Benefits of Soaking Nuts and Seeds

benefits of soaking nuts and seeds

Learn the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds for optimal digestion and gut health, how to do so, and when it might make sense NOT to do so...

In Day 2 of my FREE 7 Day Green Smoothie Meal Plan (which you can download here in case you don't already have your copy)...

You may have seen the side note next to the first ingredient listed on that smoothie recipe, ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds (ideally soaked at least 7 hours) and wondered:

Do I really need to soak my pumpkin seeds before making a smoothie? And how do I even do that?

The answer is a bit more complicated than you might suspect, so I am going to cover both sides: the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds before eating them, and why you may NOT want to do so.

First, let’s talk about the reasoning behind the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds, and what that even means.

The answer lies in a concept known as "antinutrients."  

Everyone knows that plants have beneficial compounds, and many people even choose to follow a 100% plant-based diet, choosing plant-based sources of protein instead of animal proteins.

What not everyone knows is that in addition to containing nutrients that are beneficial for our health, most plants also contain a category of "anti-nutrients" that can actually be detrimental...

Natural Defense Mechanisms of Plants

Just like humans, plants evolved a number of adaptations to ensure their survival.  

Plants’ most powerful defense against environmental threats and predators (AKA humans/animals that want to eat them) is a system of chemical compounds including:

  • Phytic acid
  • Enzyme inhibitors, and
  • Lectins.  

Plants Can Mess With Digestion?!

Phytates can bind to minerals that are also present in the digestive tract preventing these minerals from being absorbed into our bodies.  

This includes minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.

Those minerals all play extremely critical roles in our bodies including serving as required cofactors (prerequisites) for a number of enzyme reactions, detoxification, building healthy hormones, etc.    

When we develop mineral deficiencies or imbalances due to improper absorption, a number of health conditions can result including mood imbalances (depression, anxiety), fatigue, chronic pain, menstrual cramps and more.

Phytic acid also acts as an enzyme inhibitor which means it blocks production of certain enzymes (amylase, trypsin and pepsin) which are critical for digesting both starches and proteins in our diet.  

When we don’t digest amino acids from our proteins, a lot of processes in our bodies can’t happen properly (including detoxification).  

When we don’t digest starches, we set ourselves up for painful gut issues including acid reflux, heartburn, gas, bloating, cramping, and other GI issues.  

Do you suffer from digestive issues such as acid reflux, GERD, heartburn, gas, bloating, IBS and other GI issues?   

I provide free content about how to address those issues with a real food, functional nutrition approach via my email list.

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Who is Most at Risk for Issues with Phytic Acid?
(And Most in Need of the Benefits of Soaking Nuts)

An important caveat is that research indicates that most phytic acid (55-65%) gets broken down by the natural stomach acid healthy individuals produce.  

The problem is that low stomach acid is increasingly common, especially in individuals with diets high in processed foods, sugar and carbohydrates, diets low in overall nutrient quality, and vegan diets.

(Yes, that's even the case if you have symptoms that may suggest too much acid, like heartburn, GERD, acid reflux, etc.)

Especially when it comes to vegans or plant-based diet, this is the real kicker:  

The very people who are consuming more nuts and seeds as a source of protein are also more likely to have low stomach acid production.  

This sets the stage for more issues with not absorbing the protein and minerals from the food you eat (due to phytic acid in plants not being broken down by sufficient stomach acid), potentially leading to deficiencies and other health issues down the line.  

One of the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds is to make phytic acid less problematic.

What About Lectins?

Lectins are another type of antinutrients found in many foods especially nuts, seeds, legumes and grains.  

Research shows that certain classes of lectins are especially likely to survive human digestion and penetrate the lining of the digestive tract.

This results in intestinal permeability, alterations of gut flora, decreased nutrient absorption, immune dysfunction and general GI distress.

Translation:  eating foods high in lectins can lead to what's known as "leaky gut."

This means partially digested proteins get absorbed into the bloodstream in improper forms, causing the immune system to freak out.  

This sets the stage for autoimmune issues as well as issues with allergies, asthma, brain fog, mood issues and more.   

It’s also important to know that even if you never thought of yourself as having any "GI issues," these patterns can be going on behind the scenes.  

Your digestion could be compromised by the foods you eat in ways that have no apparent digestive symptoms but results in you being unable to optimally access the minerals and energy from the food you eat.  

I’m not telling you all this to scare you but to help you understand an important concept that a lot of people are not aware of:  

Foods that we typically think of as healthy can actually have the opposite effect if we’re not careful.  

Do We Need to Avoid Eating All Nuts and Seeds?
(Due To Phytic Acid and Lectins)

So what do we do about lectins and phytic acid?  Do we need to avoid eating all nuts and seeds?

This is where the wisdom of our ancestors comes in.

It’s true that some individuals may be better off avoiding foods high in lectins and phytic acid at least temporarily, especially if you have multiple food allergies or if you already have an autoimmune disease.  

This is the reasoning behind the temporary removal of all nuts and seeds in the autoimmune version of the Paleo diet (AIP).  

