Primal enthusiasts have promoted nuts and seeds as healthy. Well, it’s true, but also it’s not so true.
Nuts are whole foods that are unprocessed in their raw state. They have vitamins, minerals, fiber, fats, protein, and some carbohydrates. What could be wrong? Our primal ancestors ate nuts and seeds and had no problems. But, they ate them in moderation.
What’s going on? There are phytic acid, lectins, and polyunsaturated oils in nuts and seeds. And, some people end up consuming quite a few of them. In excess, nuts and seeds can be harmful.
Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus found in many plants. Humans aren’t able to digest phytic acid, which binds to minerals (especially calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium) in food and prevents their absorption. Phytic acid does not leach minerals that are already stored in the body; it only inhibits the absorption of minerals from food when phytic acid is present.
Phytic acid interferes with digestive enzymes including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is required for the breakdown of starch. Phytic acid also inhibits the enzyme trypsin, which is needed for protein digestion in the small intestine.
Lectins are a type of protein that can bind to cell membranes and are abundant in raw legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. They are commonly found on the surface of the seed coat. Lectins are resistant to human digestion and will enter the blood unchanged. They can irritate the gut lining and create inflammation.
Most nuts and seeds have high concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These fats are generally chemically unstable and potentially create damage on a cellular level in the body. Polyunsaturated fats are made up of various fatty acids including omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. High levels of omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory. An excess of omega-6 fatty acid and total PUFA intake strongly contribute to today’s chronic and metabolic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. PUFAs are easily oxidized when in contact with oxygen, heat, and light. Their oxidized form creates toxic reactions with sugars and proteins in our bodies.
In addition, the omega-3 fats in nuts or seeds are not a good source of omega-3. The omega-3 fat found in plants, nuts, and seeds is alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which is difficult for the body to convert to the necessary DHA and EPA.
Solution and Problem
Soaking nuts and seeds overnight in salty water is a way to get rid of most of the phytic acid and leptins. After the nuts and seeds have soaked, they should be rinsed thoroughly. Then they could be dried or eaten while moist. However, the polyunsaturated component of nuts and seeds cannot be reduced. As a matter of fact, these fats are easily oxidized and thereby could cause cellular problems when ingested.
Here is a table of various nuts and seeds and their composition of Saturated Fats, Monosaturated Fats, Polyunsaturated Fats, and their ratio of Omega-6 Fatty Acids to Omega-3 Fatty Acids. You can see that the healthiest nut is the macadamia nut with a low polyunsaturated component and a healthy Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. (The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats in the human diet is between 1:1 to 3:1.)
|Peanut (not real nut)||15%||52%||33%||5,162:1|
While nuts and seeds are often loaded with beneficial nutrients, most nuts and seeds should be kept to a maximum ingestion of a handful per day because:
- Most nuts contain phytic acid that binds to minerals and blocks their absorption
- Most nuts contain lectins that can irritate the gut lining
- Most nuts are very high in total polyunsaturated fat and omega-6 fat, two things that should be kept to a minimum and that cannot be improved with soaking