Food and health

Phytic Acid In Foods – Is It Good or Bad?

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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 :

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Rice
  • Wheat
  • corn
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Tofu
  • Flaxseeds
  • 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.

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20 Comments

  1. Wow! I learned some things today! Your very informative, and made it easy for others to understand. I am now curious to know how to cook certain food that wont disrupt the absorption of nutrients when i cook?!?! I will be back to explore more from you in the future. Thank you for sharing and caring!

    1. Thanks Earyn for finding this post useful. I dont think we get all the nutrients from food due to number of factors, such as the air they are exposed to, the heat, the anti nutrients in those foods etc. Atleast don’t overcook your food especially your vegetables and try to cook them while they are still fresh.

  2. I was just talking about this with a co-worker the other day! I feel like all of these different things they are putting into our heads and telling us they are going to harm us is just crazy! I have come to the conclusion that EVERYTHING is killing us because nothing is safe anymore as the media would have us to believe.

    Thank you for sharing all of the ways to reduce these risks!

  3. Excellent article on phytic acid. I was not aware of the ramifications of eating foods that are rich in phytic acid. Thank you for including the foods that are rich in it, and providing the preparation techniques to lessen it’s negative effects. I have a degree in Natural Health, and am passionate about this type of information. I will adjust my diet to reflect both the negative and positive aspects of phytic acid. Thanks for this eye opening article. Tom

  4. Hi Maggie, In our home we do think about healthy eating and work to balance our diet in positive ways. Thank you for this post it has given new and valuable information to think about. That is always welcome.

  5. Hi Maggie
    Because I have Rheumatoid Arthritis I do eat a lot of Beans, Nuts and Seeds.
    The diet I have been on for the past four years was given to me by a nutritionist at my local clinic and suggested by my doctor.
    I also eat a lot of fruit and veggies every day, and again suggested by the nutritionist.

    I have to say I do feel the better for being on this type of diet.
    So according to your article on the anti-nutrient effect of the phytic acid having an adverse effect on my body’s mineral deficiency, I have to disagree.

    Your article was a good read Maggie but I will stick to the diet I have and not worry about the phytic acid content of it.
    Reards

    Robert Allan

    1. Robert do stick to the diet recommended by your doctor. The aim of the article is just to create awareness about food rich with phytic acid and not to give the recommendations as to which diet to follow. It seems to me that you have a balanced diet according to your doctors recommendation . We still consume some minerals in those foods with phytic acid but to a certain degree, those minerals are not hundred percent absorbable in the intestine tract for the reason that they are bound to phytic acid and the effects vary from person to person based on their metabolism and how the food was cooked and prepared. Diversifying your diet also help in making up for the mineral loss in those foods as opposed to just eating the same type of foods especially those rich in phytic acid.

  6. Interesting Article, very informative Maggie, you done your research. That is the big thing unless you eat certain types of foods with others you don’t absorb and as you get older it is even harder. It is good to create awareness and one needs to know their own body. The more we know the more we can make informative decisions about our health.

    You may find this interesting.

    So many articles about what the body absorbs and doesn’t. Yesterday I was at a Wellness Show and this company “A Drop into Health” was there and they had an interesting health product to sell to help the body absorb the vitamins and minerals you eat. The reason I loved it was because they actually tested you blood, gave you there pill and 20 mins later tested your blood again. What an eye opener. I am 67 yrs young and my blood is like a chain there was not separation at all and white cells were very tiny, after 20 mins my blood changed and cells separated themselves the way they are suppose to. In this respect you could actually see the results and because I am 0 negative blood type wheat and any type of food with the word corn in does not work well for me.

    My daughter who is half my age done her’s as well, and her blood was so much healthier looking. After the pill and 20 mins it was even better. There were two cells that hooked together and made an infinity sign, and I asked what that was. She said my daughter had ate something the day before and her body didn’t like it. Sure enough my daughter had fast food and it made her sick.

    This is the first time we could actually see how the product worked, and yes we are on board with taking it because I have a few health issues. They also hold classes weekly so you can go talk and learn about disease prevention.

    1. Thank you so much Millie for taking out your time and reading this article. It’s interesting to learn that you are also aware about these things. “The more we know the more we make informative decisions about our health” I like that and I’ll most definitely make a research about ” A drop into health” company and learn more about their product offerings.

  7. Interesting post!
    I hadn’t heard about phytic acid before this post but I learned a ton from this post.
    Maintaining a balanced diet seems to be the best way to keep yourself healthy and still get all the important nutrients and minerals.
    The techniques that you suggested were very helpful for activating the bioavailability of certain foods and I did not know about a couple of them.
    I will try soaking my grains and legumes more to try and get more nutrients out of these foods.
    Thanks for the useful information about phytic acid!

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