Should you be avoiding phytic acid?

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One pervasive myth about whole grains and fibre is that, Phytic acid in whole grains is an “anti-nutrient”. You know if some one is writing about this type of bullocks, they really don’t understand the complexities of human physiology or nutrition.

Phytic acid is a substance found in plant food (grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, peas, chickpeas, soy beans) It’s found in the bran part of the grain. Whole grains contain the highest amounts of phytic acid, whereas processed grain has nearly all of it removed entirely.

Phytates are the salt of phytic acid it stores minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphate. Basically any one who eats plants or whole grains eats phytic acid- that’s almost everyone in the population!

Am I at risk of a high phytic acid intake?

Intakes of phytic acid are higher in vegans and vegetarians especially in developing countries where diets are reliant on grains and legumes. This is one example which phytates may be an issue, because of the lack of variety in the diet. However this is not relevant in the western societies due to the abundance and variety of food.

Now phytates have been dubbed the term “anti-nutrient” because it binds to minerals like iron and zinc, it prevents their absorption. People demonise healthy whole grains because they believe that phytates bind to all of the nutrients in that meal, leaving it nutrient less. Which is a little over exaggerated to say the least. It is extremely unlikely that you will develop a nutrient deficiency or have sub par nutrient intakes due to phytates in your meals.

This concept is so wrong! Phytic acid, (37-66%) of it is degraded in the stomach and small intestines. Our body regulates phyate levels pretty well (Just like it does with our pH levels).

In general, humans do not produce enough phytase to safely consume large quantities of high-phytate foods on a regular basis. However, probiotic lactobacilli and other species of digestive microflora, can produce phytase. When I’m talk about microflora, Im talking about the naturally occurring bacteria in our gut. It’s estimated that we have at least 1kg of bacteria in our gut. This bacteria actually is part of our immunity.

You can “top up” this bacteria by using products like Inner health plus, Yakult and yogurt. When you eat a lot of phytate containing whole grains, this bacteria increases the production of phytase. Phytase is an enzyme that neutralises phytic acid making it easier for your body to absorb nutrients. This explains why some people with high whole grain intakes can adjust to a high-phytate diet.

What people don’t realise is that chemicals such as this are in plants to naturally protect them from foreign invaders and insects. However most animals including humans have processes internally to combat these chemicals and it’s nothing to be scared of.

Phytic acid is beneficial to your health

On the contrary, phytic acid has many positive benefits to your health. It acts as an anti-oxidant when interacting with iron. Helping to neutralise free radicals. It has been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Did you also know that high-fiber diets tend to be associated with reduced colon cancer risk? Did you also know that phytate may help with controlling blood glucose levels? If you want a more in depth over view of how phytates in whole grain and lower your risk off all course death and disease have a read of this link.

To demonise phytates because of one ‘potentially’ negative aspect is such a simplistic view on how food and nutrients interact within the body. It also means you are ignoring all of the other evidence which supports whole grains and there benefits to health.

Sorry to the pseudo science guru’s out there, I’m not going to tell people they are going to die from eating phytates. I also have NO affiliation with big food OR big phrama. #Itsnotaconspiracy

 

Extra Reference

  1. Markiewicz LH et al Diet shapes the ability of human intestinal microbiota to degrade phytate–in vitro studies. J Appl Microbiol. 2013 Jul;115(1):247-59.
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