Phytic Acid - Is It The Anti-Nutrient?

Phytic Acid – Is It The Anti-Nutrient?

What Is Phytic Acid?

Phytic acid is a unique natural substance found in whole grains, legumes, potatoes, nuts, and seeds.  It is also known as a Phytate.   Phytic acid is referred to as an anti-nutrient because it impairs absorption of iron and zinc, and to a lesser, extent calcium.   However, it only impairs mineral absorption in a single meal.  In other words, it doesn’t have any effect on subsequent meals unless your diet consists of high-phytate foods.  Many times that fact gets lost in the translation and is why some say phytic acid is the anti-nutrient.  For example, snacking on nuts between meals could reduce the amount of iron, zinc, and calcium you absorb from these nuts but not from the meal you eat a few hours later.

The good news is if you do eat high-phytate foods with most of your meals, it’s rarely a concern for those who follow well-balanced diets that include meat.

How To Reduce Phytic Acid In Foods

Fortunately, several preparation methods can significantly reduce the phytic acid content of foods.

Here are the most commonly used methods:

  • Soaking:   Phytate content gets reduced when cereals and legumes are soaked in water overnight.
  • Sprouting:   The sprouting of seeds, grains, and legumes, also known as germination, causes phytate degradation.
  • Fermentation: Organic acids, formed during fermentation, promote phytate breakdown. Lactic acid fermentation is the preferred method, a good example of which is the making of sourdough.
  • Toasting:  Toasting nuts on the stove top under low heat will break down phytate in nuts.   They taste better too.

Health Benefits of Phytic Acid

Phytic acid is a good example of a nutrient that is both good and bad, depending on the circumstances.  For most people, it’s a healthy plant compound. Not only is phytic acid an antioxidant, but it may also be protective against kidney stones and cancer.

Phytic acid induces autophagy.   Autophagy is a cellular process for degrading and recycling junk proteins.  It plays a role in the destruction of pathogens inside our cells.   And, autophagy is believed to be particularly beneficial in neurodegenerative disorders – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and Huntington’s Disease.   This is because these disorders are, in part, characterized by the accumulation of disease-causing proteins

Is Phytic Acid a Health Concern?

It can be.  Phytic acid is not a health concern for those who follow a balanced diet.  However, those at risk of an iron or zinc deficiency should diversify their diets and not include high-phytate foods in all meals.  This is especially important for those with an iron deficiency, as well as vegetarians and vegans.

Overall, the benefits of phytic acid outweigh any negative effects on mineral absorption when preparation methods are used to reduce it and when eating a well-balanced diet.

How To Reduce Phytic Acid In Foods

Fortunately, several preparation methods can significantly reduce the phytic acid content of foods.

Here are the most commonly used methods:

  • Soaking:   Phytate content gets reduced when cereals and legumes are soaked in water overnight.
  • Sprouting:   The sprouting of seeds, grains, and legumes, also known as germination, causes phytate degradation.
  • Fermentation: Organic acids, formed during fermentation, promote phytate breakdown. Lactic acid fermentation is the preferred method, a good example of which is the making of sourdough.
  • Toasting:  Toasting nuts on the stove top under low heat will break down phytate in nuts.   They taste better too.

Health Benefits of Phytic Acid

Phytic acid is a good example of a nutrient that is both good and bad, depending on the circumstances.  For most people, it’s a healthy plant compound. Not only is phytic acid an antioxidant, but it may also be protective against kidney stones and cancer.

Phytic acid induces autophagy.   Autophagy is a cellular process for degrading and recycling junk proteins.  It plays a role in the destruction of pathogens inside our cells.   And, autophagy is believed to be particularly beneficial in neurodegenerative disorders – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and Huntington’s Disease.   This is because these disorders are, in part, characterized by the accumulation of disease-causing proteins

Is Phytic Acid a Health Concern?

It can be.  Phytic acid is not a health concern for those who follow a balanced diet.  However, those at risk of an iron or zinc deficiency should diversify their diets and not include high-phytate foods in all meals.  This is especially important for those with an iron deficiency, as well as vegetarians and vegans.

Overall, the benefits of phytic acid outweigh any negative effects on mineral absorption when preparation methods are used to reduce it and when eating a well-balanced diet.

 

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