The Truth About Overnight Oats

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What's wrong with overnight oats, and how to prepare them in the most nutritious way. Recipe included! By Marisa Moon of My Longevity Kitchen

Somebody got this trend all wrong. 

Well, not ALL wrong…but they messed up the only step in the recipe!  We shouldn’t be soaking our overnight oats in the refrigerator, we should be soaking them with warm water, at room temperature—or even warmer.  And would you believe that cooking the oats afterwards actually makes them even MORE nutritious.  This is not a food you want to eat raw.  Let me break down the basics for you…

Our ancestors ate whole grains after soaking them or fermenting them.  Over time they figured out that this was how grains needed to be prepared—in order to avoid illness.  It was probably thanks to serendipity that they figured this out back then because there weren’t any refrigerators…food was just left out.  But as generations passed, and food culture diminished, we have been hastily preparing our grains…and we’ve even gone as far as thinking they are best uncooked!  This is flat out wrong.  

Did you know that the oatmeal box, back in the day, used to say “soak overnight” in the directions?  What happened to that?

You see, all grains contain something called “phytic acid”—or phytates—in the outer layer or bran, and oats contain more phytates than almost any other grain.  So, if this phytic acid is untreated, it will combine with important minerals in our body and block their absorption.  I’m talking about calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.  We need these minerals, and our food supply is providing less and less of them because of modern farming methods.  We should take every precaution to protect the minerals that are still available to us.  Regular consumption of improperly prepared grains (also legumes, and nuts) can lead to mineral deficiencies, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, bone loss, food allergies, and even mental illness.  

Go Raw brand chart why to soak/sprout seeds
Illustration by Go Raw and EatDrinkShrink.com

So what’s the proper way to prepare these grains? 

The process is simple really.  All we need to do is soak the whole grains overnight at room temperature, or even warmer!  It helps tremendously if you add an acid starter like liquid whey, kefir, yogurt, or even lemon juice.  Allow the natural enzymes and other helpful organisms to begin fermenting the grains, for 7-24 hours, and this will neutralize a large portion of the phytic acid.  Soaking in warm, acidic or cultured water not only gets rid of this mineral-blocking substance, but it also releases all of the vitamins in grains, and encourages more healthy digestion by partially breaking down some of the proteins (like gluten).  Win Win, all around!  Finish your oatmeal by cooking for a quick 5-10 minutes (more on that in the recipe at the end of this post). 

The Truth About Overnight Oats
Pouring liquid whey into my soaking oats

Spread the word to those we care about.  

Oatmeal is one of those things that people eat habitually…every single morning.  That’s why it’s important to spread the word.  Although I do not usually consume oatmeal, or most grains, I felt the need to focus on this recipe because many of my closest friends and family are enjoying oatmeal on a regular basis.  My goal with My Longevity Kitchen is to help explain how we can maximize the nutrients in our food, and minimize toxins.  And my passion lies in the ways of our ancestors, and their time-honored traditional cooking methods.  Oatmeal can be nutritious, or quite the opposite.  I hope you’ve learned a thing or two on how to make it truly nourishing.   Here are some more tips for you, and the recipe!

A nourishing recipe for properly prepared overnight oats with cinnamon, banana, and pecans. By Marisa Moon of My Longevity Kitchen

More Tips on Oats:

  • Always eat your oats and grains with a healthy fat like grass-fed butter, grass-fed cream, coconut milk, or coconut oil.  The fats are necessary for us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in grains.  
  • Never buy your cracked or rolled oats in the bulk bin.  You want them in a sealed package so the oils don’t go rancid and cause free radicals in the body. 
  • It is a tremendous help to use a probiotic-rich liquid like whey (the liquid on top of your plain yogurt), buttermilk, whole-milk plain yogurt, whole-milk kefir, coconut kefir, when soaking your oats.  This helps break down the phytic acid the most (and it also inhibits any harmful bacteria from growing).  If you are completely against dairy, or don’t have any on hand, then you can try another acidic medium like lemon or apple cider vinegar, but you probably should be adding another gluten-free grain like buckwheat groats (not actually a grain, but it is Gluten Free) because it helps to break down phytic acid in those stubborn oats (more on this here).  These soaking methods will encourage the beneficial bacteria, enzymatic release, and proper breakdown of those stingy phytates in grains.  That is why you’ll see this recipe recommends adding up to 2 Tablespoons of such liquid while soaking.   

