Soak your nuts for extra goodness
Nuts and seeds can be a great nutrient-dense snack or addition to a meal, but they can also contain substances that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Grains and legumes have the same problem, and just as soaking, sprouting or fermenting grains reduces their anti-nutrient content and makes them more beneficial to the body, so too can the simple process of soaking nuts improve their nutrition.
Raw nuts, and especially raw seeds, have moderate levels of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Phytic acid is necessary for the plant’s life cycle because it helps safeguard the nut or seed until it has the necessary growing conditions and it can germinate.
But while the enzyme inhibitors keep seeds from sprouting too soon, they aren’t helpful for people eating them, as they can bind to nutrients in the body, contributing to nutrient deficiencies and irritation in the digestive system.
Phosphorus is vital for cell energy and it is stored by seeds and nuts as phytic acid, which becomes a phytate when it binds to a mineral. If this process happens in the body, it can stop nutrients from being absorbed and reduce digestibility.
All plants contain phytic acid but grains, legumes, nuts and seeds typically contain the highest levels.
Phytic acid isn’t all bad and there is research suggesting it may have a protective effect in the body, although research also suggests that to access the benefits of phytic acid, it needs to be balanced by certain fatsoluble vitamins and other nutrients. Modern diets are often high in processed grains and low in nutrient-dense fats and minerals.
To reduce the phytic acid and increase availability of nutrients, seeds and nuts can be treated by soaking and dehydrating. This is most important for young children, who are still developing the enzymes needed to break down these plant foods.
Treatment requires only warm water and salt – about 1-2 tablespoon of salt for four cups of water.
The warm water neutralises many of the enzyme inhibitors and increases the bioavailability of many nutrients, especially B vitamins. The salt helps activate those enzymes that deactivate the enzyme inhibitors in nuts.
Grains and beans may require a more acidic solution, but since nuts and seeds contain less phytic acid than legumes and more enzyme inhibitors, salt is recommended.
Within about seven hours, many of the enzyme inhibitors will be broken down.
A dehydrator can then be used to bring back a crisp texture. This may take up to 24 hours. Be sure to dry the nuts well, to avoid mould.
If you plan to make ‘‘milk’’ with the nuts, you can do it while they are already softened.
Sprouting takes the process a step further by reducing enzyme inhibitors even more. Raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds are considered the best candidates for sprouting; simply rinse after a soak and put in normal sprouting conditions.
Not all nuts and seeds soak well, though; flax and chia seeds tending to gel.
However, there is an additional bonus: many say nuts and seeds become even tastier.