring digestive function such that most grains can then be restored to the diet for most people (8). However people with a genetic susceptibility or history of allergy or intolerance to gluten-containing foods will likely do better to avoid these for the long term (7). These healing protocols involve restoring the gut microbiome (healthy gut bugs) as well as slowly returning fiber to the diet from vegetable sources including legumes to bring about intestinal healing via short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate. These fatty acids are produced via fermentation of insoluble fiber by intestinal microbes and have been found to reduce inflammation and immune reactivity in the digestive tract thus facilitating healing (9)Now I think we agree that soaking beans and lentils before slowly cooking them (with some juicy organic chicken or lamb sausages please) is simple enough. However grains require a more thoughtful approach if we are to avoid damaging our health (10).


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Without due care and consideration we soon find our bodies confronted by:

Mineral robbing phytic acid: Binds essential minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron in the digestive tract. Could it be that our love of highly refined and poorly prepared grains is contributing in two ways to a decline in our health? Firstly, because nutrients are lost through processing and secondly because what minerals remain are blocked by phytic acid.

Intestine mutilating lectins: This is another anti-nutrient which nature designed to protect seeds/ grains from digestion by predatory birds and animals. By soaking them we switch the grain to sprouting/ growing mode and thus liberate its beneficial nutrients whilst breaking down the digestion-blocking compounds.

Inflaming gluten: This protein has been linked to inflammation, leaky gut (breakdown of the cell connectivity in the digestive tract) and of course celiac disease. When you soak, sprout or sour a gluten-containing grain you partially break down gluten and effectively ‘fool’ the grain into thinking it is time to sprout and grow and that the danger of digestion is passed. However, for people who genetically primed against this protein it is best avoided long term. (Speak to your health care practitioner for more information).

Digestion-blocking enzyme inhibitors: Again nature has built compounds into grains to limit digestibility in this instance by blocking the action of our digestive enzymes. When these enzymes fail, carbohydrate and protein molecules are unable to be absorbed and can go on to feed bad bugs in the digestive tract again causing symptoms of bloating and pain.

It’s no surprise really that digestive issues are becoming epidemic when we consider modern cereal processing practices whereby grains are ground into flour, refined and baked with much of these anti-nutrients intact. Thankfully there is a growing band of passionate bakers and home makers who are taking the time to freshly grind, soak, sprout and sour organic grains to make them nurturing as well as nourishing (11).

Last but by no means least – nuts and seeds. Have you tried a ‘Raw’ or ‘Vegan’ diet to date? Do you know of anyone who has adopted a raw food regime? Chances are that if they’re not unwell already it’s only a matter of time – that is if they’re not observing the basic food prep rules as discussed above to prevent nutrient depletion and malnutrition (12). Keep in mind too that fat-soluble vitamins support the absorption of minerals that might have been blocked by a diet high in refined grains. There’s good reason to add grass-fed butter to your bean casserole and organic lard to your refried bean dish.

That same phytate mentioned above that can cause health problems with raw cereal grains. Phytate also exists in nuts and seeds as nature’s protective mechanism against being digested by little critters… ‘Activated’ nuts to the rescue. Activating your nuts is simple! A good soak in salty water, rinse and dehydrate until crispy. My dehydrator is humming away in the background as I write (12).

Perhaps you’ve given Paleo or GAPS diets a go already – now here is a common trap as well. These diets require that you take out all of the grains and legumes to facilitate healing. What happened subsequently though is the inventive muffin and cake lovers amongst us, came with the idea of using nut or seed meal to replace standard wheat flour. Very tasty and tantalising I have to admit, however – nutritionally this is a big problem! Nuts and seeds are not only high in calories, they are also very high in polyunsaturated omega 6 oils – and as such they are:

a. susceptible to oxidation with heat; and

b. pro-inflammatory if the ratio of omega-6 / omega-3 fatty acids is above 2:1 (13).

This may sound a little overwhelming however it’s better to know this information and apply it for your long term health. Taking the road less travelled requires time to prepare and time to learn new habits. Fortunately there’s a wealth of information available on the web to assist you (14).

What to take away when ‘take away’ is not the way?

Heal your digestive system first and foremost with the support of a health practitioner. Good digestive health is where beauty and wellness originates. 

Grab a copy of Nourishing Traditions (15). It’s a wealth of information and recipes outlining traditional food practices and preparation.

Try a handful of crispy activated nuts – you’ll never go back!

Soak and rinse your legumes before they go into the cassoulet and source soured or sprouted grains – gluten free if need be.

Bon Appetite!

The information in this article is not intended to take the place of a professional health care practitioner. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. Discuss this information with your own healthcare provider to determine what is right for you. Readers are urged to conduct their own reading and research to find what is appropriate for them together with a registered healthcare provider.

Author of this article:
Jillaine Williams BHSc is a Clinical Nutritionist and Functional Medicine Practitioner, specialising in digestive disorders, immune, hormonal/reproductive health, allergies and anti-aging nutrition. A registered GAPS Practitioner (Gut & Psychology Syndrome), Jillaine participates in ongoing education with ACNEM (Australian College of Nutrition & Environmental Medicine), attends BioBalance seminars (nutrition for mental health) and has completed nutrigenomics and chelation courses. Jillaine is currently producing a new line of organic cooking fats called ‘Wattle Grove Organics’ including one of her favourite snack foods – organic chicken crackling. Contact Jillaine at her website.

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