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Interview with Dr. James Costello: Sprouted, Raw Nuts: Best Healthy Foods to Boost Digestion & Energy?


While this article has been published before, I’ve decided to republish this interview series with Dr. James Costello to refresh your memory.

This is probably one of my favourite articles on the website, especially since this interview inspired me to follow a plant-based diet.


“Why am I not going to the bathroom when I’m eating tons of nuts?”

“I’m always tired. How can I boost my energy without Red Bull and Diet Coke?”

These are some interesting questions I get. Nutrition is such a complex subject, and I thought the best way to tackle these questions is to interview an expert in the field.

Today we’re starting a multi-part series on plant-based nutrition with Dr. James Costello, and I’m going to give away for free more actionable information, tips, and real examples than what nutritionists and seminars would charge you $1,000+ for.

James has had a successful 20+ year track record in nutrition and medicine, and I convinced him to share all his best tips with you.

Among other things, James:

  • Started Costello Brothers Dentistry in the 1980s, which quickly grew to be an elite esthetic dentistry clinic in Hong Kong
  • Co-Founded Stephen James Organics, a premium organic health food company with Stephen Costello in 2009
  • Was raw vegan pioneer in the early 1990s in Hong Kong, when the raw movement was just starting in California, made the classic mistakes many raw vegans made, and went on a quest to solve these problems
  • Studied alternative medicine and nutrition for 3 years

So it’s safe to say he’s qualified to talk about nutrition. We’ve broken down the interview with him into 3 parts because we had too much to talk about!

I’ll be publishing parts 2 and 3 in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

In Part 1, we’ll dive deeper into pre-sprouted nuts, arguably the best food to enhance digestion, build protein, and manage weight.

You’ll learn:

  • The classic mistake James made as a raw vegan
  • Why raw nuts can make you bloated
  • Why soaked nuts enhances digestion and athletic performance
  • Why you aren’t what you eat

Let’s jump right into it:


Q: We already know about your background, from everything written about you in the press and online. How much did starting out in dentistry lead you to nutrition and food?

We had a very busy dental practice in Hong Kong. We had some patients who would have various health problems. However, they were afraid to get a diagnostic from the doctor so they’d ask us what they should do.

This went on for quite a while to a point where we were getting lots of questions on how to deal with serious problems such as cancer and operations.

As a result of the questions raised by patients, we decided to study alternative medicine and nutrition in our free time. Since we both have a strong background in biochemistry and anatomy (Steve was a teacher in the medical school before entering into dentistry), we dove deep into the subjects.

In a few years, we were spending half of our time doing teeth, and the rest consulting people on nutrition, and what to do with certain health problems. We found the latter part very interesting and rewarding, and this is how we got into nutrition and organic foods.

Q: How is dentistry related to nutrition?

You are what you eat and what you eat with!  Most illness will manifest a sign or symptom in the mouth first. If you are healthy, it show’s in your mouth. If you are sick, it shows in your mouth.


pili nuts barefootprovisions



Q: What prompted you to start Stephen James Organics?

We both went raw vegan in late 90s. Having gone raw vegan, we had classic raw vegan mistakes – not having good sources of fats, oil and plant-based protein. We got very skinny and were ravenously hungry all the time.

We then experimented various vegan food sources to get our health back on track, while still staying vegan. The turning point started when Steve’s son, Sam, was born.

By the time Sam was 3, he wanted snacks all the time. Wherever he went, Sam had this aggressive appetite. We then started to make our own pre-sprouted and dehydrated bars to satisfy Sam.

To engineer the best bar possible, we studied every ingredient that is best for the body, purely out of the desire to make sure Sam was as healthy as possible. We spared no cost and ordered the best organic ingredients from around the world. We designed the bar and chose its ingredients with no intent, at first, of ever producing it or selling. It was simply the best bar design we could invent.

As we started making the bars, we gave them to friends.  One of them was a General Manager at Shangri-La Hong Kong. He loved our bars, and told us that hotels would gladly sell our products if we were to produce them commercially.

We took his advice and started the company. The process was organic, definitely not something overnight.

