Have you heard about ‘activated’ nuts? They’re quickly becoming the latest snack trend, so let’s dive into what it actually means and whether the science lives up to the hype.
‘Activation’ is essentially talking about soaking raw nuts or seeds so they start the germination process (i.e. where plants start to grow and sprout).
It’s become a bit of a buzzword on supermarket shelves recently and you might see other products like ‘activated’ charcoal too – but that’s a whole other topic!
Activated nuts and seeds have been celebrated as being easier to digest and making the nutrients, such as iron, fibre and healthy fats, easier to absorb.
The potential benefits of ‘activating’
- Reducing phytates
The main reason behind soaking in this way is the phytate content. Phytates can affect the absorption and reduce the bioavailability of several micronutrients, which is why it’s often referred to as an ‘anti-nutrient’. Soaking certain phytate containing plants first can reduce the concentration of phytates.
Soaking has been shown to reduce phytate levels in legumes and grains – but when it comes to nuts and seeds, a 2020 study measuring almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and walnuts suggests the difference is very minimal, if any at all.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that phytate isn’t inherently ‘bad’ for you. It actually has pretty impressive antioxidant powers, and has been linked to protection against kidney stones and cancer.
- Increased availability of nutrients
In the study, while soaking almonds for 12 hours did increase calcium and iron, the difference was tiny. On the other hand, soaking walnuts for 12 hours actually decreased the calcium and zinc content (again, by a tiny amount). While soaked peanuts were found to contain slightly higher zinc levels, unsoaked peanuts contained more iron.
So, it’s not about being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ – as with everything in nutrition, it really does vary and depends on the specific circumstances.
The potential downsides
- Water-soluble vitamins: There is the potential for some of the vitamins that are dissolvable to leach into the water during soaking, which would be pretty counterproductive
- Salt: During the ‘activation’ process, salt is often added, which can increase overall salt intakes – one to watch for those with any high blood pressure concerns.
- Time and cost: Soaking can be pretty time-consuming and snack packs of activated versions can be quite a lot more expensive – so it’s important not to be put off eating regular raw nuts too!
The bottom line
In a nutshell, soaking could increase the absorption of some nutrients, but the difference is super small – and pretty insignificant in the context of your whole diet.
If you love the texture and like to use soft, soaked nuts for recipes or nut butters, go ahead! I love using soaked cashews to make a creamy cashew sauce.
But unsoaked nuts and seeds are absolutely a great addition to your deliciously diverse diet with many important nutrients, especially as a quick and easy snack or extra sprinkle of fibre on your meals with no extra cost or effort.