Should You Be Soaking Your Nuts & Seeds?
Updated: Aug 21, 2018
Regardless of what diet you adhere to, Nuts and Seeds are often considered a great snack or addition to any meal. Both nuts and seeds are full of healthy fats and some proteins and are not only really convenient to eat but also keep you full for ages.
But this where things get interesting...
In order for nuts and seeds (as well as, grains and legumes) to survive and thrive, nature has placed anti-nutrients on them that can only be removed when wet. This is so when rain comes along, the nut or seed can begin to germinate and sustain a whole new plant of it. These toxic substances can be removed naturally, as mentioned above, but prior to removal make nuts and seeds hard on our digestive systems and absorption of their nutrients near impossible.
These anti-nutrients are: phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.
What are Phytic Acid and Enzyme Inhibitors?
All nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes contain phytic acid in the their outer later, which is necessary for the plant's survival by safeguarding it until the perfect wet and warm growing condition is present for germination. For us, however, its a problem because it can bind to minerals like magnesium, calcium, chromium, manganese, and especially iron, within the digestive tract, blocking their absorption.
Phytase is an enzyme that helps break down phytates (phytic acid when binded with minerals). Some animals have enough of this enzyme. We, humans, do not.
Enzyme inhibitors ensure that premature germination will not take place and may clog up the active site of an enzyme leaving it non-functional.
You should know that nuts and seeds contain more enzyme inhibitors and less phytic acid while grains and legumes contain the opposite ratio.
Why does this matter?
This is the ultimate question, isn't it?
Consuming 'untreated' nuts and seeds impairs our ability to absorb the minerals causing mineral deficiency and even bone loss. All the while, enzyme inhibitors force our digestive systems to work much harder to break down this food. Eventually, the combination of these two leads to an impaired digestive system.
According to Wellness Mama, "Modern diets high in processed grains and low in nutrient dense fats and minerals may increase the likelihood of nutrient absorption problems and make it even more important to reduce phytic acid levels in food."
In other words, its the dose that counts. If you eat a lot of nuts/seeds and/or the standard american diet devoid of nutrients and fibers, soaking may be of extra benefit to you.
Why should I soak my nuts and seeds?
Soaking nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes mimics the wet environment perfect for germination. Soaking can help:
Remove or reduce phytic acid
Neutralize the enzyme inhibitors
Encourage production of beneficial enzymes
Make nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains more easy to digest
Increase the amounts of vitamins, especially B
Make the proteins more available for absorption.
Prevent mineral deficiencies and bone loss.
Neutralize toxins in the colon and keep the colon clean.
Prevent many health diseases and conditions.
Another word used when referring to soaked nuts is 'activated' nuts. When shopping in health food stores, look for the word 'activated' when looking for nut/seed products - like nut/seed butters, granola, etc. - that have been soaked and sprouted.
How do I soak my nuts and seeds?
Some will say to use brined (salt) water, while others recommend acidic water (using lemon or yoghurt). Mostly, I just use regular warm water, however, after quite a bit of research I'm keen on experimenting with salt water.
From my research, this is what i've concluded: warm water neurtalizes the enzyme inhibitors and makes the nutrients, especially b-vitamins, more bioavailable. The addition of salt helps activate enzymes that deactivate enzyme inhibitors, while the addition of an acid neutralizes phytic acid.
Since nuts/seeds are higher in Enzyme inhibitors, I recommend warm salt water.
Obviously, dehydrating the nuts and seeds will make them soggy and wet. (If you make nut/seed milks at home, the soggy ones are the perfect consistency for that so do it now). Although some people don't mind eating them like this, many others (myself included) prefer them dry and crispy. In order to dry them out without overheating, which would destroy many nutrients and vitamins we just worked so hard to make available, place the nuts/seeds in a dehydrator or oven set to a very low temp (130-150°F).
Since each nut/seed is different, each one requires different treatment. For exact measurments and soaking times, please refer to my soaking guide below.
Place each variety of nuts in a separate pot or large bowl with 2 – 3 tablespoons of sea salt that is dissolved in water
Soak for 8 – 12 hours
Drain nuts and rinse under water before shaking the excess water out
Place each variety of nuts on separate dehydrator (or oven) sheets
Dry at 135º F for 12 – 14 hours of until they are crispy and dry
I believe (as in this isn't science backed but purely intuitive) that some soaking is better than no soaking at all. Sometimes, I really need nuts/seeds for a recipe but don't have enough time to follow my guide exactly. In such cases, I'll soak them for as long as I can.
PS: I like to take the same approach with other areas of life, as well. Like exercise, for example, sometimes I won't have a 60 min for a full yoga practice but I still do it, even if only for 20 minutes but some is better than none at all.
Hope this guide has opened your eyes to the benefits of soaking your nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains and helped with how to make it a regular practice in your life.
Let me know if you have any questions below :)