More about Liquid Whey:

  • “Acid” Whey, a byproduct from making unripened fresh cheeses, has been prescribed for an assortment of human ailments, even by Hippocrates himself in 460 BC.   Cool, huh?  Throughout the middle ages doctors continued to prescribe whey so much that “whey houses” were popping up all over western Europe.  They treated everything from arthritis to anemia, with whey.  Whoa.  
  • Whey supplies lactobacilli, which are important probiotics.  The homemade stuff has many uses including making facto-fermented vegetables like when pickling and making sauerkraut.  It’s also used in condiments or beverages like kefir and cultured mayonnaise, or when soaking and sprouting nuts or grains, like we are here.  The lactic acid in the whey helps break down the stubborn grains.  Traditional uses even include adding whey to sauces and soups; if you don’t cook/reheat the soup after adding, you’ll get the enzymatic benefits which help with digestion and nutrient availability.  
Whey making with muslin
Making Whey. Photo: Andy Ciordia

Make Your Own Whey (Easily):

  1. Get thee to the grocery store for some quality, plain, full fat yogurt.  Seek out brands that have active cultures (the label should say somewhere that it has lactobacillus or “live active cultures”), are organic, made from the milk of pasture-raised cow, goat, or sheep; and non-homogenized (this means there’s less processing and the cream rises to the top— like it’s supposed to).  
  2. Line a mesh strainer with a thin dish towel, or muslin if you’re lucky enough to have it (or 4+ layers cheesecloth should work), and place it over a bowl to rest.  Add the plain yogurt and let it sit at room temperature for 5 hours.  You’ll notice the (acid) whey is dripping into the bowl, like the photo above.  
  3. Next, gently gather the ends of your cloth, without squeezing, and tie it around a wooden spoon so it can hang over the top of the bowl and drip even more whey (you might use a pitcher instead of the bowl at this point because the sack will hang too low).  Usually you’d just leave it like this overnight to get the most whey out of it, but you can stop any time.  I’ve tied the cloth on a high oven rack before and left it in the oven to drip into a bowl on the lower rack.  Some people tie the sack on the faucet head and let it drip into a bowl in the sink.  Now you have plenty of whey which will keep in a glass jar, in the fridge, for 6 months.  Bonus: the cheese left behind is basically like cream cheese, perfect for dips or spreads, and will keep for a month when refrigerated.  

Want to learn more about phytic acid, traditional methods, and soaking grains?  

My biggest inspiration thus far is the cookbook called Nourishing Traditions.  You should check it out if this topic of traditional food preparations interests you.

Tons of info here on phytic acid and soaking grains.

“The Whey Prescription”, A Summary

Scientific Studies:

The importance of lactic acid bacteria for phytate degradation during cereal dough fermentation.

Effects of soaking, germination and fermentation on phytic acid, total and in vitro soluble zinc in brown rice

Degradation of phytic acid in cereal porridges improves iron absorption by human subjects

Nourishing Overnight Oats with Cinnamon, Banana, and Pecans
Serves 2
Traditionally prepared, overnight oats topped with healthy fats and crunchy pecans. With a thoughtful soaking session, and the proper ingredients, this porridge-style oatmeal can be a healthful addition to your family table. The combination of salty and sweet reminds me of the hot breakfast cereal I ate growing up.
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Prep Time
24 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
24 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 Cup gluten-free ROLLED OATS
  2. 1 Cup WARM FILTERED WATER
  3. 2 Tablespoons ACID WHEY or 1.5 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (see notes for info and substitutions)
  4. 1/2 teaspoon FINE SEA SALT
  5. 2 Tablespoons of Unsalted GRASS-FED BUTTER (or coconut cream, coconut oil)
  6. 1/2 Cup crushed PECANS
  7. 1 BANANA
  8. CINNAMON
Instructions
  1. Pour 1 cup of OATS in a glass bowl, and stir in 1 cup of warm FILTERED WATER, and 2 Tablespoons of acid WHEY (or 1.5 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar). Cover and leave overnight in the oven or a cabinet. Allow to soak for at least 7 hours and up to 24 hours.
  2. Optional Step (for changes in flavor): Pour soaked oats into a mesh strainer and rinse with water.
  3. Pour your soaked oats into a non-stick pot, with 1 cup of FILTERED WATER, and 1/2 teaspoon of FINE SEA SALT. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, COVER and turn heat to LOW to finish cooking for 5 more minutes.
  4. Portion into two bowls (or save some for later, in the refrigerator, for up to a week). Top each portion with 1 Tablespoon of unsalted GRASS-FED BUTTER (or coconut cream/oil), 1/2 sliced banana, 1/4 cup crushed pecans, and plenty of cinnamon. See notes for recommended sweeteners.
Notes
  1. WHEY: This is the liquid on top of plain, full fat yogurt. Large tubs of yogurt have about 2 Tablespoons of whey floating on top which you can just pour out and use for this recipe. See the info in this post on how to make your own whey and store it for 6 months! You may also use Kefir or Buttermilk, but the nutritional benefits are superior with whey. You can even just use the plain yogurt. A good non-dairy alternative that is also convenient is Lemon Juice or Apple Cider Vinegar.
  2. SWEETENERS: I think the banana slices are enough for a sweetener. If you need more sweetness, try sprinkling some erythritol, munk fruit sweetener, or xylitol on your oatmeal. We do love the addition of raw honey or maple syrup, but prefer not to use these sugary toppings since the oatmeal is already high in carbohydrates.
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions
My Longevity Kitchen http://mylongevitykitchen.com/

21 Responses

    1. Hi Amanda,
      You’ll notice when you soak them, the liquid is compltely absorbed by the oats. Feel free to rinse if you wish, but there’s no need to (and possibly benefits when avoiding the rinse). Enjoy!

