Many people are concerned with the excessive intake of phytates through foods such as beans, nuts, and grains so we thought why not explore this area in our next post.
Let me start off by saying that phytic acid and phytates are not a problem for most people and you should not be scared of them.
For those of you who don’t know, phytic acid is the storage form of the micronutrient phosphorus. It is often considered an anti-nutrient because it binds minerals in the gut before they are absorbed, making them less available to our body. This is why you will often hear people talking about poor bioavailability of nutrients from beans etc. As explained earlier, seeds, beans, nuts and so on store phosphorus as phytic acid, when phytic acid is bound to a mineral in the seed/bean/nut it is known as phytate.
People think phytates are bad because your body will not absorb enough minerals. Despite that, they can actually help in the prevention of chronic disease. Our bodies regulate the phytate levels pretty well and adjust the uptake in the gut and excretion until the body levels come into balance. Too many people get fixated at looking at specific things on their own, (for example phytates binding minerals) rather than looking at the bigger picture of how they actually affect our body in conjunction with other factors. You don’t just consume phytic acid on its own. Most phytates are degraded in the stomach and small intestines. Everyone who eats plants will consume some phytic acid, therefore, plant-based eaters tend to consume more than omnivores. Even though vegans tend to consume more iron than omnivores, they also consume more of the anti-nutrients which reduce the iron availability to the bodies. Consuming around 5 to 10 mg of phytic acid can reduce iron absorption by as much as 50%.
Some of the people’s other concerns are that phytates also reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins, and fats. While in the intestines, phytic acid can also bind to zinc and manganese which is then excreted in waste. This can definitely be a bad thing if you are already deficient in one of those minerals.
Regardless of its drawbacks, some experts believe that beans and whole grains have their protective properties against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer because of the phytic acid. Grains with little phytic acid tend to be refined and we all know to avoid refined food.
When phytic acid binds minerals in the gut it prevents the formation of free radicals, therefore making it an antioxidant. It also seems to bind to heavy metals which helps prevent their accumulation in the body which we all know is bad.
In conclusion, most people shouldn’t worry about phytic acid. In a healthy balanced diet, the effects of phytic acid on iron, zinc, and manganese is minimal and doesn’t seem to cause deficiencies. Most of the potential negative effects of phytic acid are offset by its benefits. A study showed that subjects consuming a Mediterranean diet that included a 1000 to 2000 mg of phytic acid per day did not have any reduced mineral bioavailability. This could be because of a few factors, here are some ways on how to reduce the possible anti-nutrient effects of phytic acid in food and enjoy the benefits of a plant-rich way of eating.
• Cooking food can destroy small amounts of phytic acid, however, it can also destroy some vitamins such as vitamin C.
• Soaking grains, nuts, seeds will reduce phytic acid.
• Fermenting foods can help break down phytic acid, tempeh is an example of a fermented soy product.
• Sprouting nuts and beans will enhance the native phytase activity in plants, therefore, decreasing phytic acid.
• Consuming vitamin C with your meals will boost the absorption of iron and counteract the phytic acid. Some good food sources of vitamin C are broccoli, sweet potato, cauliflower, kale, parsley, lemon, pineapple, oranges, bell peppers, and kiwi. There are other mineral absorption enhancers such as garlic and onions which will improve the bioavailability of iron and zinc.
Some people will argue that you shouldn’t eat foods such as soy, corn, broccoli etc. because they are hybrid foods and they contain higher levels of phytic acid and starch than their wild counterparts. However, people will go to the extremes of avoiding hybrid foods without even having access to things such as wild rice, burro bananas etc. We live in a world different from the one our ancestors did, don’t avoid hybrid foods.
As always, this is not intended to be personal health advice. If you are making changes to your diet in order to heal a disease or improve a certain condition please consult with a health care professional. I am simply sharing information that I have found useful.