Living with Phytic Acid

If you recall from our Paleo Diet Primer discussion which took place a couple weekends ago to kick off our Paleo Diet Challenge, I made mention of a few toxic anti-nutrients found in many of the “foods” we consume on a daily basis. One of these anti-nutrients is phytic acid. Below is a link to an article titled, “Living with Phytic Acid”, which takes a look at numerous studies performed on phytic acid, the “foods” containing high levels of phytic acid, as well how to remove as much phytic acid as possible before consuming these “foods”.

 

Living with Phytic Acid by Ramiel Nagel

 

The article is fairly lengthy but I HIGHLY encourage you all to read it, especially if you think you just CANNOT live without the taste of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in your diet. Not only does this article address the issues with high-phytic acid diets but also the lengthy and laborious process of removing phytic acid if you MUST eat these “foods” and choose to do so. Here are some of the highlights (with even more cliffs notes emboldened and in red) from the article to tide you over until you can sit down to read it in its entirety:

Preparing Grains, Nuts, Seeds and Beans for Maximum Nutrition

    • Phytic acid in grains, nuts, seeds and beans represents a serious problem in our diets.
    • “…we eat a lot of high-phytate foods like commercial whole wheat bread and all-bran breakfast cereals. But raw is definitely not Nature’s way for grains, nuts, seeds and beans. . .”
    • “In addition to blocking phosphorus availability, the “arms” of the phytic acid molecule readily bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable as well.”
    • “Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals, but also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin,1 needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase,2 needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.”

PHYTATES IN FOOD

    • “When a diet including more than small amounts of phytate is consumed, the body will bind calcium to phytic acid and form insoluble phytate complexes. The net result is you lose calcium, and don’t absorb phosphorus. Further, research suggests that we will absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent magnesium from our food when phytate is absent.”
    • “The advice to eat bran, or high fiber foods containing different types of bran, is a recipe for severe bone loss and intestinal problems due to the high phytic acid content.”
    • “Raw unfermented cocoa beans and normal cocoa powder are extremely high in phytates. Processed chocolates may also contain phytates…Coffee beans also contain phytic acid.”

DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS

    • “High-phytate diets result in mineral deficiencies…rickets and osteoporosis are common.”
    • “Over the long term, when the diet lacks minerals or contains high levels of phytates or both, the metabolism goes down, and the body goes into mineral-starvation mode.”
    • “Adults may get by for decades on a high-phytate diet, but growing children run into severe problems. In a phytate-rich diet, their bodies will suffer from the lack of calcium and phosphorus with poor bone growth, short stature, rickets, narrow jaws and tooth decay; and for the lack of zinc and iron with anemia and mental retardation.”

THE EXPERIMENTS OF EDWARD MELLANBY

    •  “…Mellanby discovered that consumption of high-phytate cereal grain interferes with bone growth and interrupts vitamin D metabolism. High levels of phytic acid in the context of a diet low in calcium and vitamin D resulted in rickets and a severe lack of bone formation.”
    • “His studies showed that excessive phytate consumption uses up vitamin D. Vitamin D can mitigate the harmful effects of phytates, but according to Mellanby, “When the diet is rich in phytate, perfect bone formation can only be procured if sufficient calcium is added to a diet containing vitamin D.””
    • “Those on diets high in phytate excreted lots of calcium; those on diets high in phosphorus from meat or released from phytic acid through proper preparation excreted small amounts of calcium.”
    • “…one can conclude that the growth of healthy bones requires a diet high in vitamin D, absorbable calcium and absorbable phosphorus, and a diet low in unabsorbable calcium (supplements, pasteurized dairy) and unabsorbable phosphorus (phytates).”
    • “…while whole grains contain more minerals, in the end equal or lower amounts of minerals are absorbed compared to polished rice and white flour. This outcome is primarily a result of the blocking mechanism of phytic acid, but may be secondarily the result of other anti-nutrients in grains.”
    • “…absorbable calcium from bone broths and raw dairy products, and vitamin D from certain animal fats, can reduce the adverse effects of phytic acid.”

