Rethink Nuts, Seeds & Beans

As is the case with grains, beans and nuts and seeds contain phytic acid, which makes them difficult to digest and prevents you from absorbing the nutrients contained within. Historically, cultures that included legumes in their diet typically soaked, sprouted, or fermented these items to counteract this obstacle—a tradition we have lost in our contemporary culture. Interestingly, Nina Planck says in Real Food for Mother and Baby, “…it is not strictly necessary for health to eat grains or beans at all. We know this because our ancestors, and their prehuman ancestors, had quite a few babies, without any grains and legumes to speak of, for nearly four million years…People didn’t have grains or beans until about twenty thousand years ago, and they didn’t begin to make bread until about eight thousand years ago.” (pg. 33-34)

While properly prepared beans might be okay to consume occasionally, it is best to limit their frequency, especially if you get bloated after eating them. In this article, Chris Kresser says, “While it is true that diets high in phytic acid contribute to mineral deficiencies, it’s also true that humans can tolerate moderate amounts of it without harm (perhaps because our gut bacteria produce enzymes that break down phytate and extract the nutrients the body needs).” He goes on to say, “Because maximizing nutrient-density is one of the most important things we can do to improve our health, I think it makes sense to limit consumption of legumes to a few times a week, and to prepare them properly (i.e. soak for 18 hours and cook thoroughly) when you do eat them.” To learn more about proper preparation to reduce phytate (and more on why doing this benefits your bones and teeth), check out this article on the Weston Price Foundation website.

When it comes to soybeans, I avoid them. Soy is problematic for a number of reasons: it’s not good for our hormones, can cause thyroid issues, is often genetically modified (so at the very least, go organic!), and like other beans they contains phytic acid, which leaches minerals from the body. Fermented, organic soy is okay occasionally if it agrees with you, although I still worry it affects estrogen levels and leads to skin breakouts, so I skip it all together.

Nuts and seeds also contain phytic acid, but they don’t notoriously cause bloating and gas the way that beans do, and, therefore, properly prepared nuts and seeds have a more favorable place within a healthy diet. Because the fats in nuts are sensitive to heat, however, it’s a good idea to use raw nuts, not roasted—and unfortunately they can be hard to find. This article from the Radiant Life blog does a great job of explaining why raw and soaked nuts are preferable and gives a good homemade nut butter recipe as well as the best quality (online) store brand. And this article talks about concerns regarding almonds and almond flour.

The typical American diet contains too many polyunsaturated fats, found in oxidized fats like canola, soy, corn, and nut oils, such as peanut oil. While these should absolutely be avoided, consuming some polyunsaturated fats from real foods like raw, organic nuts and seeds is fine. When buying nut and seed oils, they should be cold-pressed and also bottled in dark containers to protect them from light. As tempting as it might be, do not use these for cooking.

As is the case with grains, beans, nuts and seeds contain physic acid, which makes them difficult to digest and prevents you from absorbing the nutrients contained within.

Peanuts in particular are a common GMO crop, so be sure to buy only organic. I personally avoid peanuts since they are also susceptible to molds and are almost always roasted, which damages the healthy fats. Most importantly, do not use commercial brands that have added hydrogenated oils and sugar. There are plenty of other nut butters to choose from, like almond butter, even though it can be difficult (and expensive) to find good brands that have processed the nuts properly. And even if you can find raw nut butters, the nuts were undoubtably not soaked beforehand to reduce phytic acid so if you love nut butters, you are much better off making your own.

Finally, while coconut is not technically a nut, it is a healthy, on-the-go snack. It contains lauric acid, which kills bad bacteria in the gut.

Action Steps

  • Consider avoiding beans, or limiting them to a couple times a week, especially if you experience gas and bloating after eating them
  • If you consume soy, make sure it is organic and ideally fermented, like tempeh
  • If you do have beans, soak them overnight to remove phytic acid
  • Soak nuts overnight to remove phytic acid
  • Eat only raw nuts and seeds
  • Eat more coconut!

Tips from my kitchen (and the kitchens of those I admire):

  • If you do eat beans, soak them overnight, then boil them until tender, skimming off the foam. This soaking process helps neutralize the phytic acid and improves their digestibility. Buying dried beans and cooking them yourself is also very affordable.
  • Chia seed pudding makes a healthy breakfast. Put 1/4 cup organic chia seeds in a glass jar with approximately one cup of coconut milk or raw, whole milk, and shake. Alternatively, put the milk in a blender with a few dates and blend, then add to the chia seeds in a jar and shake. You can leave this mixture in the fridge overnight and in the morning you’ll have a delicious pudding. Cinnamon and vanilla are yummy additions.
  • When it comes to gluten-free flours I prefer using rice and coconut flour as they can take high heat (e.g. baking bread) better than nut flours, like almond flour, that have delicate fats damaged by high heat. Here is a good coconut flour pancake recipe from Thrive Market. 
  • Soak raw almonds and/or walnuts overnight and then put them in a food processor with 1-2 tbsp of cacao powder and a couple tablespoons of raw butter to make a raw pie crust
  • Soak nuts, drain and then blend in a powerful blender or food processor, adding cold-pressed oil if needed, to make homemade nut butter
  • A good soy sauce alternative is coconut aminos 
  • Use a corkscrew to puncture the holes in a mature coconut, drain out the water to drink and then smash the coconut with a hammer or by placing it in a sturdy bag and smashing it against a concrete surface.