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Enzyme Inhibitors: Public Enemy #1

I sometimes debate about the relative badness of various nutritional enemies, but there are a couple that generally tie for the top, and they would be Sugar and Enzyme Inhibitors. Both are extremely damaging, one of them we know is bad for us but are addicted to anyway, and the other one most people don't even know about. So by way of introduction, here's a little bit about those nefarious and unfamiliar enemies called enzyme inhibitors.

Several years ago we started to get frustrated with dental health. It seemed like every time we went to the dentist there was another filling that had failed, or a crown that needed to be done, or receding gums, etc., etc., and we started to think, "isn't there some way to stop this?" As we did research, the pervasive message was "grains are evil!" They rot your teeth, make you fat, cause gluten intolerance, clog up your system, etc., etc., and there was a lot of scientific evidence to back up all of the claims. The only problem was we were also basing our diet structuring and choices on the Lord's guidance in the Word of Wisdom. There He says "All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;" and again a verse or so later "All grain is good for the food of man." (Doctrine and Covenants 89: 14, 16). Hmmmmm! So either the science is wrong or the Lord is wrong, or we are all just divinely destined to support the dental industry...or maybe there is a way to balance it all.

We kept doing research and this is what we learned. Grains really are the perfect storage food: they're packed full of nutrients, they maintain their nutrient content over a very long period of time, they store well without much effort, etc., etc. Unfortunately for us, they store so well for a reason: The outer layers of any grain or seed is loaded with enzyme inhibitors (in grains it's generally phytic acid). The enzyme inhibitors play a vital role for the seed since they lock down nutrients until the conditions are right for germination. That way the seed stays viable over a long period of time. The problem is if you consume the grain with its load of inhibitors fully active, they make the grain's nutrient unavailable to your body and your body has to neutralize the inhibitors, which it does by pulling resources from other parts of the body (calcium from your bones and teeth, for example). Over time, that process of constantly neutralizing toxins puts too great a strain on the system and, voila, what you get is grain sensitivity, gluten intolerance, weight gain, failing teeth, etc., etc.

The nice thing is, IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY! Turns out all you have to do to get rid of the inhibitors and free up the nutrients is, drum roll please, mimic germination. Provide moisture, a little warmth and time, and the inhibitors will be gone. Interestingly enough traditional cultures did just that. Prior to the advent of quick rise yeast, traditional cultures ate long fermented sourdough breads, fermented breakfast porridges, fermented rice dishes, sprouted grain breads, and the list goes on. Look up any traditional culture and you'll find a plethora of fermented grain dishes. The process of fermentation neutralizes enzyme inhibitors.

I was recently asked "if all this sourdough stuff is the answer to our grain problems, why do we keep making other bread?" I answered that I thought it was a question of economics, but I think that is actually only partially true. Initially, our ancestors operated according to traditional heritage, but without any understanding of why: it was just what their grandmother's did. So when the labor and time saving miracle of quick rise yeast became available, it was a no brainer. Unfortunately, they didn't know what they were sacrificing. Over time the knowledge about those traditional practices faded away, and so now that we have the scientific understanding about why they were important, our ability to return to them has been inhibited. Additionally, returning to those more time intensive traditions requires some changes in our own busy lives. For commercial producers, it means a huge shift in production and pricing (hence my economics answer earlier): if it is going to take you 24 hours to make a loaf of bread instead of 30 minutes, you have to charge a lot more for it and your customer base is much smaller. I guess the risk for big producers is that sticking with the standard inhibitor loaded products may cost you your entire customer base over time as people develop sensitivities. Maybe it would be better to reeducate and retool sooner rather than later.

The positive thing is that it is possible to make the changes, it doesn't have to be too incredibly painful, and it doesn't have to happen overnight. Start small and then add on. Here are a few things to start with:

  • Soak your oatmeal -- if you want to have oatmeal in the morning, start it soaking the night before in half of its water. Believe me it makes a big difference.

  • Buy long fermentation sourdough bread instead of normal bread -- a quick trick: read on the ingredient list and if it has yeast as an ingredient, it's not been fermented a long time, it's just regular bread with sourdough start added for flavoring.

  • Get a sourdough start and experiment -- check out our Grains Library for start sources.

  • Try sprouting some grain and then throw it in your soup or dehydrate it, grind it, and make some muffins -- In our Soaking and Sprouting Guide we've consolidated a bunch of information from the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institite in Puerto Rico, and Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel on how to treat different kinds of seeds.

  • Buy or borrow Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions -- this book has lots of great traditional grain recipes.

In the beginning it will be challenging, but after awhile you'll get the hang of it and it will all seem much more natural. You'll also be pleasantly surprised at dental checkups and your belly will be much happier. Wahooo!

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