Prior to starting the GAPS Diet, I had never been a big fan of nuts. I never ate almonds, rarely ate peanuts, I didn’t really care for pecans (even desserts with them), cashews were probably the best of the bunch for me, and honestly, my favorite nut was the macadamia nut … but only in a cookie. 😉
However, as you begin to follow a grain-free diet, you find that the only substitute flour you can use in baked goods is nut flour or coconut flour. So, if you’re looking for an occasional treat, you had better get used to nuts!
But wait! you may say. How can you eat nuts on a diet that is supposed to HEAL your digestive system when nuts are known for being hard to digest and contain anti-nutrients?
Therein lies the reason for this post today: how you can make nuts more digestible and nutritious.
The Problem with the Nuts
The problem with nuts (and seeds, beans, and grains as well) is that there are several anti-nutrients that are present in the outer layer of the nut or seed. These anti-nutrients, or “natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients” (Wikipedia, 2015), protect them from substances that may damage the plant, such as insects and other predators, bacteria, viruses and molds. This is one of the reasons that nuts can be stored for some time without molding: the antifungal substances contained in the hull of the nut or seed. When the right conditions exist for the seed to begin to germinate in nature (warmth, moisture, etc.), these anti-nutrients gradually break down and dissolve.
The most commonly known anti-nutrient is phytic acid (or phytate). This is a phosphorus bound organic acid that protects the plant from premature germination and locks nutrients inside to nourish the developing plant. The problem is, if the phytic acid has not been released from the nut prior to our consuming it, phytic acid has the ability to combine with minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and others, preventing absorption of them by our body and potentially leading to mineral deficiencies. Phytic acid also has the ability to block protein absorption.
This may not sound so serious when you tell yourself, “Well, I only have a handful of nuts every now and again”. However, if you are following the typical American diet, you are consuming phytic acid much more regularly than you think. Remember, phytic acid is contained not only in nuts, but also seeds, beans and grains. Processing these foods does not change much the anti-nutrients contained in them. Regularly consuming these products can lead to serious mineral deficiencies and a wide range of health problems from digestive issues to altered brain function and developmental delays. Babies and young children who are regularly fed cereals, crackers, bread, nut butters and soy formula are particularly at risk.
And a person with GAPS is usually already malnourished and mineral deficient, as evidenced by the degree of digestive disorders and neurological/physical symptoms presenting; so removing phytic acid from nuts consumed in their diet is a very important step toward healing.
Nuts also contain enzyme inhibitors (substances that block enzyme function), one which specifically blocks an enzyme responsible for the digestion of protein (trypsin inhibitor). Research has shown that an overabundance of these enzyme inhibitors can lead to increased secretion of pancreatic enzymes, digestive difficulties, inflammation, immune suppression, increased allergies, and more.
So, with all these terrible things in nuts, why would we even want to eat them?
Because there’s benefits to nuts too!
“Nuts and seeds are highly nourishing. They are very rich sources of some vital minerals, amino acids and fats: magnesium, selenium, zinc, omega-6 and omega-3 oils. Epidemiological studies show that people who regularly consume nuts and seeds have lower rates of heart disease, cancer and many other degenerative diseases.” – Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”
So the key is: eat nuts for the health benefits, but avoid the “bad stuff” in them. How do we do that?
How to Make Your Nuts Healthier
We need to soak our nuts and sprout our seeds.
When you look back through history at traditional cultures, they almost always ate grains, nuts, beans and seeds that had been soaked, sprouted or fermented, thus rendering them more digestible and nutritious. It’s only in more modern times with the move toward quicker cooking methods that this ancient knowledge has been pushed aside. A great resource to learn more about traditional methods of cooking these foods is “Nourishing Traditions”, by Sally Fallon. She explores these ancient cultures and foods and also includes several recipes for preparing food as people did centuries ago.
The benefits of soaking your nuts are many:
- Beneficial organisms will help to break down and neutralize the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors
- Other toxic substances that can make nuts hard to digest are reduced or eliminated
- Soaking and fermentation increases nutrient content
- Soaking allows nuts to become easier to digest, which is very beneficial for a person who is attempting to heal their digestive system
- It also encourages the production of beneficial enzymes
One of the side benefits of soaking your nuts? The taste! If you remember at the beginning of this article I explained how I disliked nuts in the past, especially almonds. However, when I soak almonds and then dehydrate them, they turn into what we call “crispy nuts”, and the flavor is entirely different. I can eat almonds by the handful now as a quick snack.
So, now that you’re ready to start soaking, how do you do it?
How to Soak Nuts
Soaking nuts is a very simple process.
First, I start by buying RAW (not roasted, salted or otherwise cooked and coated with something) organic nuts in bulk from my local health food store. I store these in the freezer until I’m ready to use them (to prevent them from going rancid with time in my pantry).
When I’m ready to soak them, I pour the nuts into a quart-sized glass jar, leaving an inch or two of head room as the nuts will expand when soaking.
Then, I add about ½ to 1 Tbs. of sea salt, fill the jar up with filtered water to cover the nuts, and place a tight lid on the jar. I shake it up to get the sea salt to dissolve in the water.
(this is after the 24 hours are up – you can see how the almonds expanded above the brine)
Then, I stick it on my counter and let it sit for 12-24 hours. Most nuts should soak around 12-24 hours (I usually go closer to 24 hours). Cashews are one exception, as they usually should soak for 8-12 hours. Any longer than that, and they become squishy and slimy. However, I have soaked cashews for 24 or more hours (because they were soaking at the same time as other nuts and I forgot about them) and they still dehydrated well and made a nice cashew butter. So, if you forget, no worries!
After the nuts are done soaking, rinse them thoroughly. I usually pour the nuts little by little into a colander and rinse.
Then, you can stick them straight in the food processor if you’re wanting to make nut butter.
(Cashew butter – yummy!)
If you want to use the nuts for something else (eating, storage in the fridge, or making nut flour), then you can place them in your dehydrator for up to 24 hours. This is what makes “crispy nuts” that I referred to earlier.
They store well this way (I keep them in the fridge) and it also dries them out nicely to make nut flour (I pour them little by little into my food processor or blender and grind them into flour. Each nut takes a different amount of time to turn into flour. Almonds take a little longer than most; pecans go from nut flour to nut butter in 30 seconds or less, so watch closely!)
(Cashews as they start to break up)
Soaking nuts is a quick and easy process that you can easily do while you’re in the kitchen making supper. However, I also happened to find these products below that use soaked or sprouted nuts and seeds for those who would prefer to purchase their nuts and nut butters (still looking for sprouted almond flour with no success; however, you can find sprouted grain flours).
Nuts and Seeds:
Nuts and Nut Butter:
Now you can have your nuts and enjoy them too!