By the way, Sam is now 12, ridiculously healthy, happy and does really well in school.




Q: What was a classic “mistake” you made as a raw vegan? And how did that help you in making your bars?

I ate too many raw nuts!

In the late 90s, we started to experiment with raw nuts as raw vegans. I ate a lot of raw nuts, but I was bloated all the time. I remember an incident when I went to see my friend, Harry Chan, a renowned Chinese doctor for a colonic cleanse.

I fasted the day before, and thought I’d have a perfectly clean digestive system. To my surprise, Harry told me that the raw nuts I ate the day before have not been properly digested in my stomach. He told me to soak the nuts and pre-sprout them going forward.

Why Raw Nuts Can Make You Bloated

Q: This gets interesting. I’ve always thought raw nuts are good for you. Why do un-soaked and raw nuts make you bloated?

In a nutshell, enzymes in raw foods help us digest better. Raw nuts contain lots of nutrients, but they may not be nourishing to your body. After all, you can ingest the nutrients, but your body may not be absorbing and assimilating them.

Raw nuts have inhibitors, such as phytic and oxalic acid, which keep them from sprouting. In nature, when an acorn falls off from a tree, it won’t sprout right away because of its inhibitors. Instead, the acorn will wait for a moist environment before sprouting.

The inhibitors keep the nuts and seeds from sprouting until they are in a hospitable environment, which is moist and slightly dim.

When we ingest raw nuts, the inhibitors will prevent the enzymes in the nuts from activating. Since humans don’t have the wherewithal to digest the inhibitor-active nuts, the un-soaked, raw nuts may not be digested and assimilated well in our bodies.

Why enzymes help you detox, give you energy and make you lean

Q: You talked a lot about enzymes. Why are enzymes so important in our diet?

A: If you have an enzyme poor diet, it does not matter what you’re doing, you’re going to have a difficult time with the diet. Enzymes are life. Your whole body runs on enzymes.

Put it simply, there are 3 main types of enzymes – food enzymes from natural foods, metabolic enzymes in your body that reproduce and replenish your cells, and there’re digestive enzymes in your stomach that digest your food for nourishment.

When you eat cooked food above 100 C, you kill the enzymes in the food.  When you’re eating cooked foods, you are constantly taxing your digestive enzyme system.

The digestion of cooked food requires to you use metabolic enzymes to replace digestive enzymes, which allows you to digest your food. That’s why when you eat a big cooked meal, you generally feel tired afterward. Steve and I noticed how much more energy we have after we started going mostly raw!

Another benefit of raw foods is their detoxifying capabilities. When you’re eating raw foods, you’re on a constant detox from toxins all around you, such as environmental and electromagnetic pollution. A diet full of raw fruits and vegetables gives you the fresh enzymes you need to balance the pollutants.



Why Soaked Nuts Enhance Digestion

Q: Your bars are one of the very few bars out there that uses pre-sprouted nuts. Can you talk about why pre-sprouted nuts are crucial for maximum digestion and nutrition?

When you soak and rinse the nuts, you remove the enzyme inhibitors. This way, the enzymes are activated and the nuts become living food. You can then dehydrate the nuts to keep them longer, and make the enzymes dormant.

When you eat the dehydrated nuts, the enzymes automatically become activated given your gut’s moisture and warmth.  This will lead to better digestion and assimilation of the nutrients, leading to better nourishment.

This is why we pre-sprout and dehydrate our nuts to ensure the enzymes remain intact.

A side note: You may also want to remove skin of some nuts. For instance, almond skin contains inhibitors called phytic acid that can chelate mineral like iron and inhibits enzymes we need to digest our food. So you may want to remove the skin after soaking the almonds.

 Q: You’ve talked about raw nuts. Do cooked nuts nourish our body the way pre-sprouted nuts do?

No. High heat of any kind kills lipase, the enzyme in the nut that breaks down lipids or fats.

Cooked nuts are relatively more fattening than pre-sprouted nuts since the enzymes are destroyed. But you still get more benefits than a meat source protein which is that it still has vitamins, fiber, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, micronutrients!  That’s a lot of difference!

