This is partly an excerpt from the “Unlearn” chapter in my book Mila’s Meals: The Beginning & The Basics.
Disclaimer: As with everything concerning food there are two sides to any debate raging around every one of the topics in this chapter – both sides will be defended with scientific proof, and ‘absolute’ recommendations. I am merely presenting my beliefs formed by my research and first hand experience of both Mila’s, and my own digestive issues. I encourage you to do your own research should anything mentioned here not ‘sit well’ with you. I am not trying to convince you of anything – I simply hope to provide information, and at the very least prompt you to question what has previously or otherwise been presented as absolute fact and truth.
Whole grains ARE good for you and your little one, very good in fact – but here’s the catch – it depends on:
- When you introduce them,
- Which grains you eat, and
- How you prepare them,
Eating unprepared grains, introducing them too soon, or eating gluten-containing grains can have negative health effects.
When to introduce grains.
Many traditional cultures have fed their babies grains before their first birthday – as their first food even – but they were all fermented first.
For the reasons mentioned in my “Rice cereal is (not) the best first food for baby” blog post, it is best to wait until your little one is a year old before introducing grains. At this age, he/she will have more of the amalyse digestive enzyme that is needed to digest grains.
According to The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Childcare by Sally Fallon Morell and Thomas S. Cowan, if there is a history of celiac disease or gluten intolerance in the family, it is best to wait until your little one’s third year before introducing grains.
Which grains to choose
Properly prepared grains are nutritious – they are important sources of many nutrients, including protein, fibre, B vitamins and minerals (iron, magnesium and selenium).
In order to avoid gluten, you need to avoid:
- Oats (unless the oats are certified gluten-free).
See the chapter “Why Not Gluten, Dairy and Sugar?” in my book Mila’s Meals: The Beginning & The Basics for more on why avoiding gluten may be a great decision for you and your little ones.
There are many naturally gluten-free grains to choose from including:
These grains are nutrient-dense, act as antioxidants and, help the body make serotonin, which improves mood while providing a calming, soothing effect on the nervous system.
Whole grains are the hardest food for the human body to digest, and all grains contain anti-nutrients that must be neutralized before cooking. They all have phytic acid that can block the absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc as well as enzyme inhibitors that block the digestive enzymes needed to digest it.
In order to unlock a grain’s nutritional potential, it is necessary to prepare them in a way that makes them more digestible – such as soaking them for 24 hours, fermenting or sprouting them before cooking.
Preparing grains with a dollop of healthy fat (such as ghee or coconut oil) will help the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, iron, B vitamins and the many other vitamins that whole grains provide.
I go into this in more detail in the “Feeding with Awareness” chapter of Mila’s Meals: The Beginning & The Basics…
Enzymes, Nutrients and Anti-nutrients
Digestive enzymes are primarily produced in the pancreas and small intestine. They break down our food into nutrients so that our bodies can absorb them.
A nutrient is a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life.
So what then are anti-nutrients?
As scientific research methods develop, new information on nutrition comes to light that challenges what we have previously held to be true about our food. One of these new pieces of information is that of ‘anti-nutrients’.
Anti-nutrients interfere with the absorption of nutrients and digestion and, irritate the intestinal tract. Whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are all high in anti-nutrients.
But these foods are meant to be good for you – right?
Well yes – if they are correctly prepared, in a way that reduces the anti-nutrients.
Anti-nutrients are part of a seed’s natural system of preservation. Nature has ensured that seeds won’t sprout until the perfect growing conditions exist. Two of these anti-nutrients worth mentioning are Phytic Acid and Enzyme Inhibitors.
Phytic Acid is the storage form of phosphorous – that is, seeds store phosphorus as phytic acid. Grains, nuts and legumes are all seeds and have high levels of phytic acid. So do other edible seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
When phytic acid is bound to a mineral in the seed, it’s known as phytate.
Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient because it binds to essential minerals (such as calcium, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium) in the digestive tract, making them less available to our bodies. Phytates also reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins, and fats.
Enzyme inhibitors are present in seeds to prevent them from developing (sprouting) until there are suitable growing conditions. Unfortunately eating seeds with enzyme inhibitors negatively affects our digestive and metabolic enzymes.
It is not necessary to avoid foods containing phytic acid or enzyme inhibitors, but it is important to prepare them correctly – as our ancestors did. Correct preparation reduces the phytic acid, neutralises the enzyme inhibitors and increases the bio-availability of the nutrients.
Soaking nuts, grains, seeds and legumes
Soaking and fermenting nuts, grains, seeds and legumes is something our grannies (or granny’s granny) did and for good reason. It mimics nature’s ‘perfect sprouting’ conditions by providing moisture, warmth, time and slight acidity. As the seed begins to germinate while soaking, phytic acid is reduced, enzyme inhibitors are neutralised and the production of numerous beneficial enzymes begins. The action of these enzymes increases the amount of vitamins, especially B vitamins. Difficult-to-digest proteins are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption.
How to soak grains and legumes.
Cover with warm water and add one of the following acids: lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, buttermilk, yoghurt, kefir or whey. The ratio of grain to acid should be 2 tablespoons of acid for every 1 cup of grains. Soak for 7 to 24 hours in a warm place. Drain, rinse and cook as usual. Cooking time will be reduced due to the soaking.
How to soak nuts and seeds.
Cover the nuts or seeds with warm water and add sea salt. The ratio of nuts or seeds to salt should be a ½ tablespoon salt for every 2 cups of nuts or seeds. Soak for six to eight hours (or overnight), then drain, rinse and dehydrate or roast.
Dehydrate by placing in a warm oven (no warmer than 65°C/150°F) or dehydrator for 12- 24 hours.
Phytic Acid and tooth decay
If you are thinking that this way of preparing grains is more effort than its worth you may be interested in reading about the link between phytic acid and tooth decay!
As written by Dr. Axe in his post How to Reverse Cavities Naturally & Heal Tooth Decay…
“Phytic acid not only prevents you from absorbing minerals in your food, but it also leaches minerals out of your body, bones and teeth!
Subsequently, the powerful anti-nutritional effects of phytic acid have been known to cause digestive disorders, lack of appetite, nutrient deficiencies and tooth decay. A good rule of thumb is to limit your grain consumption and stay completely clear from unfermented soy products.”
How I wish I had known this before introducing food to Mila – or better yet, before conceiving her. Last year, she had 8 fillings – yes, my sugar-free 4 year-old kid had 8 fillings! More about that in a future blog post on www.milasmeals.co.za …
For more ideas of what to feed when (instead of grains), download the Mila’s Meals Food Introduction Chart.
ABOUT THE BOOK MILA’S MEALS: THE BEGINNING & THE BASICS
Mila’s Meals: The Beginning & The Basics is an award-winning 500-page collection of over 100 gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free nourishing wholefood recipes, food ideas and nutrition information for baby’s first years (and the rest of the family too).
Created, written and published by: Catherine Barnhoorn.
Find out more at www.milasmeals.co.za