Ever felt peckish for a snack and opened the fridge to feel confused as to what to eat?
I've been there, many times! You don't want to make decisions that will cause inflammation, impact your gut health, contribute to skin breakouts, fuel a blood sugar roller coaster and cause hormone imbalance. So you shut the fridge and remain hungry... which shortly becomes hangry.
I generally encourage sticking to two- three main meals, giving your body longer fasting times of 12+ hours over night and limiting snacking. There are however times like pre-period, pregnancy and breastfeeding where your appetite will increase to support important changes, production and growth. While you're breastfeeding for example, you'll require an additional 500 calories per day, including around 20gm more protein per day than times when you're not carrying or nourishing a baby. Yes, breastfeeding hunger is real!
That aside, you're here because you want some snack inspo, right?
One of my breastfeeding snack go-to's has been my homemade nut butter. If you have nuts, coconut oil (or MCT oil), salt and a blender, you're set. It's an easy process and you'll save a tonne of money overtime, especially if you've been purchasing pre-made organic nut butter. Note: To help save on organic nuts to make your nut butter, seek out an organic wholesaler or co-op in your area.
I love adding some to a piece of apple or pear to help slow down the blood sugar release of the sweet fruit, dolloping a spoonful to bulk up a coconut milk and collagen smoothie, or enjoying a sneaky mouthful straight off of the spoon.
But, there is a catch. Nut butter is such a delicious, easy and versatile snack, that it is easy to overdo it.
Nuts (along with grains, seeds and legumes) contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid, which can inhibit your absorption of important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. It does this by binding to minerals within the food and also impacting your important digestive enzymes, amylase, pepsin and trypsin needed to adequately digest the food.1
Phytic acid is present for protection purposes in nature- to prevent sprouting, until it is safe and ready. This is bad news for us humans, as we lack adequate levels of the enzyme phytase to neutralise phytic acid and this can impact our digestion and nutrient uptake. This may be why you feel bloated or uncomfortable after indulging in these foods.
It's not until germination occurs (sprouting) that digestive enzymes work their magic and these minerals become fully available. This sprouting process in foods has also shown to activate phytase, but research is limited for nuts. Traditional cultures however practised soaking and cooking methods for preparing nuts before consumption.
You can improve the digestion of nuts by ensuring you have adequate beneficial bacteria in your gut. Certain probiotics, including lactobacilli promote the production of the enzyme phytase.2 For a further dive into phytic acid, read this article on the Weston A Price website.
Interestingly Vitamin A and beta-carotene have indicated through research to prevent negative impacts of phytic acid effecting iron absorption, as they form a protective complex with the iron.3 Ascorbic acid can also counteract iron assimilate issues from phytic acid.4 You can see what foods are rich in vitamin A and C across in this post.
Personally, I choose to minimise my intake of grains, but opt for soaked and cooked, or sprouted when I do. I overcome issues of sneaking in foods such as phytic acid rich nuts into my diet, by ensuring I have animal sources of pre-formed vitamin A such as a high quality cod liver oil in my diet, together with cooked greens, lemon juice and raw sauerkraut for vitamin C.
I also include other food sources of zinc, iron and calcium, so I'm not relying on the intake of these minerals from nuts. Optimising my gut health and flora is also a big focus of mine, through mineral rich bone broth as well as fermented foods, such as these high strength products.
To further support the digestion of nuts and potentially reduce their phytic acid content, I'll also prepare nuts by soaking them overnight (or around 6 hours for cashews) in warm water and a splash of apple cider vinegar, followed by drying them in a low temperature oven or food dehydrator. This process is called 'activating'. Some nutrition experts suggest further roasting of nuts after this process to have the best chance of limiting phytates. I know it seems excessive, but your gut will thank me, plus you'll absorb more minerals from your snack serving.
In saying this, nuts are delicious and a much healthier snack option than biscuits, chippies and other refined flour or sugar products. Embrace your serving through my fav 'Almond Boost' nut butter recipe from my recipe book, My Vibrant Morning.
What You'll Need
2 cups almonds (activated, to enhance digestion). You can alternatively use a mixture of cashews, brazil nuts or macadamias.
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla paste
4 tablespoons MCT Oil
Pinch of salt
What You'll Need To Do:
Process, stopping to scrape the sides every minute, until smooth.
I choose to keep my nut intake to a small handful per day, or a couple of teaspoons of nut butter. I know, it will test your willpower!
Enjoy mindfully :)
ps. Find extra recipe inspo here.
1Tannenbaum and others. Vitamins and Minerals, in Food Chemistry, 2nd edition. OR Fennema, ed. Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York, 1985, p 445.
2 Famularo G and others. Probiotic lactobacilli: an innovative tool to correct the malabsorption syndrome of vegetarians? Medical Hypotheses2005 65(6):1132–5.
3 Layrisse M and others. New property of vitamin A and Bcarotene on human iron absorption: effect on phytate and polyphenols as inhibitors of iron absorption. Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion Sept 2000 50(3).
4 Iron absoprtion in man: ascrobic acid and dose-depended inhibition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Jan 1989. 49(1):140-144.