Is phytic acid the devil it’s made out to be or is it just a 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 its “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. Its worth to note that they used 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?
Lets find out the verdict.
What is phytic acid?
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 referred to as “anti-nutrients” due to the reason that it prevents the bioavailability of nutrients in foods containing phytic acid.
Phytic acid binds to certain essential minerals in the intestinal tract thereby impairing 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 phytate due to our lack of enzyme called phytase.
Phytase is responsible for breaking down phytate in the digestive tract and allowing the absorption of certain minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium
We normally dont consume these foods in their raw state because we cook them first and there are other measures that can be employed to reduce the anti nutrient effects in foods containing phytic acid, thereby activating the availability of the minerals present in these foods.
The paradox of phytic Acid. Is phytic acid really a bad thing or is there some good to it?
Phytic acid comes with its the prons and cons. On 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 have a balanced diet and you rely solely on a diet rich in phytic acid content, this can put you at a vulnerable situation interms of nutritional value, but then again your one meal rich in foods with phytic acid content will not affect your other meals which you consume throughout the day, provided you have a balanced diet.
On the flipside, phytic acid has some disease fighting properties, these include the following :
- Phytic acid has antioxidant properties which 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 deficiencies due to the phytate which prevents mineral absorption.
Individuals with mineral deficiencies such as iron and calcium should take a precaution in terms of a diet rich with phytic acid content such as whole grains, beans and nuts.
It is recommended to diversify your diet. Incorporating animal food sources in your diet will enhance the absorption of certain minerals such as iron, zinc etc.
It is believed that a proper preparation of foods with phytic acid can reduce the effects of anti-nutrients, as this can allow the absorption of some of the nutrients since the technique or method can only decrease phytic acid but not remove it completely.
Too much food with phytic acid content in the same meal with no animal protein can raise a concern in terms of the proper absorption of certain minerals, such as zinc and iron. Diversifying your diet is key.
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 certain minerals in foods containing phytic acid.
- Boiling foods : While we boil our foods caution must be exercised in a 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 digest 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 : is 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.
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 healthy 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.