Do you know why you should soak and dehydrate your nuts and seeds before you eat them? If not, you need to read this post. In this post I explain why you should soak and dehydrate your nuts and seeds (and how to do it) to not only improve digestion, but also improve your absorption and utilization of vitamins and minerals.
Do you soak and dehydrate your nuts and seeds before you eat them? If not, you really should be, and here's why: a little thing called phytic acid.
Phytic acid is the main storage form of phosphorus in many plant tissues, especially the bran portion of grains and seeds. It contains the mineral phosphorus tightly bound in a snowflake-like molecule. In humans, the phosphorus is not readily available because of this blockage by phytic acid.
In addition to blocking phosphorus availability, the snowflake "arms” of the phytic acid molecule readily bind with other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable as well.
Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals, but it also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of protein, and amylase, which is needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytic acid.
Phytic acid is present in beans, seeds, nuts, and grains—especially in the bran or outer hull portion. Seeds and bran are the highest sources of phytates. In general, nuts contain levels of phytic acid equal to or sometimes even higher than those of grains. Phytates are also found in tubers, and trace amounts are found in certain fruits and vegetables including berries and green beans. Raw, unfermented cocoa beans and cocoa powder are also very high in phytates.
Up to 80% of the phosphorus present in grains, which is an important mineral for bones and overall health, is locked into an unusable form as phytate. When a diet including more than small amounts of phytate is consumed, the body will bind calcium to phytic acid and form insoluble phytate complexes. The result is that you lose calcium, and don’t absorb phosphorus. Research suggests that we absorb approximately 20% more zinc and 60% more magnesium from our food when phytate is absent. In other words, removing phytate is important to help us increase vitamin and mineral absorption.
High phytate diets can result in mineral deficiencies. In populations where cereal grains provide a major source of calories, rickets and osteoporosis are more common. Additionally, the zinc and iron blocking effects of phytic acid can be just as serious as the calcium blocking effects. Adults can usually get by for many years on high phytate diets given their stores of vitamins and minerals, but growing children can run into problems. In a phytate rich diet, their bodies can suffer from the lack of calcium and phosphorus with poor bone growth, short stature, rickets, narrow jaws and tooth decay. They may also develop anemia and decreased mental functioning due to the lack of zinc and iron.
The detrimental health effects of phytic acid have been known for many years. As early as 1949 experiments showed that consumption of high phytate cereal grains interfered with bone growth and interrupted vitamin D metabolism. High levels of phytic acid in the context of a diet low in calcium and vitamin D resulted in rickets and a severe lack of bone formation. It has also been shown that excessive phytic acid consumption decreases vitamin D stores.
Interestingly, unbleached flour and white rice are less anti-calcifying than whole grains that contain more minerals but are higher in phytic acid. Experiments have shown that while whole grains contain more minerals, in the end equal or lower amounts of minerals are actually absorbed compared to white rice and white flour due to the higher phytic acid levels. So don't fall for the commercials claiming that whole grains are a good source of vitamins and minerals. They aren't!
Phytase is the enzyme that neutralizes phytic acid and liberates the phosphorus. This enzyme co-exists in plant foods that contain phytic acid. Unfortunately, most humans do not produce enough phytase to safely consume large amounts of high phytate foods on a regular basis. However, the probiotic lactobacilli, and other bacterial species of digestive microflora are able to produce phytase (how cool is that?). Therefore, people with healthy intestinal flora will have an easier time digesting foods with phytic acid than those with unbalanced or unhealthy microflora. This is just another reason why gut health is so important to overall health.
To help maintain optimal health and proper vitamin and mineral levels, phytates should be lowered as much as possible, ideally to 25 milligrams or less per 100 grams or to about .03 percent of the phytate-containing food eaten. At this level, vitamin and mineral losses are minimized.
On a positive note, there is a way to decrease the phytates in nuts, seeds and grains so that you can still enjoy these delicious foods without the detrimental health effects. Evidence has shown that soaking nuts, grains and seeds for several hours, dehydrating them at very low temperatures and then roasting or cooking them eliminates a large portion of phytates. Sprouting also activates phytase, thus reducing phytic acid even more.
Another issue with nuts is the high amount of enzyme inhibitors they contain. These enzymes are useful to seeds and nuts because they prevent them from sprouting prematurely, but they can be very hard on the digestive system. Soaking nuts in warm water will help neutralize these enzyme inhibitors, and also helps encourage the production of beneficial enzymes. These enzymes, in turn, increase many vitamins, especially B vitamins. It also makes the nuts much easier to digest and the nutrients more easily absorbed.
So, now that we have learned why it is so important to soak and dehydrate your nuts and seeds I am going to show you exactly how to do this. I personally don't eat grains (you can read why in my post Why Grains Are Not Healthy), but if you are interested in learning how to soak and prepare them for easier digestion The Weston A Price Foundation is a great place to find this information. In order to properly soak and dehydrate your nuts and seeds you will need a dehydrator. I personally use and love this Excalibur one. It was such a good investment and I have not had any problems with it.
I have also created a handy printable guide for you to have on hand that explains how to soak and dehydrate all your different nuts and seeds. You can grab your copy by leaving your email address below.
How to Soak And Dehydrate Nuts and Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)
Soak 4 cups raw pumpkin seeds in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Drain and rinse. If desired, sprinkle with seasonings such as salt and honey before placing in your dehydrator. Dehydrate at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally, until dry and crisp.
Soak 4 cups sunflower seeds in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours. Rinse and dehydrate at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally, until crisp.
Pecans and Walnuts
Soak 4 cups pecans or walnuts in warm, filtered water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Rinse and place in your dehydrator at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally, until dry and crisp.
Pecans can be stored in an airtight container, but walnuts are more susceptible to become rancid so should always be stores in the refrigerator.
Pine Nuts and Hazelnuts (Skinless)
Soak 4 cups of raw nuts in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for at least 7 hours, or overnight. Rinse, and then place in your dehydrator and dehydrate at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, until dry and crisp.
Soak 4 cups almonds in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Rinse, place in your dehydrator, sprinkle with salt/honey/other spices if desired and dehydrate at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally, until dry and crisp.
* You can also use slivered almonds
Soak 4 cups cashews in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for no more than 6 hours (I prefer 4 hours). Rinse, and place them on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake at 200-250F for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally, until crisp.
Note: Some care must be taken in preparing cashews. They will become slimy and develop a disagreeable taste if allowed to soak too long or dry out too slowly, perhaps because they come to us not truly raw but having already undergone two separate heatings. You may dry them in a 200 to 250 degree oven-the enzymes have already been destroyed during processing.
Soak 4 cups of raw macadamia nuts in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for at least 7 hours, or overnight. Dehydrate at 105-150F for 12-24 hours, until dry and crisp.