PHYTASE

    • “Phytase is the enzyme that neutralizes phytic acid and liberates the phosphorus. This enzyme co-exists in plant foods that contain phytic acid.”
    • “…humans do not produce enough phytase to safely consume large quantities of high-phytate foods on a regular basis.”
    • “Sprouting activates phytase, thus reducing phytic acid.”
    • “Soaking grains and flour in an acid medium at very warm temperatures, as in the sourdough process, also activates phytase and reduces or even eliminates phytic acid.”
    • “…corn, millet, oats and brown rice do not contain sufficient phytase to eliminate all the phytic acid they contain.”
    • “…wheat and rye contain high levels of phytase… Soaking or souring these grains, when freshly ground, in a warm environment will destroy all phytic acid. The high levels of phytase in rye explain why this grain is preferred as a starter for sourdough breads.”

THE PHYTATE THRESHOLD

    • For best health, phytates should be lowered as much as possible, ideally to 25 milligrams or less per 100 grams…
    • “White rice and white bread are low-phytate foods because their bran and germ have been removed; of course, they are also devitalized and empty of vitamins and minerals. But the low phytate content of refined carbohydrate foods may explain why someone whose family eats white flour or white rice food products may seem to be relatively healthy and immune to tooth cavities while those eating whole wheat bread and brown rice could suffer from cavities, bone loss and other health problems.”

PHYTATES AND GERMINATION

    • Soaking and germinating grains is a good idea, but it does not eliminate phytic acid completely. Significant amounts of phytic acid will remain in most sprouted grain products.”
    • “In legumes, sprouting is the most effective way to reduce phytic acid, but this process does not get rid of all of it.”
    • “Sprouting releases vitamins and makes grains and beans and seeds more digestible. However it is a pre-fermentation step, not a complete process for neutralizing phytic acid. Consuming grains regularly that are only sprouted will lead to excess intake of phytic acid. Sprouted grains should also be soaked and cooked.”

ROASTING AND PHYTIC ACID

    • “Roasting wheat, barley or green gram reduces phytic acid by about 40 percent.40 If you subsequently soak roasted grains, you should do so with a culture that supplies additional phytase, as phytase will be destroyed by the roasting process.”

ACIDIC SOAKING AND PHYTIC ACID

    • “For grains and legumes that are low in phytase, soaking does not usually sufficiently eliminate phytic acid.”
    • “Sourdough fermentation of grains containing high levels of phytase—such as wheat and rye—is the process that works best for phytate reduction.”

PHYTIC ACID AND YOU

    • “…urge caution in including grains, nuts and legumes into your diet. It is not necessary to completely eliminate phytic acid from the diet, only to keep it to acceptable levels.”
    • “An excess of 800 mg phytic acid per day is probably not a good idea. The average phytate intake in the U.S. and the U.K. ranges between 631 and 746 mg per day…”
    • “…this means properly preparing phytate-rich foods to reduce at least a portion of the phytate content, and restricting their consumption to two or three servings per day.”
    • Problems arise when whole grains and beans become the major dietary sources of calories— when every meal contains more than one whole grain product or when over-reliance is placed on nuts or legumes. Unfermented soy products, extruded whole grain cereals, rice cakes, baked granola, raw muesli and other high-phytate foods should be strictly avoided.”

RICE

    • Brown rice is high in phytates.

NUTS

    • “…nuts contain levels of phytic acid equal to or higher than those of grains.
    • “…soaking nuts for eighteen hours, dehydrating at very low temperatures—a warm oven—and then roasting or cooking the nuts would likely eliminate a large portion of phytates.”
    • “Nut consumption becomes problematic in situations where people on the GAPS diet and similar regimes are consuming lots of almonds and other nuts as a replacement for bread, potatoes and rice. The eighteen-hour soaking is highly recommended in these circumstances.”
    • “It is best to avoid nut butters unless they have been made with soaked nuts…”
    • “…it is best not to use nut flours…for cooking unless they have been soured by the soaking process.”

BEANS

    • All beans contain phytic acid…
    • “The best way of reducing phytates in beans is sprouting for several days, followed by cooking.”
    • “Lentils soaked for 12 hours, germinated 3-4 days and then soured will likely completely eliminate phytates.”
    • “…beans should be soaked for twelve hours, drained and rinsed several times before cooking, for a total of thirty-six hours.”