When you ingest cooked nuts, your body will not recognize the lipids, since the lipase (fat enzyme) is destroyed and the oils are morphed by the heat. As a result, your body stores the lipids from nuts away as fat, or gets rids of them as toxins.

This is why we always recommend people to eat soaked, pre-sprouted nuts if possible.


“You Aren’t What You Eat. You Are What You Digest.” – Dr. James Costello



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Why Digestion Matters

Q: So we’ve established that soaked nuts enhance digestion, while raw and un-soaked nuts can lead to poor digestion. Why does enhanced digestion matter?

The core of nutrition starts with digestion. With proper digestion, your body can effectively assimilate and absorb nutrients.  Most diseases in the body are due to mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

You may have all the nutrition you want from the food sources. But this does not mean you are properly nourished, because your body has not broken down the nutrients efficiently.

Nourishment refers to nutrients that are actually digested, assimilated and properly used as fuel for the body. We get our nourishment from natural, organic, whole foods that are bursting with energy. When you process foods, you lose the nourishment factor.

Enhanced digestion helps with everything, from losing weight, to getting clear skin, to preventing diseases such as cancer.

When you have poor digestion in your body, you feel tired and lethargic. I see people in their late 30s and 40s who are tired all the time. This is usually because they have developed a poor digestive system over the previous 20-30 years due to improper food and lifestyle.

Why Digestion Is Key To Vitality and Weight Loss

Energy is quite a commodity these days. To stay energetic through your 70s, 80s, and beyond, you’ll need to start with cleaning up your digestive system. Drag zaps your energy.

And to reduce drag, you want to make sure you eat foods with live enzymes that can enhance your digestive system. This way, you can properly assimilate the nutrients better and break down food more efficiently. Keep in mind, healthy fats are critical to life.

 Q: Great, so how does enhanced digestion enhance weight loss and improve athletic performance?

If you don’t digest food properly, you’re likely to store them as stubborn fats in areas of your body where you don’t want your fat to be.

For instance, when you eat a raw avocado with enzymes intact, your body can digest the avocado properly. Your body will recognize the fat and properly assimilate it in your cell membranes. This way, your body will metabolize the fat for daily functions.

However, when you eat French fries, the high heat kills the enzymes. Your body can’t recognize and digest the fat, leading to buildup of fat and toxins in your body. This is why not all calories are created equal (We will explore this in later parts of the series. Stay tuned!). French fries contain carcinogens and acrylamides. They are not worth the perceived “wonderful taste.”

In terms of athletic performance, when you compare two athletes, one has drag and the other doesn’t, it is a no brainer than the person who has a clean colon will perform better athletically.

For example, we sponsor the Nepalese ultra-marathon team. The team members grew up with natural foods in the countryside of Nepal. When the athletes ate whey protein bars and shakes, the products made them sick because these foods are too processed for their clean digestive systems.

The team members’ bodies were so used to natural foods. They had trouble digesting regular whey and other nut protein bars and shakes when they were running. However, when the team members ate our soaked and dehydrated bars and nuts, they thrived (Yes they are champs almost everywhere they go!)

Q: Since you talked about whey, let’s dive deeper into protein bars and shakes, and best sources of protein for athletes.

Next time, next time…

Coming Up Next

Yes, we’re almost done – admit it, you’re hanging on to know if you need whey to be a Greek God/Goddess, aren’t you?

In Part 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll talk about:

Why whey can lead to constipation

  • Best sources of protein for athletes (yes this one’s for omnivores)
  • Why protein conversion rate matters if you want to gain muscle
  • How to choose the best nutrition bar
  • Why counting calories is an ineffective way to lose weight
  • The rule to remember if you want to stay toned without counting calories

… and more

Stay tuned! You can sign up here to receive updates on the next part!

Dr. James Costello is the Co-Founder of Stephen James Organics. Drs. Stephen and James Costello are brothers who share a passion: optimum health. The company started when Steve wanted to give his son healthy energy bars, but those available were either unhealthy, tasted terrible, or both. So, the brothers set to work on making their own, creating Stephen James Organics.