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Everything You Need to Know About Phytic Acid
If you’ve followed the Paleo diet for long, you’ve probably heard the term “anti-nutrients” used before. Phytic acid, along with lectin and gluten, is considered one of these anti-nutrients.
What Is Phytic Acid?
Phytic acid can be found in grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It is basically how these different
plants store the mineral phosphorus. The phosphorus is stored in the seed of the plant. Sometimes, the phytic acid can bind to a mineral inside the seed. When this happens, the phytic acid becomes a phytate. You may hear these words used interchangeably.
Plants use phytic acid as a form of energy during the sprouting phase of the seed. The human body isn’t as great at digesting phytic acid though.
Why Are They Called “Anti-Nutrients?”
Phytic acid is considered an anti-nutrient because it can impair the absorption of other minerals. Specifically, the minerals include zinc, iron, magnesium, copper, and calcium.
When we eat a meal high in phytates, they end up binding with the other minerals that are found in our food. When this happens, our body can’t absorb the minerals and we end up excreting instead of utilizing them. Phytates can also make proteins, fats, and starches less digestible.
Initially, if you’re eating a varied diet, this isn’t much of a concern. But, if you are eating a diet that contains a lot of foods that are high in phytic acid, mineral deficiencies can develop over time. In fact, some research has shown that when phytic acid is removed from the diet completely, the body absorbs 20% more zinc and 60% more magnesium from our food.
People with tendencies towards malabsorption should also stay away from phytic acid. In developing countries, where the majority of diets are composed of grains and legumes, it can lead to serious issues, like rickets and osteoporosis, as well.
What Foods Contain Phytic Acid?
Some plant-based food sources contain higher concentrations of phytic acid than others. The most common offenders are whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Some root vegetables and tubers also contain phytic acid – but in lower amounts. Fruits and vegetables contain trace amounts of phytic acid.
Nailing down the exact amount of phytates in food can be difficult. Hw the plant is grown, harvested, processed, and analyzed all can affect the amount of phytic acid contained within the resulting food.
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, seeds and bran contain the highest amount of phytates. Foods such as almonds, beans, lentils, sesame seeds, walnuts, and wheat germ also clock in high amounts.
Problematic Phytic Acid
A diet containing some phytic acid won’t do much harm. It becomes problematic when phytate-rich foods become the main component of a diet.
Obviously, a Paleo diet eliminates many phytate-containing foods – whole grains and legumes being the biggest culprits. But what about our beloved nuts and seeds? Some people survive solely off of jars of almond butter, right?
As a Paleo follower, we should be cognizant of the amount of nuts and seeds we consume. In fact, some nuts (like almonds) and seeds (pumpkin) contain higher amounts of phytic acid than grains. Soaking or roasting these seeds can help decrease the amount of phytic acid contained within them.
Keeping your nut and seed intake to one or two small handfuls a day is a good general rule to follow.
Starchy tubers – like yams – also have a phytic acid content worth mentioning. The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends eating them occasionally and ensuring that they are thoroughly cooked to combat the phytic acid content.
Benefits of Phytic Acid
It wouldn’t be fair to discuss phytic acid without mentioning that there are some proven health benefits to phytic acid consumption. You shouldn’t be fearful of eating phytic acid rich (Paleo-friendly) foods in moderation.
It has been shown that phytic acid can have antioxidant properties. There is some evidence to suggest that phytic acid helps in lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease, kidney stones, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Although phytic acid can bind with important minerals (like calcium) and this makes it problematic, it also can bind with heavy metals – effectively removing these toxic substances from the body.
So, should you be extremely worried about phytic acid? If you’re eating a varied, well-balanced diet, the answer is no. That being said, excessive consumption of phytic acid can be damaging – dangerous even.
The Paleo diet effectively removes many food sources of phytic acid, so it’s a great way to ensure that your phytic acid intake stays at a safe level. Going a step further and ensuring that your nuts and seeds are soaked or roasted also help keep that in check.
Lopez, H. W., Leenhardt, F., Coudray, C. and Remesy, C. (2002), Minerals and phytic acid interactions: is it a real problem for human nutrition?. International Journal of Food Science & Technology, 37: 727–739. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2621.2002.00618.x
Nagel, Ramiel. “Living With Phytic Acid – The Weston A. Price Foundation”. The Weston A. Price Foundation. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
“Phytates And Phytic Acid. Here’s What You Need To Know. | Precision Nutrition”. Precision Nutrition. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
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