What do beans, grains, nuts, seeds and some plant food all have in common?
Well they all contain ‘’Phytic acid’’ or ‘’Phytate’’
But what is Phytic acid exactly? Scientifically speaking Phytic acid is the storage compartment for phosphorus that is found in the hulls of grains and seeds.
We are often told to avoid foods that are high in Phytic acid – but why?
Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that grabs hold of minerals like calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium that are found in the wholegrain and creates an insoluble and indigestible complex in the digestive system. When these nutrients get to the small intestine they aren’t in a usable form and are therefore not absorbed into the body. So even through these minerals are technically present in some grain, our bodies cannot actually use them in this form so they may as well not be there at all. Bound minerals that cannot be absorbed will ultimately lead to mineral deficiencies. For example, Osteoporosis is common in societies where cereal grains are a staple part of the diet.
Phytic Acid also interferes with the enzymes that humans need to digest food.
Unlike animals, humans do not have the digestive enzyme ‘Phytase’ that is required to break Phytic Acid down in the small intestine.
Keeping with tradition
If we look back to how our ancestors prepared and consumed Phytase containing foods we find that they developed a way to make them more digestible. This method is known as soaking and sprouting; this is where these foods are covered with warm water for 12-24 hours, then rinsed and drained. The purpose behind this is to trick the grains into thinking they have been planted and allow them to release some of their anti-nutrients and make their minerals more accessible.
Research has shown that this method only deactivates some of the Phytic acid found in this food but not a huge amount.
Phytic Acid and Whole grains
Phytic Acid is found in the outer bran and germ of the wholegrain. If this outer layer is peeled away, we would be left with fewer Phytates but then the end product would still be a refined grain that is devoid of most of the nutrition and fibre and still containing all of the concentrated carbohydrates.
But what about vegetables?
Some vegetables also contain Phytic acid however they are also rich in nutrients which reduces the overall impact of Phytates. There simply is not enough Phytic Acid in these foods to bind to the minerals found in vegetables. This means that a large percentage of those nutrients are still available to us.
…..and nuts and seeds?
It is true that Phytic Acid can be found in the outer shell of nuts and seeds. By dry weight they in fact contain more Phytic acid than most grains and legumes.
However, unlike grains and legumes, nuts are rarely the hero of any dish and are not relied on for nutrients. Unless you are polishing off a jar of nut butter on a daily basis or eating them by the bucket load – a handful of nuts to accompany a meal will not do your body any harm. Nuts provide a tonne of good stuff including healthy Monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. If you are consuming nuts as part of a diet rich in healthy fresh food, there is no reason to eliminate them – just be mindful of how you are including them in your diet.
Nutrition Research Author – Danielle Fancellu