By Coach KB
Raw nuts have long been touted as a perfect option for a snack - chock full of nutrients and good fats and fiber. What would you say if I told you that, while that is true, your body cannot actually utilize those nutrients AND you might be depleting existing vital mineral stores in your body by eating the “nutritious” raw nuts. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Since I learned this inconvenient truth I’ve asked a lot of questions, done a lot of research, and compiled the answers to all my questions… and all the ones I’m sure you are asking, too!
QUESTION #1 - What’s in a nut? The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good - Nuts contain mono- and polyunsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and even a little bit of protein. Depending on the nut, they have varying levels of B-vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, selenium, manganese, and copper. Additionally, they contain phytochemicals and plant sterols.
The bad - Raw nuts and seeds contain phytic acid, whose biological purpose is to protect the nut/seed until germination. Lots of animals naturally produce phytase, the enzyme needed to break down phytic acid. Unfortunately, the human-animal is not one of them. When humans consume phytic acid (which is a form of bound phosphorus) it binds to minerals in the gastrointestinal tract, which can contribute to nutritional deficiencies and cause irritation. Nuts also contain enzyme inhibitors which act in the nut to prevent it from sprouting prematurely, but act in humans to bind with minerals and cause digestive strain.
The ugly - Many of the good nutrients contained in nuts and seeds cannot be properly assimilated in the human body when eaten in their raw form. :(
QUESTION #2 - How does soaking nuts help make nuts better for us?
Apparently, all it takes to neutralize the phytates and enzyme inhibitors that make nuts difficult to digest is soaking them in some salt water and then dehydrate them before we consume them. People used to do this all the time but have grown out of the habit as the pressures of time limitations have taken over the health of our lives. (Side-note - soaking is also good for oats and grains; more on this in another post.) Soaking and drying nuts increases the bioavailability of B-vitamins and activates enzymes that help with nutrient absorption.
QUESTION #3 - Okay, how hard is it and will having to soak my nuts ruin my life?
Here’s what I’ve found - it’s really easy and hardly time-consuming - mostly you’ll just be annoyed because you can’t just go to the store and buy a bag of nuts and eat a handful in the car on the way home. Besides how easy it is, it makes it even easier that you soak most all nuts and seeds the same way so you don’t have to look it up every time you want to try it with a different variety. Here’s how it goes:
Submerge raw, unsalted, and preferably organic nuts or seeds in a bowl with filtered water.
Add 1-2 T unrefined salt (if using about 4 C nuts)
Let sit on the counter for 7-8 hours.*
Rinse them to remove the salt residue.
Spread them out in a single layer on the racks of a dehydrator or oven with a temperature setting at 110 F (150 F max!) and dry for 12-24 hours (nuts should be slightly crispy).**
* I soak them while I am at work and then put them in the oven when I get home to dehydrate overnight. Then I have fresh, crisp nuts before I leave in the morning! The only time-consuming part of this process is the length of time it takes to prepare them; the actual time you spend doing anything is less than 5 minutes.
** If you don’t have a dehydrator and your oven temperature doesn’t go that low you should dig out your oven manual and figure out how to down-regulate the base temperature of your oven. Roasting nuts at a higher temperature can denature the nutrients and break down the fats, increasing the free-radical capacity within the nut.
QUESTION #4 - Do I have to do this to all my nuts and seeds?
From what I’ve found in researching this process, it is generally accepted that soaking nuts and seeds makes all varieties more nutritious for us to consume. That said, some varieties hold up better when soaked than others. For example, flax seeds and chia seeds turn kind of gooey in water. (But I love chia seed water! Seriously - put a pitcher of water on your counter at night with the amount of water you need to drink the next day (half your bodyweight in ounces) and throw a big handful of chia seeds in. The next day you will be reminded to drink water throughout the day and look forward to it because it will be like a “bubble tea” treat!) I’ve heard Brazil nuts don’t soak well because of their high fat content… I guess maybe they are more impermeable? I haven’t tried it. You CAN soak peanuts, but I generally stay away from peanuts since they tend to be inflammatory, allergenic, and easily rancidify. Luckily the nuts and seeds that soak really well are the common favs for most people: almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds… Cashews also soak well but have a shorter soaking time and a higher temperature for dehydrating.
QUESTION #5 - I decided to go to happy hour after work… Can you “oversoak” nuts?
With the exception of cashews, not really. Actually, if you are a “go-big-or-go-home” type of person, you might be interested in SPROUTING your nuts and seeds. This takes soaking to a whole new level! You soak, rinse, drain, air-dry, repeat for a few days until an actual sprout grows from the nut (this actually works way better with seeds, legumes, and grains, but you can try it with nuts). Sprouting reduces the enzyme inhibitors like soaking does but it also increases the healthy enzyme content to about six times what soaking does. Raw pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds sprout really well.
QUESTION #6 - What happens if I don’t soak my nuts and seeds?
You die. Kidding. Honestly, while soaking makes the nuts more nutritious for all of us, some of us tolerate raw nuts better than others. If you have an uber-healthy and optimally functional digestive system you can probably tolerate more phytic acid than others might, especially if you eat a varied diet with lots different types of veggies, which can compensate for the enzyme inhibitors in nuts. But if you eat other high-phytate foods like legumes or nut flours (this applies to lots of vegetarians and people eating a gluten free diet) then soaking is probably the best choice. Many people don’t even realize they had a hard time digesting nuts until they switch to soaked ones. If you ever experience any pain in your gut or pieces of nuts in your poop after you eat them, soaking is probably the best choice for you. If you know you are mineral deficient or need more B-vitamins in your diet, you should probably soak your nuts.
Plus, soaking and dehydrating brings out the flavor of the nuts so THEY TASTE AWESOME and they have, in my opinion, a way better texture.
QUESTION #7 - Organic nuts are REALLY expensive… Is it REALLY necessary?
Here’s the deal - we are all doing what we can to be optimally healthy and responsible. Yes, organic nuts are better for more reasons than the health benefits. They support a framework of sustainable agriculture and expose farmworkers to better conditions with fewer toxins. That said, less than 1% of tree-nut farmland in the US is certified organic so they are hard to find and expensive when you do. Some people say that, since the nuts and seeds are contained within a shell or fruit, they are more protected from the dangers of pesticides. Other say that, since nuts and seeds have a higher fat content, they are more likely to absorb the pesticides since toxins are stored in lipids. Additionally, non-organic nuts are often treated with fumigants to kill bugs after they are picked. Hoping that I can say this without sounding preachy, my general thought is that I vote with my dollar. I choose to skimp on other things, especially entertainment, so I can spend my money on the things I think are important. It is not always possible for everyone to buy organic all the time. My rule of thumb is to ALWAY buy organic meats. Then I definitely try to buy organic with the most highly pesticided fruits and vegetables. I really try to buy organic with most things after that but sometimes there is not an option. Do the best you can and decide what is right for you.
QUESTION #8 - I know I will not do this. Can I buy soaked nuts somewhere?
I haven’t tried these products, but they have been recommended to me - Better Than Roasted nuts, seeds, and nut Butters. Their nuts are whole and certified organic, then sorted, soaked, rinsed, and dried at 108 F to preserve temperature-sensitive enzymes and nutrients. They even sprout some of their products. You can get them online at bluemountainorganics.com
Good luck and have fun in the forays of nut-soaking! Feel free to share your experience in the comments or tag @point_kitchen in a post of your process on Instagram!