We know it’s pretty on trend to talk about activating nuts, grains and legumes, and it’s fairly easy these days to find pre-packaged (and expensive) activated nuts and grains (haven’t seen legumes yet). We've read a few articles talking about why activating isn’t necessary, and many articles talking about why it is, so we thought we'd share our take on activating and why we do it.
Plant based sources of protein such as legumes, grains, nuts and seeds are super good for you, not only do they contain protein, but they also generally contain complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. They are seriously awesome in our books.
They also contain antioxidants called phytates (phytic acid) and polyphenols, which in some ways are good but in a lot of ways act as anti-nutrients when these foods are ingested. Both phytates and polyphenols exist in plant foods to protect them from being eaten and becoming rancid when they are growing. However, humans lack the enzymes required to break them down and this is when we encounter potential problems with digestion and nutrient deficiencies.
Phytates and polyphenols have the unique ability to chelate (bind) to minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium causing insoluble (undigestible) salts. This prevents us from obtaining the nutrients from the food we eat, and if you eat a lot of plant based foods, you could end up with some nutritional deficiencies and digestive problems.
Traditional methods of preparing and cooking with legumes, grains and nuts help to break down these anti-nutrients, and these methods are becoming more widely implemented in modern day cooking. These methods include soaking, fermenting, germinating (sprouting) and cooking. We'll just be covering soaking (activating) for now, but will definitely touch on the other methods in future posts.
Activating essentially involves soaking legumes, nuts, seeds and/or grains in water and adding an acidic or alkaline solution or salt to help break down phytates and polyphenols. Phytates are water soluble, so soaking in water alone has shown to be effective in breaking down these anti-nutrients but soaking AND the addition of ACV, bicarb or salt, helps to increase enzymes that break down phyates and polyphenols. Cooking, germinating or fermenting afterwards further increases this breakdown.
WHY MIGHT YOU ACTIVATE?
If you are vegan or vegetarian
If you eat a lot of plant based foods i.e every day
If you are prone to mineral deficiencies such as calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium
If you have trouble digesting plant based sources of protein i.e legumes or grains
IS ACTIVATING ESSENTIAL?
Hmmmm, we're pretty chilled about these sorts of things and hate saying people ‘should’ do something. We think it is important as outlined above, however, if you don’t eat these foods on a regular basis, and don’t have any nutritional deficiencies or problems digesting these foods, then you probably don’t need to worry so much about it. And remember that cooking also helps to breakdown phytates and polyphenols so you don’t always have to go that extra step.
But if you’re dismissing it because you think it’s a bit hip, or you don’t have time, or don’t think it will make a difference, perhaps have a crack at it and see what you think. Don’t knock it till you try it!
IS IT OK TO CONSUME POLYPHENOLS AND PHYTATES?
Activating your grains, legumes, nuts and seeds will breakdown some phytates and polyphenols but not all of them, and that is ok. Although they act as anti-nutrients, they also play a beneficial role in the body. Their role as antioxidants helps to fight free radical damage, and consumption of phytates has shown benefits for diabetic patients by regulating insulin secretion and slowing gastric emptying, as well as reducing blood clots, triglycerides and cholesterol thereby playing a potential role in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Therefore, activating isn't about completely eradicating phyates and polyphenols, only reducing them to improve nutrient intake and digestion and balancing out the advantages and disadvantages of them.
HOW WE PREP OUR LEGUMES, GRAINS, NUTS ETC
Meal plan and soak overnight according to what we have planned for the next day, or sometimes we'll soak a few things for a couple of days worth of food. For example, on a Sunday night on the kitchen bench we'll have almonds soaking for milk, quinoa soaking for lunches for the week and chickpeas soaking to go in the slow cooker for dinner the next night.
If we're trying to get really organised, we'll activate a bunch of things at the same time so they can be either cooked, dehydrated or chucked in the freezer. For example, have sunflower seeds and buckwheat soaking to be dehydrated, quinoa and brown rice soaking for cooking in bulk and almonds soaking to be roasted and made into nut butter.
Legumes & grains: cover with water, adding 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per cup of dried legumes/grains. Soak overnight, or around 12 hours. Drain and rinse well and cook or dehydrate as desired, or chuck them straight in the freezer. You’ll need to dehydrate* legumes on low for around 12-15 hours. Grains take around 8-12 hours depending on the grain.
Nuts & seeds**: cover with water, adding 1 teaspoon of good quality, mineral rich salt per cup of nuts/seeds. Soak for 8-12 hours, with the exception of cashews, which should only be soaked for a maximum of 6 hours. Drain and rinse well. Dehydrate or use immediately; they can be keep in the fridge for a few days, or chucked straight into the freezer for use later on.
* When dehydrating, you really want to make sure these bad boys are thoroughly dried out, as they will go mouldy soon enough. So plan ahead, and don’t skimp on the drying.
** We pretty much only activate sunflower and pumpkin seeds, seeds like sesame are just way too tiny and fiddly. Seeds like chia and flaxseed will not be able to be soaked and rehydrated as they absorb water and expand, however the act of soaking them alone to make things like pudding or chia/flax eggs will help to break down some phytates.
Gupta et al, 2015, ‘Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains’, Vol.52, Issue 2, pp. 676-684
Huma et al, 2008, ‘Effect of soaking and cooking on nutritional quality and safety of legumes’, Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 38, No. 6, pp. 570-577
Kumar et al, 2010, ‘Dietary roles of phytate and phytase in human nutrition: A review’, Food Chemistry, Vol. 120, pp. 945-959