How and Why to Soak Nuts and Seeds to Get the Most Health Benefits
By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
August 12th, 2019
Whether you prefer cashews over almonds or hazelnuts over walnuts, when you eat a handful of nuts and seeds, you’re doing your body a lot of good. As small as they are, nuts and seeds pack a serious nutritional punch.
Loaded with heart-healthy fats, antioxidants, and a boost of fiber, a little goes a long way. But here’s the catch: Along with all their health benefits, they also contain “antinutrients,” which in large amounts can be harmful to your health.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to soak your nuts and seeds before consuming them. Here, you’ll find out the health benefits of soaking nuts and seeds, how to soak them, and the best nuts and seeds to soak. Let’s get to it!
Antinutrients Affect the Health Benefits of Nuts and Seeds
If you’ve ever felt bloated, gassy, or uncomfortable after eating nuts, you’re in good company, unfortunately.
Many of us suffer from digestive issues when we eat nuts and seeds that haven’t been soaked. This is because our bodies aren’t equipped to break down antinutrients like the phytic acid found in nuts and seeds.1 Even if you don’t have the same level of digestive sensitivity to nuts and seeds as others do, you’re still missing out on a lot of their nutritional potential if you don’t soak them first.
Soaking nuts and seeds before consuming them helps to break down their antinutrients. This makes nuts and seeds easier on the belly and helps increase their nutrient bioavailability.2
If you regularly eat large amounts of antinutrient rich foods, like nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, they can actually leave you deficient in essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Many traditional cultures have used soaking to prepare their nuts and seeds because this time-honored process has many benefits. They often do this by soaking in seawater then drying the nuts and seeds in the sun. We can learn a lot about living well from traditional cultures, and now we have the research that shows the effectiveness of this process.3
Nuts and seeds contain a lot of good-for-you nutrients. Yet your body needs to be able to access these nutrients for them to do you any good. The process of soaking nuts and seeds helps by reducing phytic acid and neutralizing enzyme inhibitors.
How Phytic Acid in Nuts and Seeds Affects Digestion
Phytic acid is an antinutrient in nuts and seeds protecting them from pests and harsh weather conditions.
Also called phytate, phytic acid prevents nuts and seeds from germinating before growing conditions are just right. Unfortunately, it also prevents your body’s ability to absorb a lot of the nutrients found in nuts and seeds.
Phytic acid basically puts a lock on nutrients – especially iron and zinc – making them unavailable to our bodies.4 And, as nature would have it, our bodies don’t hold the key – otherwise known as phytase – to unlock these beneficial nutrients.5
Phytase is an enzyme in nuts and seeds that breaks down indigestible phosphorus. And, phytic acid is indigestible phosphorus. Bound up inside the phytic acid molecule are nutrients like iron, calcium, and magnesium.6
When you soak your nuts and seeds, you activate the enzyme phytase. Phytase works by freeing these bound nutrients making them available for your body to use. Too many bound minerals can lead to mineral deficiencies.7
I know it probably sounds like it, but phytic acid isn’t actually all bad in the right amount. For example, phytic acid is also an antioxidant. Studies show it can lower your risk of colon cancer and other inflammatory bowel diseases.8 When it comes to phytic acid, it seems the dose makes the poison.
You don’t need to completely cut phytic acid from your diet. Just become more mindful of the foods that contain phytic acid so that you’re aware of how much you’re consuming.
How Enzyme Inhibitors in Nuts and Seeds Affect Digestion
Besides putting beneficial nutrients on lockdown, phytic acid inhibits digestive enzymes in nuts and seeds. The three main enzymes in nuts and seeds are:9
- Pepsin: breaks down proteins into peptides in the stomach
- Amylase: breaks down starch into simple sugar
- Trypsin: further digests protein in the small intestine
You need these enzymes to digest nuts and seeds. Enzymes are responsible for breaking down protein, fat, and carbohydrates in the foods we eat. Your body literally wouldn’t work the way it’s designed without them.
If your body is unable to access digestive enzymes, even a balanced diet full of healthy foods can eventually become deficient in essential nutrients.
Nuts and seeds come with the right amount of enzymes needed for you to digest them. However, because enzymes are unstable, they’re bound inside nuts and seeds until it’s time to germinate and then they’re released.
