Is it Healthy? The Myth About Activated Nuts You Need to Know

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Yesterday I went did one of my favourite things, wandered around the health food mecca that is Wholefoods. Determined not to leave without something to play with, I wandered around aisles of processed food gussied up to look virtuous and decided that I would instead buy the most bonkers sounding products I can find. So, let’s start with Activated Walnuts

bowl of walnuts lying on a wooden table

At this point, I’m in the aisle with two questions running through my head…

1) How do you activate a walnut?

2) What happens if you do?

In my imagination I’m conjuring up a squirrel hovering over a big red button squeaking ‘we’re going to NutCom 1’ at which point a little walnut army starts to form across the globe.

It turns out, it’s not quite that exciting.

What Are Activated Nuts

Instead, it seems that activating nuts refers to the process of soaking the nuts in seawater which helps reduce levels of substances in them called enzyme inhibitors that normally stop them from sprouting.

Most people have no problem with these, but some folk find they cause havoc with their digestive system triggering problems like constipation, stomach cramping and bloat.

As such, it’s suggested that they might be able to eat activated forms of nuts with fewer after-effects that normal nuts.

Removing the inhibitors is said to also release higher than normal levels of nutrients from the nuts, and, help avoid that nasty bitter taste they can develop.

I never knew that. Seems, however, the Aztec tribes did as this is the way they’ve been treating nuts for donkey’s years.

All of this pampering explains why they cost £4.99 for an 80g packet. That’s 15 walnut halves. That’s 66p a walnut. Ha ha ha ha ha ha…breathe….no sorry, can’t stop just yet……ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Admittedly they are REALLY good, but that’s more to do with the fact that the ones I bought were also covered in amazing dark chocolate.

Seriously you can’t taste the nut. If I’m going to consume the Kobe beef of walnuts surely I should be doing so unadulterated, and maybe each one should come individually on a little cushion carried in by said squirrels.

But hold on, a little further investigation discovers that all might not be as it seems…

Squirrel in a hole in a treetrunk
Nutkin: Reporting for cushion duty. Mam.

Eeek – Activating Nuts Might Not Be So Healthy

I first wrote this post back in 2013 when activated nuts were pretty new in shops – and as I update things in 2020 and interesting research has appeared about activated nuts.

A team at New Zealand’s University of Otago have actually studied what happens to nuts during the soaking process involved in activation and not only did they find that it doesn’t actually reduce the phytate levels – they discovered it actually lowers levels of nutrients within the nuts.

After soaking, levels of iron, calcium and zinc were all lower than before the nuts were activated. Chopped nuts suffered the biggest fall – with levels of calcium in chopped nuts falling by as much as 25 per cent.

Activating nuts also increased levels of sodium within the nuts – and sodium is something you need to cut down on.

This isn’t the first time the group have cast doubts on the health benefits of activated nuts. Back in 2018 they look specifically at activated almonds and discovered that soaking them didn’t affect phytate levels – and, people didn’t experience any different gastrointestinal symptoms when they ate activated nuts or non-soaked ones.

Another study from them in 2019 discovered that activating nuts also lowered levels of fats in the nuts. While this might sound like a good thing, the fat in nuts is healthy unsaturated fat so it’s not something you want to be removed.

So What Does This Mean?

Quite simply it means you don’t need to spend a fortune on swanky activated nuts to get the health benefits of nuts – and doing so might even reduce how healthy the nuts might be.

If you really can’t digest normal nuts and find activated nuts help, then continue with them, but do remember that they might be a little be lower in nutrients than the non-activated versions.

NB: You can also soak other foods like beans or legumes to reduce levels of phytate and this DOES seem to have a positive effect on the phytate levels in the foods. So, don’t stop doing that if you find it helps.

Image:Adobe Stock

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