"Activating" nuts or buying (over-priced) "activated" nuts is the new craze of the health-conscious community.
Many ill-informed bloggers spread much information that are not backed-up by research, nor use any references that render their statement of no value, and somewhat misleading and to my view, dangerous.
If you read a blog articles and references to medical papers are missing, then disregard such article, and just do not read it. Also, look at the certifications of such blogger, as many are just people writing blog because, well, they are probably bored... Even, if it is done with good intentions, spreading information without knowledge, is in a way a bad thing.
For that very important reason, I have decided today to write an article on "activated" or "activating" nuts, with the information backed up by medical journals.
"Activating" nuts means that you are soaking nuts for some period of time, then dry them slowly (~40˚c) from 12–24 hours.
"Activated" nuts is written on label of nuts that have been processed following the above instructions, so you only have to eat the nuts without any more processing.
What's wrong with eating nuts out of the bag, one would ask, especially that for the last decades, we have just done that...?
First, I personally believe that it is important to make a point about nuts!
Nuts are to each others what broccoli is to a tomato!
One belong to the Brassica family and one is a fruit.
Some nuts are legumes (e.g. Peanuts), seeds (e.g. Cashews), acorn-like (e.g. Hazelnuts), kernel (e.g. almonds), fruits or actual nuts (e.g. Walnuts, Pecans, Macadamia, Chestnut). Certain nuts (and seeds), such as cashews and almonds, are actually poisonous in their completely unadulterated state.
Dr Caroline Orfila, Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of Leeds, explains further: ‘Nuts are essentially the seeds of nut trees – apart from peanuts, which are related to peas, not nuts.
‘When you soak seeds, including nuts, in water, two phenomena occur: leaching of protease inhibitors [molecules that inhibit digestion] into the water and activating of the germination process, so the amount of starch and fibre reduces, while the protein and vitamin content raise.
‘This is why germinating seeds and nuts are easier to digest than dry, raw nuts."
Dr Orfila adds: 'However, most nuts bought at British supermarkets have been blanched [quickly cooked in boiling water] or roasted, which also inactivates the protease inhibitors.
‘Roasted nuts are not alive any more, so they will not activate.’
Nuts can still be labelled as ‘raw’, meaning they have been gently processed before sale to remove toxins; however, they have not been roasted or strongly heated, allowing them to retain their ability to germinate.
What is the point to activate nuts then?
It all comes down to compounds found in plants, especially grains, beans and nuts, mainly, Phytate (or Phytic Acid), also known as an anti-nutrient. Sounds scary, right?
May be it is the perfect marketing selling point for companies selling nuts at twice the price as regular (already expensive) nuts.
"Phytic acid (PA) is the primary storage compound of phosphorus in seeds accounting for up to 80% of the total seed phosphorus. The negatively charged phosphate in PA strongly binds to metallic cations of Ca, Fe, K, Mg, Mn and Zn making them insoluble and thus unavailable as nutritional factors." write Bohn, L. Meyer, AS. Rasmussen, SK in The Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B. Life sciences & biotechnology (2008. p. 165).
In clearer terms, it means that Phosphate present in Phytic acid binds to nutrients and prevent their assimilation by the body.
They continu writing: "Phytate mainly accumulates in protein storage [...], predominantly located in the aleurone layer (wheat, barley and rice) or in the embryo (maize). During germination, phytate is hydrolysed by endogenous phytase(s) and other phosphatases to release phosphate, inositol and micronutrients to support the emerging seedling."
Gupta, RK. Gangoliya, SS. Singh, NK. (2015. p. 676) write: "More than half of the world populations are affected by micronutrient malnutrition and one third of world’s population suffers from anemia and zinc deficiency, particularly in developing countries. Iron and zinc deficiencies are the major health problems worldwide. Phytic acid is the major storage form of phosphorous in cereals, legumes, oil seeds and nuts. Phytic acid is known as a food inhibitor which chelates micronutrient and prevents it to be bioavailabe for monogastric animals, including humans, because they lack enzyme phytase in their digestive tract" adding: "Pre-treatment methods such as fermentation, soaking, germination and enzymatic treatment of grains with phytase enzyme."
Noting that Soaking (fermenting or sprouting) only reduces phytate levels but does not eliminate them. By consuming a nutrient-dense diet, rich in antioxidants, there would not be enough phytate to bind to nutrients.
Therefore, the picture is not so dark...