Luckily there’s a simple method that essentially tricks nuts and seeds into thinking conditions are right to begin germination – soaking them in water.
How to Soak Nuts and Seeds
Soaking nuts and seeds in water with sea salt and dehydrating them at a low temperature is an effective way to remove some of their phytic acid. The combination of salt and heat work together to break down these tricky-to-digest compounds.
Although there are many different kinds of nuts and seeds, the soaking process is the same for each of them. Only the amount of time will vary.
Here are the basic directions on how to soak your nuts and seeds:10,11,12
- Rinse off about 4 cups of raw, organic nuts or seeds –
not previously blanched or roasted – with purified water.
- Place your nuts or seeds in a glass or ceramic bowl with enough purified water to completely cover them.
- Add about 2 teaspoons of sea salt –
this step is important to help neutralize enzymes.
- Cover the bowl with a breathable cloth and let sit on the counter (soaking times below).
- When finished soaking, drain the water and rinse several times.
- Dry in the oven or use a dehydrator until completely dry.
Dehydrating Nuts and Seeds
Once you’ve drained and rinsed your soaked nuts and seeds, you’ll want to dehydrate them. Simply put them in your dehydrator or oven at the lowest temperature. Ideally between 95-150 degrees Fahrenheit, until they’re completely dry.
If you use your oven, line your baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. You could also add a little sea salt or other seasoning and spices you like before dehydrating them.
Drying times vary. In general, it can take 8-48 hours, depending on the size and the hardness of the nut or seed and the method you use. Typically, the larger and harder the nut or seed, the longer they’ll take to dry out. For example, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts can take up to 48 hours.
A quick tip: If you’re using your oven, don’t feel like you have to babysit your nuts and seeds all day. If you need to leave the house, just turn the oven off – just make sure to turn it back on when you get home.
For all nuts and seeds, you simply check their doneness by eating one. You want it to be very dry and crispy. Walnuts are the exception – they’ll still have a slight chewiness to them. You’ll want to store walnuts in the fridge because they can go rancid a lot quicker than other nuts and seeds.
Otherwise, simply store your soaked and dehydrated nuts in a sealed container at room temperature. Or freeze them for an even longer shelf life.
Below is a list of recommended nuts and seeds to soak and the times for each:
- Almonds: 8-12 hours (soak for 48 to remove the skin)
- Brazil nuts: 3 hours
- Cashews: 2-3 hours (be careful not to over soak because they can become slimy)
- Hazelnuts: 8 hours
- Macadamias: 2 hours
- Pecans: 6 hours
- Pistachios: 8 hours
- Walnuts: 4 hours
- Alfalfa: 12 hours
- Chia*: 30 minutes
- Flax*: 30 minutes
- Pumpkins: 8 hours
- Radish: 8-12 hours
- Sesame: 8 hours
- Sunflower: 8 hours
*Keep in mind that chia and flax seeds are a little tricky to soak because they’re water-soluble and create a gel-like consistency. Nonetheless, it's still best to soak them to get the most nutrients out of them.
Do You Soak Your Nuts and Seeds?
Whether or not you have digestive issues, soaking and dehydrating your nuts and seeds before eating them is an important step. You might even realize you really need to limit or eliminate eating them altogether.
I personally wasn’t able to tolerate any nuts or seeds for a while until I did some gut healing. Now, I’m able to eat a small serving of nuts and seeds and tolerate them well. Yet, I always soak and dehydrate them first.
If you find you need to limit or eliminate nuts and seeds from your diet, I highly recommend my supplement Native Nutrients to make sure you’re still getting the nutrients your body needs. Native Nutrients is an organic, plant-based supernutrient mix that combines 21 of history's healthiest whole-food nutrients, superfoods, and superfruits into one easy-to-mix blend.
And, if you’re wondering how I healed my gut and fixed my digestion issues, I’d love to show you how you can do the same with the Native Body Reset.
I created the Native Body Reset in a way that is truly individualized. With this system, you’ll discover which foods are actually toxic for you and unlock the natural power of food to heal your body, prevent disease, and achieve optimal health inside and out.
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