Made infamous by the Pete Evans’ My Day on a Plate article back in 2012; activated almonds took Twittersphere by storm, with dozens of tweets mocking his pretentious menu. Since then, activated nuts have become a mainstay for all health food shops and Paleo fans. But are activated nuts a superfood as claimed, or just a superfad?
What are activated nuts?
Raw nuts contain something called phytate. Phytate is a substance found only in plant foods. Phytate can affect how our body absorbs nutrients. The amount of phytate varies greatly in plant foods. This is due to the type of seed, environment, climate, soil quality etc. The phytate binds with the minerals in the nuts (e.g iron, zinc and calcium) meaning our body can’t absorb them as well. It is believed that soaking nuts for 24 hours will reduce the effects of the phytate and allow our body to more effectively absorb the minerals from the nuts.
What does the evidence say?
There are plenty of studies looking at grains and legumes that show soaking before eating decreases the amount of phytate in the seed so the mineral absorption can increase. There is also variety in how long different grains and legumes need to be soaked for before changes occur.
Unfortunately, there seem to be no published studies of what happens in nuts. We don’t know how long they need to be soaked for before changes occur, we don’t actually know if any changes do occur that will make any difference, nutritionally! So at the moment, there is a big question mark around what, if any, benefits there are from soaking nuts before eating.
So are activated nut a superfood or superfad?
Phytate gets a bad rep with all these claims, but the fact is, phytate is a known antioxidant. It may be important in protecting against cancer and other inflammatory diseases. So trying to cut down on the amount eaten isn’t really a concern.
In Australia, we are more likely to have well-balanced diets. Having foods that contain phytate is rarely a concern in terms of nutritional deficiencies. It might be a worry in developing countries where the main food sources are grains or legumes.
In Australia, they retail for around $50/kg compared to normal almonds that retail for around $20/kg. Until we have solid evidence to show the benefits of soaking nuts; save yourself the extra cost of activated nuts and stick to the normal ones. If you are concerned about missing out on the small amounts of zinc, iron and calcium from the nuts, why not grab some zinc-, iron- and calcium-rich foods instead?