  1. Hey mind explaining why it shouldn’t be in the refrigerator? You kinda only explained what soaking in room temperature does :).
    Also, won’t milk go bad overnight in room temperature? I’m quite scared of getting food poisoning.
    I noticed as I soak my oats longer there seems to be a layer of sticky substance above the milk, do you know what that is too? thanks alot!

    1. Hi there Pamela, I had the same questions myself a while back before getting into fermented and cultured foods. Milk has to be refrigerated only so it doesn’t spoil, but when milk spoils it’s actually going “sour” like the expression implies. The bacteria in the milk starts to breakdown the lactose (sugars) and releases a byproduct called lactic acid. This is the good stuff! This process is old-school buttermilk…milk that’s gone sour or allowed to ferment. Either way, just to clarify, my recipe is calling for yogurt or the liquid from your yogurt (lactic acid whey), or acid like lemon juice/apple cider vinegar. By using these already cultured ingredients you are jump-starting the process of good bacteria. And yes, the result is sticky…even slimy and a film is formed on top. This is good! I hope this information helps you understand a little more about this old-fashioned, safe, and natural process. These are the type of bugs that have the ability to protect you from food poisoning or other bad bacteria. Enjoy!

  2. I’m just wondering since yogurt and milk have to be refrigerated, how do they not go bad overnight when left out for several hours?

    1. That’s a great question! The good bacteria in the yogurt are thriving when left out with “food” to eat like oatmeal. So in this case, instead of spoiling, they are fermenting; and the good bacteria are multiplying. Does that make sense?

  3. Well I have one more question to do with cooking oats. I like to meal prep (24hr in advanced) and I have just started cooking them in the microwave for 2 to 2:30min. Is this ok or should I cook it a bit longer in a pan.

    Sub question (needn’t be answered): Do I need to soak steel cut oats.

    1. I know it’s a tough adjustment to make, but I highly recommend heating the oats on the stovetop (or even in the oven around 200F if you don’t want to tend to it). The microwave destroys nutrients, so what’s the point of trying to make a nutritious meal if we damage it in the microwave?

      I don’t know enough about steel cut oats to be sure, but I do understand that they are not processed as much as rolled oats which means they will be harder to break down when soaking, cooking, and digesting. I recommend a 24 hour soak and cooking until very soft.

      1. Thanks for the reply. That’s a great idea about heating in the oven, I can put them in go for 20-30 min run then it should be good by the time I return — all good things take time.

    1. Hi Anton,

      Greek Yogurt is similar to regular yogurt, but it has even more of the “whey” removed…which is why it is thicker. The whey is really what does the magic here, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work; there’s still some whey left in that greek yogurt or it would be cheese! I think you should try it and see how you like it. Otherwise just use a little lemon juice or vinegar and you’re good to go.

      1. Thanks I will. I have been using cyder vinegar for a while and putting it in the fridge. I tried microwaving some for breakfast the other day a felt really good in comparison with eating it cold. Thanks for the info.

  4. Wow Marisa, thanks for the audio version!
    That is so awesome, what a time saver, and you are enjoyable to listen too.
    That is eye opening about soaking grains and acids. Your mission is admirable and inspiring as I look to improve my nutrition.

  5. Great post! I just started eating overnight oatmeal, and I’m going to have to start adding in some whey or yogurt! I also soak rolled oats overnight in some almond milk, and I eat it cold like muesli. I don’t cook it in the morning. Should I?

    1. Hi Jim, Thank you! That muesli style oatmeal sounds great. I would suggest you add 2 Tablespoons of a plain almond milk yogurt (I buy a brand called Kite Hill) to your soaking liquid; check to be sure the one you buy has live cultures on the ingredient list. Then, if you don’t cook it there will still be less phytic acid and more breakdown of the outer bran. If you eat it regularly, like more than twice a week, or eat grains and legumes daily, then I suggest you cook it in the morning too. Just cook it all at once and save the leftovers for the cold version. I hope this helps!

      1. Thanks Marisa. I’m off to Whole Foods so I’ll look for that yogurt. I’ve been eating that muesli or overnight oatmeal for breakfast for a couple of weeks now to see how it makes me feel. So far so good! I could totally cook it too. I cook the oatmeal in the morning, and I use steel cut oats. For some reason, I don’t cook the rolled oats I use for muesli. Go figure. Should probably just cook both 🙂

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