Some people choose to follow more extreme low-lectin diets such as the Plant Paradox diet or animal-based diet (which goes a step further than AIP removing additional categories of lectins).  

However, nuts and seeds can also be incredibly healthy if we properly prepare them.  

They can be a very important source of protein, healthy fats, and minerals (especially for people following a plant-based diet).

Certain nuts and seeds are a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids which most of us need more of.

This is another one of the benefits of soaking nuts and allows us to benefit from some of the nutrients contained in them, without aggravating the gut or overall health so much with phytic acid and lectins.

Benefits of Soaking Nuts and Seeds: Is This Some New Fad?

The thing is, our ancestors intuitively knew about these issues with eating certain plant proteins "as is," even if they had no clue about what a lectin was or all the science rationale behind the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds.

Prior to the industrialization of the food system, almost all traditional cultures soaked, sprouted, fermented or leavened these types of foods before consuming them.  

They instinctively understood the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds on the body and how important it was to take this step.

When you properly prepare nuts and seeds in this way, you at least partially break down these harmful compounds, before they ever enter your body.   

It’s almost a form of pre-digestion, so it is easier for your GI tract to properly digest some of these otherwise difficult-to-digest forms of proteins and starches.

By doing so you also make the nutrients contained in nuts and seeds more bioavailable.

That means it is easier for your body to access, absorb and utilize the vitamins and minerals you may see listed on the nutrition facts label.

How To Properly Prepare Nuts and Seeds
(Soaking and Other Options)

There are slightly different steps for properly preparing these types of foods with separate instructions for different types of grains, legumes and nuts/seeds. 

There are also two main options to consider:  just soaking, or soaking and sprouting.

I recommend most people focus on at least proper soaking of nuts and seeds.

I recognize that most people (including myself) are not going to have the patience to go through the full sprouting process.  

You can often buy sprouted nuts and seeds at health food stores and farmers markets, which is a convenient option but $$.   

By at least taking these steps to soak, you can reap many of the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds, and consider sprouting later.

(And/or buy some pre-sprouted options, when your budget allows for it).

Basic Instructions for Soaking Nuts and Seeds

Here’s the basic steps for soaking nuts and seeds:

  1. Place raw nuts or seeds in a large glass bowl or mason jar
  2. Cover with water and stir in Celtic sea salt, Himalayan pink salt or Redmond’s real salt.  Use roughly ½ tsp salt per quart or liter of water.
  3. Optional: add in an acidic medium such as lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar.  1 tsp per quart/liter of water.  
  4. Cover with a breathable towel or cheese cloth and soak for the specified number of hours. (In the Green Smoothie meal plan PDF I indicate the correct number of hours for each type of nut/seed used in the recipe.)
  5. Carefully rinse the nuts/seeds and discard the soaking liquid.

How To Safely Store Nuts and Seeds After Soaking

After you have soaked and rinsed the nuts or seeds, you will need to use them up pretty much immediately or they will go moldy due to their high moisture content.

You could simply soak nuts/seeds the evening before then toss them in your morning smoothie, or start soaking them in the morning to toss into your evening smoothie.  

Repeat this process every day you intend to use nuts or seeds in your smoothies.

Batch Prep Option 1 for Soaking Nuts and Seeds: Food Dehydrator

What if you want to receive the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds, but don’t have time or can’t remember to soak nuts and seeds every day?

If you would like to batch prepare nuts and seeds in this way, you could use a food dehydrator to dry the nuts and seeds after soaking so they last much longer.

If you want to go this route, soak a bigger batch of nuts and seeds (several cups worth).  

After soaking and rinsing, spread the nuts and seeds out on dehydrator trays and dry for 12-24 hours at no higher than 115 degrees farhenheit to preserve the live enzymes and prevent the delicate polyunsaturated oils found in the nuts/seeds from going rancid.

For best results, store nuts/seeds in the fridge after soaking and dehydrating as they can still go rancid at room temperature.  

(The same is actually true for raw nuts/seeds that haven’t been soaked).  

What if you don’t own a dehydrator?  No need to get a fancy dehydrator.  I bought this food dehydrator for $60 on Amazon and it does the job.

Below is a video that walks you through this process. Some people call the end result "crispy nuts."  

Batch Prep Option 2 for Soaking Nuts and Seeds: Nut/Seed Cream Cubes for Smoothies

Another option to batch soak nuts and seeds is to make a freezer-friendly nut/seed cream you can toss in smoothies.

After following the steps above to soak and rinse a batch of nuts and seeds, blend them in the smallest necessary amount of water, then pour into silicon ice cube trays.  

You can calculate roughly how many cubes make up a desired serving size (1/4 cup in most cases) then pop that many cubes into your smoothie each day before you blend.  

I have not personally tried this method but I plan to try it soon, just because I find it a hassle to soak every day and I also find it a hassle to pull out my dehydrator and handle a big batch (even though it’s really not that hard).  