"Nuts (tree nuts and peanuts) are nutrient dense foods with complex matrices rich in unsaturated fatty and other bioactive compounds: high-quality vegetable protein, fiber, minerals, tocopherols, phytosterols, and phenolic compounds. By virtue of their unique composition, nuts are likely to beneficially impact health outcomes. Epidemiologic studies have associated nut consumption with a reduced incidence of coronary heart disease and gallstones in both genders and diabetes in women. Limited evidence also suggests beneficial effects on hypertension, cancer, and inflammation. Interventional studies consistently show that nut intake has a cholesterol-lowering effect, even in the context of healthy diets, and there is emerging evidence of beneficial effects on oxidative stress, inflammation, and vascular reactivity. Blood pressure, visceral adiposity and the metabolic syndrome also appear to be positively influenced by nut consumption. Thus it is clear that nuts have a beneficial impact on many cardiovascular risk factors. Contrary to expectations, epidemiologic studies and clinical trials suggest that regular nut consumption is unlikely to contribute to obesity and may even help in weight loss." This extract from the Journal Nutrients (2010) and written by Emilio Ros gives a good reason to enjoy nuts as part of a balanced and nutrient-rich diet.
Peanuts are also known for their allergic potential, which in fact is due to the presence of Aflatoxin present on the nuts thriving during the drying phase (usually, the plant is pulled from the soil and let to dry under the sun for 3 weeks, creating the perfect environment for fungus to multiply).
Klich, MA. (2006. p.713) explains: "Aspergillus flavus is an opportunistic pathogen of crops. It is important because it produces aflatoxin as a secondary metabolite in the seeds of a number of crops both before and after harvest. Aflatoxin is a potent carcinogen that is highly regulated in most countries. In the field, aflatoxin is associated with drought-stressed oilseed crops including maize, peanut, cottonseed and tree nuts. Under the right conditions, the fungus will grow and produce aflatoxin in almost any stored crop seed. In storage, aflatoxin can be controlled by maintaining available moisture at levels below that which will support growth of A. flavus."
Aspergillus flavus is only one of the many pathogens that can enter the food chain. Nuts are collected by hands (hygiene of the person) or mechanically and collected with tractors and transported in large trucks, placed into cisterns, let to dry, or stored, then poured onto carrousel and bagged... Nuts are then transported to wholesaler warehouse, where they will stay comfortably for weeks, month or over a year, until dispatched and displayed onto supermarket and health store shelves... then, into your cupboard until you finish the packet...
Soaking makes sense no matter what, to wash away the dust, and other contaminants that could have made contact with the nuts; however, I do not advise to let nuts to soak for more than 8 hours, to avoid feeding the toxins and fungus that may be present.
I would also advise to drain and rinse the nuts thoroughly every two hours and add fresh clean water every time.
Adding 1/2 Tsp of Salt to each 250 ml of water may help in slowing or preventing toxins to multiply and fungus to thrive.
The water should cover the nuts with at least two inches to spare, as the nuts will expand slightly.
It is not necessary to pat dry nuts with a kitchen cloth, again to prevent cross contamination. They can be placed straight away on a dehydrator tray or a cooling rack and let to drain naturally, then placed into a dehydrator or oven set on 40˚c (with door left ajar, using a wooden spoon for example, to allow for air to circulate freely, and prevent condensation forming) for at least 12–24 hours (the latter for the hardest nuts such as Cashews).
Once the nuts are dry, place in a clean air-tight container and consume within 3-days. keep away from sunlight, and store at room temperature.
Do you think the effort is worth it? or best to pay the crazy price of the bag of activated nuts?
well, to me the choice is clear... I prefer to be connected to the food I eat and I want to rip the rewards of my efforts!
...and for the nut butter fans, activated nut butter is out there too!
Bohn, L. Meyer, AS. Rasmussen, SK. (2008). Phytate: impact on environment and human nutrition. A challenge for molecular breeding. The Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B. Life sciences & biotechnology. 9 (3), pp. 165–191.
Ros, E. (2010). Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients. 2 (7), pp. 652–682.
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257681.
Gupta, RK. Gangoliya, SS. Singh, NK. (2015). Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains. Journal of food science and technology.. 52 (2), pp. 676–684.
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325021.
Klich, MA. (2006). Aspergillus flavus: the major producer of aflatoxin. Molecular plant pathology. 8 (7), pp. 713–722
Zhou, JR. Erdman, JW Jr. (1995). Phytic acid in health and disease. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 35 (6), pp. 495-508.
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Olivier is a Michelin trained chef, a registered Naturopath and Nutritional Therapist, embracing fully his passion for good food and healthy eating.