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   Jan 20

Just nuts: Is the new craze for ‘activating’ your food the seeds of a great idea?

Nutrients in seeds and nuts can be enhanced by ‘activating’ them

‘Activating’ involves soaking nuts and then drying them again

Nuts can help protect against high cholesterol and coronary heart disease

You may have picked up a packet of almonds or sunflower seeds recently and wondered how on earth they could cost more than £5. The answer could be down to the latest extreme food trend which sounds more than a little odd: activating nuts.

The benefits of eating a handful of nuts every day (without the salt, honey or roasting – sorry!) have been proven. Nutrient-dense, they are rich in protein (ten to 25 per cent) and up to 80 per cent of the fat they contain is unsaturated.

They are also a significant source of fibre, minerals (copper, magnesium and potassium) and vitamins such as folic acid, niacin, Vitamin E and Vitamin B6, and antioxidants.

Exc-seed-ing expectations: Putting nuts and seeds through a process of soaking and drying – known as activating – before eating, the nutrients are enhanced

As such, nuts can help protect against high cholesterol, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as managing weight.

But now some experts are saying that by putting nuts through a process of soaking and drying – known as activating – before eating, the nutrients are enhanced and easier for the body to absorb, although they taste exactly the same.

Fans say they can eat activated nuts without feeling heavy, especially if they already suffer from digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease.


Aborigines have been activating nuts and seeds for thousands of years – and the recent phenomenon has really sprouted out of Australian health food stores.

The activation process involves soaking raw nuts such as almonds for up to 24 hours in salted water at room temperature, then rinsing and baking or drying in an oven at a low temperature.

Going nuts: Nuts can help protect against high cholesterol and coronary heart disease
As nuts are plant seeds, the soaking begins the germination process which causes a compound called phytic acid, found naturally in nuts, seeds, oats, bran and rice, to break down.

Phytic acid has an effect on the digestion of certain essential minerals, such as iron – needed for making red blood cells – and zinc, which is vital for immune health.

‘Phytic acid can block the absorption of minerals by binding to them,’ explains nutritionist Jackie Lynch. ‘It is an issue when nuts and grains are dietary staples. Nut butters or nut flours should also be taken into account.’

So for some nut consumers – such as vegetarians who rely on them as a key source of protein and vitamins – activating nuts makes the most of the nutrients.


Fill a large pan or bowl with enough tap water to cover the nuts you plan to activate. Dissolve ordinary table salt in the water – for amounts, see guide below – and stir until you can’t see any grains. Then place the nuts in the water and leave.

For soaking times, see guide.Once the time is up, strain over the sink in a colander, and rinse under running water.

Spread evenly over a baking tray big enough so they don’t overlap. Dry the nuts in an oven at the lowest possible temperature – no more than 65C – and turn occasionally. For drying time, again, see the guide below.

Hazelnuts, peanuts and pine nuts1 teaspoon of salt per teacup of nutsSoak 7-12 hoursDry 12-24 hours

Cashews1 teaspoon of salt per teacup of nutsSoak 3-6 hoursDry 12-24 hours

Almonds1 teaspoon of salt per cup of nuts Soak 12-14 hoursDry 12-24 hours

Pecans and walnutsHalf a teaspoon of salt per cup of nutsSoak 7-12 hoursDry 12-24 hours

Sunflower seeds2 teaspoons of salt per cup of nutsSoak 7-10 hoursDry 12 hours

Pumpkin seeds2 teaspoons of salt per cup of nutsSoak 7-10 hoursDry 12 hours


Dr Caroline Orfila, Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of Leeds, explains: ‘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. 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.’


Certain nuts and seeds, such as cashews and almonds, are actually poisonous in their completely unadulterated state (indeed, you are unlikely to see a totally raw cashew – great big colourful orange things – on sale in the UK for this very reason, and in the US it is illegal to sell them in normal retailers).

But you can buy nuts labelled ‘raw’. This means they have been gently processed before sale to remove toxins, but not roasted or strongly heated, allowing them to retain their ability to germinate.

Few bags of nuts in supermarkets say how they have been treated – although Food Doctor nuts do specify that they are raw. But there are a wide variety of online sources including naturesbest.co.uk, thenut hut.co.uk and healthy supplies.co.uk.


Dr Orfila sounds a serious note of caution about activating nuts at home. ‘My only concern is that nuts are grown in many tropical places, and therefore even dry raw nuts can have microbes on them – particularly fungi, which can be dangerous.

‘Always buy nuts from a trusted place, store them in a cool, dark, dry place and eat them by the use-by date. If germinating – or activating – wash the raw nuts, use clean water, and eat the day after.

‘The last major E.coli incident in Europe [in Germany] happened as a result of seeds germinated in contaminated water.’

As for picking nuts or seeds from trees and bushes, Dr Orfila advises against it. ‘It is a bit like collecting mushrooms – best left to experts. I would recommend either buying them already activated, or only working with nuts that you know are not toxic.’

Source: Daily Mail

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