This is the best way to batch prep to receive the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds for smoothies if you don’t want to get a dehydrator.

When Might It Make Sense to NOT Soak Nuts and Seeds?

What if you understand the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds, and this is just TOO MUCH to even think about right now?

If that’s the case for you, I wanted you to know that IT’S OKAY.

My intention in this content is to get you building healthy habits and increasing your intake of nutrient dense foods, while also gaining awareness of some important information and next steps you might have had no idea about previously.

My intention is not to create fear of food.  

I don’t want you to read this and think that you are going to die if you eat unsoaked nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.

Benefits of Phytic Acid?!

This is a good time to point out that recent research has indicated that phytates have also been associated with certain health benefits or decreased risk of certain diseases.  

It’s not clear whether those associations are cause-and-effect or more so because people who eat more foods containing physic acid tend to be more health-conscious than average. 

Either way, the topic is more nuanced than some would have you believe.  

Who Should Pay Most Attention To The Benefits of Soaking Nuts

Whether or not you should soak nuts and seeds to reduce antinutrient content, avoid them altogether or just eat them unsoaked without worrying too much comes down to bio-individuality.

If you already have other health issues that may compromise proper gut function, this is a good sign that you may want to pay more attention to how you handle lectins and other antinutrients.

Examples of those health issues include:

  • Long term infections
  • Digestive symptoms such as acid reflux, heartburn, GERD, EOE, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain after eating, IBS. 
  • History of heavy antibiotic use
  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune conditions or other immune system challenges

Who Might Be Better Off Not Worrying About This For Now

Are you already under a lot of stress in your day-to-day life?  

You may or may not be aware that chronic stress is one of the root causes that contributes to health being out of balance. 

Stress can even be one of the main root causes driving the health issues on the list above such as digestive issues, allergies, and autoimmune conditions.

If just thinking about soaking nuts and seeds is stressing you out, adding additional stress to your life by worrying about antinutrients may do more to degrade your health than improve it.

What About YOU?

With topics like this, there is often no black and white answer.  It’s more like shades of grey.  

You may need to take baby steps and experiment a bit. 

A coach or practitioner who is well versed with these topics can help you navigate the pros and cons for your unique situation as well as help you with implementing the various baby steps involved in resolving the root causes of these types of health issues.

I can help you with all that.  To get started, download my free guide and I will email you next steps to talk to me about your situation or join my program.

Where do you fall on this spectrum?  How important is this for YOU?

Scenario 1: Transitioning from Processed Foods

Are you currently eating a diet that is high in processed foods, sugary snacks, lots of bread and other grains that have not been properly soaked/fermented?

If so, it’s likely that you will benefit so much just from replacing some of your meals or snacks with the green smoothies outlined in this 7 day plan, even if soaking nuts/seeds is nowhere near being on your radar right now.

Scenario 2: Eating a Vegetarian or Plant-Based Diet

Are you currently eating a mostly whole food plant-based diet, with the majority of your protein coming from lentils, beans, quinoa, rice, nuts and seeds which you haven’t been soaking?

I would say starting to think about properly preparing your nuts/seeds as well as grains/legumes is especially important if you’re in that category.  

Especially if you have any of the health issues I mentioned above, you may not have the luxury to continue this way of eating without properly preparing your main protein sources.  

Scenario 3: Omnivore, Somewhere In The Middle, Short On Time

If you fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, you will need to develop your own solution (or get help from a practitioner like me).

Maybe you start building systems, habits and reminders to soak nuts/seeds for smoothies on a daily basis or use one of the batch prep methods listed above.  
On days where that just isn’t going to happen, maybe you just eat them anyways and don’t worry too much about it. 

(At least now you are aware of the possible health implacations and can keep it on your radar to improve over time).

And if you find this "not having time" is happening more often than not and you have the option to include sources of animal protein in your diet, you might choose to make nuts, seeds, grains and legumes less of an emphasis in your diet if you aren’t able to properly prepare them.

YOUR Next Best Step

There’s no right or wrong answer here.  My goal is for you to simply have a new awareness of what could be an important contributor to health issues either now or down the line, and keep doing the best you can in the meantime.  

I’d like to challenge you to give this soaking process a try even just one out of the seven days in this 7 day green smoothie meal plan if you can.

Once you do it once, it’s so much easier to do it again and again and again.  

Eventually it may just become a habit or part of your default routines, something you do on autopilot without even having to think about it.

Now It's Time To Take Action!

Now it's time to take action.

Comment on this post below or send me a DM on Instagram and tell me three things:

  1. Which smoothie recipe did you make today?  Feel free to share a photo!
  2. Did you soak your nuts/seeds, or choose not to this time?
  3. Which scenario listed above do you most identify with?  How do you personally plan to navigate the benefits of soaking nuts and seeds going forward?

That’s it for today’s lesson!

I know we covered a lot today, but I think this topic deserves a fair look at both sides of the equation, not just a quick "black and white" mandate.  

I look forward to receiving your comment or DM letting me know your progress with this 7 day plan as well as any questions you have!  

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