TUBERS

    • Sweet potatoes and potatoes contain little phytic acid but yams and other starchy staples contain levels of phytate that we cannot ignore.
    • “These foods should be fermented…”
    • “For occasional eating, cooking well and consuming with plenty of butter and vitamin C-rich foods should suffice.”

BREAD

    • “Bread can only be called the staff of life if it has undergone careful preparation; otherwise bread can be the road to an early grave.”
    • “…the flour used in bread should be stone ground.”
    • “Rye has the highest level of phytase in relation to phytates of any grain, so rye is the perfect grain to use as a sourdough starter.”
    • “Phytate breakdown is significantly higher in sourdough bread than in yeasted bread.”

OATS

    • Oats contain very little phytase, … and require a very long preparation period to completely reduce phytic acid levels.”
    • “One study found that unheated oats had the same phytase activity as wheat.65 They should be soaked in acidulated water for as long as twenty-four hours on top of a hot plate to keep them at about 100 degrees F. This will reduce a part of the phytic acid as well as the levels of other anti-nutrients, and result in a more digestible product.”
    • “It is unclear whether heat-treated oats are healthy to eat regularly.”

SEEDS

    • Seeds…are extremely high in phytic acid and require thorough processing to remove it. Some may be removed by soaking and roasting. It is best to avoid consuming or snacking on raw seeds.”
    • “By the way, cacao is a seed.”

CORN

    • Corn is high in phytic acid and low in phytase.

RYE TO THE RESCUE

    • “For those who need to reduce phytic acid to minimum levels—those suffering from tooth decay, bone loss and nutrient deficiencies—the magic ingredient is rye. To bring the phytate content of your diet to the absolute minimum, add freshly ground rye flour or a sourdough rye culture to rolled or cut oats, cornmeal, rice and other low-phytase grains, then soak in an acidic medium—preferably water with whey, yogurt or sour milk added—on a hot plate to bring the temperature up to about 100 degrees F. This is a better solution than consuming white rice and white flour, which are relative low in phytate but have a greatly reduced mineral content (see Figure 7).”
    • “Now it is very clear which foods contain phytic acid and how much they contain, what the health effects of phytic acid are and how to mitigate phytic acid in your diet with complementary foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin D and calcium.”
    • One meal high in phytic acid won’t cause a healthy person any harm. But high phytic acid levels over weeks and months can be very problematic.
    • “Now you can enjoy some well fermented sourdough bread, together with a piece of raw milk cheese, lots of butter and a slice of meat of your choice and taste the essence of life.”

 

Post your thoughts and questions to the comments below.

by JJ Christopher in Coach's Tips

5 Responses to Living with Phytic Acid

  1. Richard

    Thanks, JJ. So it sounds like if we want a sandwich, we should opt for sourdough or rye bread? That’s not too bad…

    • JJ Christopher

      Sourdough, or preferably rye sourdough, not just rye. I think it’s the process of making sourdough bread that helps the phytic acid situation. Rye is the best option of the type of grain to work with. It’s sounds like wheat sourdough is good too.

    • JJ Christopher

      BUT, despite the sourdough bread making process, you do have to think about the carbohydrates you are consuming in said sandwich. Yeah, they’ve removed the toxic anti-nutrients but do you need the carbohydrates? Just something to think about.

  2. Sophia K

    Another question, does it follow from this article that if we’re choosing the lesser of two evils when it comes to nuts and seeds, that dry roasted are better than raw? Also, do you know of any almond butter brands that are made with soaked nuts? I looked at a couple of labels and couldn’t find this specification. Thanks…

    • JJ Christopher

      I don’t know if simply dry roasting is enough/the same. But I suppose IF there is a difference, dry roasted would be better? Don’t quote me on that. I really have no clue.

      You’d have to look up specific brands to find out if you can purchase nut butters using soaked nuts. It would most likely be information included on websites and not on the labels since it is not required to specify such.

      In the end, I really won’t be looking further into any more about how to side-step phytic acid in these “foods”. It’s too much work for me to soak, dehydrate, and roast anything. The best way to minimize your intake of phytic acid is to just avoid it completely.

      Some nuts are ok (in a pinch). But if you are relying on them consistently as a snack then you are simply just not eating enough real food.

      That’s the greatest takeaway from it all.

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