don’t go nuts

I’m not a fan of nuts.  I started out a bit of a nut eater, used to love my handful of raw almonds or home-made almond milk, thinking I was doing myself good. I’ve found that they would disturb my gut if I ate more than just a few, even if I diligently pre-soaked and dehydrated them, due to their abundance of starch as well as their anti-nutrients. After further research over the years, and learning more about fatty acids, I definitely do not view them in some therapeutic way like so many seem to. I don’t class them as a “health food” … or even as “food” for that matter, not for humans anyway.

Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus found in many plants, especially in nuts and seeds, and also in the bran or hull of grains. Although herbivores like cows and sheep can digest phytic acid, humans can’t. This is bad news because phytic acid strongly inhibits mineral absorption in adults – especially iron and zinc. Studies suggest that we absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent more magnesium from our food when phytic acid is absent.Examples of foods that contain high levels of phytic acid and other damaging anti-nutrients:

  • pytates – found in grains, nuts, seeds, legumes
  • oxalates – found in beans, rhubarb, spinach
  • saponins (punch holes in your microvilli contributing to leaky gut) – found in quinoa, chickpeas, alfalfa, oats
  • lectins – found in soy, kidney beans, nuts and grains
  • enzyme inhibitors – like protease inhibitors found in soy, grains, nuts, Nightshade vegetables

With one of the best and clearest diagrammatic and anatomical comparisons of the digestive tract of humans compared to other animals, Lierre Keith in her book ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ (a must-read) puts it so well:

Some animals are clearly adapted to grain consumption. Birds, rodents, and some insects can deal with the anti-nutrients. Humans, however, cannot. Perhaps if grains represented a significant portion of our ancestral dietary history, things might be a bit different. Many of us can digest dairy, and we’ve got the amylase enzyme present in our saliva to break down starches if need be, but we simply do not have the wiring necessary to mitigate the harmful effects of lectins, gluten, and phytate.”

“Bird and rodent food”?  Hmmm, no thank you.  Eat food that is digestible by humans!

Of plant foods, ripened fruits and well-cooked roots and tubers, as well as being high in nutrient concentration, contain the least toxic anti-metabolic and anti-nutrients substances of all plant foods.  Note: The highest concentration of plant toxins are in its seeds, and the least (or none) are in its fruit and roots.

And aside from these natural toxins (so even after nuts etc. have been soaked / sprouted / ‘activated‘) grains, seeds, nuts and legumes, are incomplete and negligible in their amino acid profile (making them a useless source of protein), high in starch and high in volatile, oxidative polyunsaturated fats.  Not efficient, functional or nutritious by any means. And as you learn more about the dangers of these polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), you’ll come to see more reason why nuts (those little pufa bombs’) should be avoided.

“Even brief exposures to polyunsaturated fatty acids can damage the insulin-secreting cells of the pancreas, and the mitochondria in which oxidative energy production takes place. Prolonged exposure causes progressive damage. Acutely, the free polyunsaturated fatty acids cause capillary permeability to increase, and this can be detected at the beginning of “insulin resistance” or “diabetes.” After chronic exposure, the leakiness increases and albumin occurs in the urine, as proteins leak out of the blood vessels. The retina and brain and other organs are damaged by the leaking capillaries.” – Ray Peat PhD

So “nut-gut” not only has implications in hypothyroidism, leaky-gut, food allergies, intestinal and systemic inflammation, but diabetes too it appears.

As for almond milk and other nut milks:  they’re super concentrated in PUFAs, phytates etc. As well, these faux milks typically contain solvents to break down the nuts to this liquid consistency, as well as additives, perfumes, additional vegetable oils, and other nasties such as Carrageenan (used as a thickening agent) which is highly immune-suppressive, allergenic and debilitates liver function (look our for additives listed as E407 or E407a, gums or guar gum).

A note too on the cocoa bean; don’t waste your money on recently fashionable “raw” cocoa / cacao or chocolate; like all other nuts and beans, the cocoa bean contains high levels of phytates and needs the fermentation and roasting process to lessen these.  Historically, chocolate has always gone through these processes … mainly to develop and improve its flavour, but flavour is an indicator of nutrition also.  And the reason I’d attest to consuming a bit of properly fermented and roasted cocoa bean (aka. chocolate) as opposed to other nuts (even if soaked, fermented etc) is that the fat component of the cocoa bean (cocoa butter) is highly saturated, as are all tropical fats.  These are the safe and protective fats. By the time you’ve dealt with the anti-nutrients in an almond or walnut, those very delicate fats they contain quickly oxidise with exposure to light, oxygen and warmth, meaning rancid fat that will deplete your antioxidant stores and age your cells.

If / when you do still choose to consume nuts, here are my tips:

  1. See them as an occasional addition to a meal, to add flavour and interest to a fruit salad maybe, not as a daily staple; definitely not in the quantities and frequency of those who concoct and mindlessly over-eat nut-based treats, cashew-nut “raw” vegan desserts or as a replacement for dairy milk (as if it’s nutrient profile of a nut ‘milk’ even remotely resembles that of real milk).
  2. Choose fresh macadamia nuts; they are unique compared to other nuts. Their fatty acid profile is more similar to olive oil (mostly mono-unsaturated therefore less prone to rancidity, oxidation and free-radical formation) and they naturally contain lower levels of phytates.  Eat a small amount (no more than say 8 on any day) raw or freshly roasted (yourself) with sea salt and a piece of fresh fruit.  But that’s still only if you have no G.I., thyroid, hormone or weight issues.
  3. Did you realise that cashews and peanuts are actually technically legumes?  Legumes should never be eaten raw (literally indigestible) and don’t bother soaking them (will only harbour mould); they need to be roasted to break down their high starch content and lessen their protease-inhibitors (that stress the kidneys).  A small handful of toasted cashews on your curry or a little roasted peanut butter (make sure it contains NO additional vegetable oils) to dip their carrot sticks into, can be tolerated occasionally by those few with robust, optimally-functioning digestive systems, if they get the urge.  Note: especially for women, these and all other legumes are best avoided completely due to their estrogenic qualities and anti-thyroid nutrients.
  4. Read ingredients carefully in “gluten-free” products.  Often grain flour in cakes, biscuits etc can be replaced by almond meal, soy flour etc.
  5. A reminder to diligently avoid all nut and seed-derived “vegetable oils”.  These are the real offenders. Read this first, and dig even deeper into the scientific research behind it.  Coconut oil, butter and a little cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil should be the only fats you add to your food.

Further reading: