Is phytic acid the devil it’s made out to be or is it just hype?
There seem to be different perceptions out there regarding foods with phytic acid content such as legumes and grains. Some seem to think that the foods containing phytic acid are bad due to their “anti-nutrients” effects and must be avoided.
Ironically, these foods are normally nutrient-dense and can form part of a healthy diet. These foods have been consumed by people from different traditional cultures for ages and have become a part of their daily meals.
It’s worth noting that they employ techniques of soaking and fermenting their legumes and grains.
What do we do now, avoid them as some people will suggest or continue eating them? If we do what are the implications?
Let’s find out what the verdict is.
What is phytic acid?
According to research phytic acid is a naturally occurring substance found in plant-based foods. It is the form in which phosphorus in plants is stored up until sprouting occurs and phosphorus is liberated.
It is thought to have an anti-nutrient effect due to the reason that it prevents the bioavailability of nutrients in foods containing phytic acid.
Phytic acid is believed to bind to certain essential minerals in the intestinal tract thereby lowering the absorption of these minerals, promoting mineral deficiencies as a result.
These minerals include zinc, iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium. Legumes and whole grains are said to be packed with these minerals.
We are unable to absorb these minerals due to the phytic acid present in foods and our bodies are not capable of digesting phytic acid due to our lack of an enzyme called phytase, research indicates.
Phytase is said to be responsible for breaking down phytate/phytic acid in the digestive tract and allowing the absorption of certain minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium
Fortunately, we don’t normally eat these foods in their raw state as we cook them first. Other measures can be employed to reduce the anti-nutrient effect in foods containing phytic acid, thereby activating the bioavailability of the minerals present in these foods.
The paradox of phytic Acid. Is phytic acid a bad thing or is there some good to it?
Phytic acid comes with its pros and cons. In the negative light, it is considered an “anti-nutrients” which prevents the absorption of minerals causing mineral deficiencies as a result.
If you do not eat a balanced diet and you rely solely on a diet rich in phytic acid this can make you vulnerable in terms of nutritional value, but then again your one meal rich in foods with phytic acid content will not affect your other meals which you eat throughout the day, provided you have a balanced diet.
On the flip side, research reveals that phytic acid has some disease-fighting properties, these include the following :
- Phytic acid has antioxidant properties that are known to prevent the formation of free radicals.
- Help fight cancer
- Prevents the formation of calcium oxalate stones.
- Help fight cardiovascular disease
Is phytic acid a nutritional concern?
It’s not recommended to stop eating foods with phytic acid as they are packed with nutrients and can form part of a healthy diet.
Eating only plant-based foods rich with phytic acid can put a person at the risk of mineral deficiency due to the phytate which is said that it prevents mineral absorption.
It is recommended to diversify your diet and incorporating animal food sources in your diet will enhance the absorption of essential minerals such as iron, zinc, etc.
It is believed that the proper preparation of foods with phytic acid can improve the absorption of minerals in the gut and reduce the effects of its anti-nutrient properties.
It is said that too much food with phytic acid in the same meal can prevent the absorption of certain minerals highlighted above, “Therefore to lower this risk, it is recommended to avoid eating large quantities of foods containing anti-nutrients at one meal” by diversifying your diet.
The foods containing phytic acid
Legumes, whole grains, and nuts contain high phytic acid content but in different amounts. These foods include :
- Sunflower seeds
- pumpkin seeds
The measures that can be employed to decrease the anti-nutrient effects in foods
These techniques can help activate the bioavailability of minerals in foods containing phytic acid.
- Boiling foods While we boil our foods caution must be exercised in the sense that overheating the food can damage the phytase including vitamin c, this process can reduce only the small amount of phytic acid.
- Sprouting grains: this method can reduce the phytic acid in plant foods due to the activation of the enzyme called phytase because it digests phytic acid.
- Fermentation consuming whole grains in their fermented form helps reduce the phytic acid due to the enzyme phytase which breaks down phytic acid.
- Soaking your grains and legumes s another method that can reduce the anti-nutrient effects of phytic acid and other anti-nutrients found in plant-based foods.
Countries with struggling economies are said to be vulnerable to mineral deficiencies as their diets are mainly plant-based, such as legumes and grains. It’s important to note that it helps to balance your diet than relying only on certain foods.
Diversifying your diet by incorporating other food sources like animal protein can enhance the absorption of certain minerals such as iron and zinc.
“Studies on vegetarians who eat diets high in plant foods containing anti-nutrients do not generally show deficiencies in iron and zinc, so the body may be adapting to the presence of anti-nutrients by increasing the absorption of these minerals in the gut”, according to Harvard T.H.Chan, School of Public Health.
Practical take away
While the anti-nutrient properties in plant-based foods can block the mineral absorption in these foods, it does not imply that we must avoid these foods as we will miss out on the health benefits that these foods provide.
It is recommended that a person with mineral deficiencies including iron and calcium should take a precaution around foods with phytic acid content. It’s best to consult their health care provider to ensure that they make food choices that best suit them.
Otherwise eating a healthy balanced diet and applying the preparation techniques should balance things out, according to research.