In a word, ‘no’ – activated nuts are not better for you. In fact, a study published in 2020 [1] concluded that activating nuts could do more harm than good.

The study found common methods for activating nuts are ineffective at reducing phytates. It also showed no evidence that activating nuts improves the bioavailability of the nutrients in nuts. In fact, iron, calcium and zinc were lost in activated nuts as they ‘leached out’ during the soaking process.

As it is common for salted water to be used to active nuts, the study found that the activation process increases the sodium content of nuts. That is, it turns them from a naturally low-sodium food into a less desirable, higher-sodium food.  

Another study, published in 2018 also concluded that soaking (or activating) nuts (almonds, in this case) does not reduce phytates. This research also found it had no affect on gastrointestinal tolerance. The study authors point out that nuts are well tolerated in the gut, whether soaked or unsoaked [2].

Why did activating nuts become ‘a thing’?

Proponents of activated nuts believe that activating (or soaking) nuts breaks down some of the proteins, starches, oils and other nutrients like phytates, making them more digestible.

Phytates are a plant seed compound which binds to minerals (such as iron, calcium and zinc). During soaking, the presence of water releases phytase enzymes which break down phytates releasing the minerals for the plant to use.

So in theory, this means humans should also be able to absorb these minerals better. But research has found no evidence that activating nuts makes the nutrients in nuts more bioavailabe to the body.

What are phytates?

Research suggests phytates are a nutrient in their own right. 

They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, appear to have anti-cancerous properties, may affect carbohydrate metabolism and glucose control, improve bone mineral loss and possibly even reduce kidney stones [3, 4].

The bottom line

There appears to be no benefit to activating nuts. It’s better to save time and money and simply opt for a handful of raw or roasted nuts a day.

The body of research on the many health benefits of tree nuts is based on non-activated raw or roasted nuts.

References

  1. Kumari, S., et al., Does 'activating' nuts affect nutrient bioavailability? Food Chem, 2020. 319: p. 126529.
  2. Taylor, H., et al., The effects of 'activating' almonds on consumer acceptance and gastrointestinal tolerance. Eur J Nutr, 2018. 57(8): p. 2771-2783.
  3. Graf, E. and J.W. Eaton, Antioxidant functions of phytic acid. Free Radic Biol Med, 1990. 8(1): p. 61-9.
  4. Schlemmer, U., et al., Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res, 2009. 53 Suppl 2: p. S330-75.
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