Activated Trail Mixes: Anti Nutrients & Nuts/Seeds
This may be a completely new concept for you. It might be something you’re already well versed in. Anti nutrients are compounds that exist in different plant foods in their raw form that bind to nutrients (minerals). They decrease the absorption of these minerals almost as if they’re hiding them from us as we digest them, hence the term “anti nutrient”.
This is a class of chemicals found naturally in plant foods such as grains, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds. While anti nutrients are not themselves harmful, they bind to minerals which decrease their absorption by our small intestine. In some cases, these substances decrease the amount of available minerals by up to half. They primarily affect magnesium, calcium and iron absorption. For those who prepare most of their meals in grains and legumes combinations (which is a common way to complete plant based protein when one is following a vegetarian or vegan diet),
this can become an issue. Although it’s unlikely to cause malnutrition, it can contribute to it if the rest of the diet is nutrient void or you’re suffering from further digestive issues that lead to poor nutrient absorption.
Phytic acid (phytates), tannins, lectins, saponins and oxalic acid (oxalates) are considered anti nutrients due to their ability to bind to minerals such as zinc, calcium, magnesium and iron, decreasing their absorption.
Initially I wanted to write a broad article touching on the many different anti nutrients and the various ways to decrease them in your food, but I want to dedicate a separate post to grains, legumes, and vegetables to approach the subject the way it deserves.
This will be the first of a four part series on anti nutrients, and we’re starting with raw nuts and seeds!
The phytic acids that are present in raw nuts and seeds are water soluble, which means that soaking them in filtered water will draw out these anti nutrients. The first 2-4 hours of soaking sees the most reduction in lectins, tannins and phytates. I have a few nuts or grains soaking at any given time, whether it’s for 2 hours or 24. When it comes to nuts and seeds, the soaking time varies depending on the density and compactness of the nut. For example, cashews take only 2-4 hours to become soft (and saturated with water), while almonds can take up to 20 hours, depending on how soft you want them to be. If I’m making an almond milk with soaked almonds, I’ll soak them for 8-12 hours so they’re very soft. If I’m trying to reduce the phytic acids in them, I’ll soak them for 4-6.
Soaking also increases the activity of digestive enzymes present in raw nuts and seeds. Almonds were tested for their bio availability of certain nutrients when soaked and were found to have higher calcium, magnesium and vitamin E content when soaked for 24 hours. Therefore, by soaking we not only increase the bio availability of these nutrients by releasing them from their bind to anti nutrients, we also increase the rate of absorption of the present macro and micro nutrients due to the increase in food based digestive enzymes (amylase, pepsin and trypsin).
Polyphenols and tannins, compounds that produce a bitter or astringent taste to nuts and seeds (along with beans, grains and legumes), have been recognized as the most abundant source of antioxidants in our diet. However, they bind to positively charged minerals and proteins, causing them to be unavailable for absorption by the small intestine. Soaking also decreases these compounds.
Soaking time approximations
Based on my personal experience soaking and drying these nuts and seeds. Almonds have been studied for their antioxidant/mineral content after being soaked 24 hours, but some sources believe that the first 2-4 hours see the most phytic acid reduction.
Sunflower seeds - 2 hours
Pumpkin seeds - 2 hours
Cashews - 4-6 hours
Walnuts - 6 hours
Pecans - 6 hours
Hazelnuts - 12 hours
Almonds - 24 hours * Based on study
Brazil Nuts - 24 hours
Adding Flavour While Soaking
This is new to me, but the general concept is that while soaking, nuts and seeds become more porous. They absorb the water they’re surrounded by, and release anti nutrients. If you so desire, you can add sea salt to the water so the nuts will taste saltier. For the purposes of these trail mix recipes, I added about 1 tsp of vanilla extract per cup of soaking almonds, which sweetens them ever so slightly even after they’re dried.
The drying process
This requires a food dehydrator to be fully sure you’re not heating the nuts and seeds. Ovens can be used at low temperatures, but the heat they release can vary to keep the internal temperature constant. A food dehydrator won’t heat or roast your nuts and seeds, which can oxidize their delicate polyunsaturated oils.
I dried all nuts and seeds at about 90 F.
1/4 cup vanilla soaked almonds (directions below)
1/4 cup soaked walnuts
1/2 cup dried apples
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Soak almonds and walnuts as per the above recommendations. While almonds are soaking, add 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract. Drain and rinse nuts, then lay them flat on the surface of a food dehydrator and let them dry at 90 F for 2-6 hours. Dry until nuts are hard again, and completely dry. They shouldn’t look bloated with liquid as they did after they soaked.
In a bowl add cinnamon and dried apples, and toss. Throw this mix in a jar or reusable bag and eat as a snack on a hike, midday at work, or thrown over breakfast bowls. To store for longer periods of time, keep in the freezer in an airtight glass jar.
Notes & variation
Dried apples can be purchased or easily made in a dehydrator or an oven. I have an easy recipe for dried apples here. If you purchase dried apples, be careful not to buy varieties with added sugar or preservatives.
Add different spices like ginger, anise or cardamom for a more intense flavour.
1/4 cup vanilla soaked almonds*
1/4 cup soaked hazelnuts
1/4 cup baru seeds
2 tbsp cacao nibs
1/4 cup chopped 75% dark chocolate
Soak almonds and hazelnuts as per the above recommendations. While almonds are soaking, add 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract. Drain and rinse nuts, then lay them flat on the surface of a food dehydrator and let them dry at 90 F for 2-6 hours. Dry until nuts are hard again, and completely dry. They shouldn’t look bloated with liquid as they did after they soaked.
Toss with cacao nibs and chopped dark chocolate. Store in an airtight container or a reusable bag. To store for longer periods of time, keep in the freezer in an airtight glass jar.
Antioxidant Rich Berry & Brazils
1/4 cup soaked almonds
1/4 cup soaked cashews
1/4 cup soaked Brazil nuts
1/4 cup dried goji berries
1/4 cup dried golden berries
1/4 cup dried mulberries
Soak almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts as per the above recommendations. Drain and rinse nuts, then lay them flat on the surface of a food dehydrator and let them dry at 90 F for 2-6 hours. Dry until nuts are hard again, and completely dry. The shouldn’t look bloated with liquid as they did after they soaked.
Toss with dried berries, and store in an airtight glass jar or a reusable bag. To store for longer periods of time, keep in the freezer in an airtight glass jar.
Notes & variation
We are pretty familiar with the antioxidant content of bright coloured berries, but did you know that nuts and seeds contain antioxidants, too? Brazil nuts are very high in selenium. Just two full Brazil nuts and you’ve reached the RDI of dietary selenium. Soaked almonds have been studied to contain more vitamin E than raw almonds. Both of these antioxidants can be used by the body to neutralize free radicals and fight against oxidation. Vitamin E is particularly helpful for skin, eye and brain health.