Vegetables are packed with nutrition, but they also have one other insidious chemical that actually robs your body of iron, zinc, and calcium.
This natural substance, found in every type of vegetable, fruit, seed, nut, and legume, is primarily used to stop other animals from eating it. Even with the health benefits, it has its distractions, something you need to be aware of.
What Is Phytic Acid?
Phytic acid, sometimes called phytate, is a natural phosphorus-based chemical that works as storage in a plant. Sometimes, it acts as an antioxidant and a warning sign in others. It tastes bitter, being higher in underdeveloped plants than fully developed ones.
Considered an anti-nutrient, it binds minerals in your digestive tract making them less available for absorption. Primarily, you'll find phytic acid in beans, legumes, and grains.
That means that vegetarians are at higher risk for mineral deficiency the more beans they eat.
How Phytic Acid Robs Us Of Iron And Other Nutrients
When you eat a food that's rich in phytates, in your digestive system, it grabs on to minerals and binds them tightly. Then, because you can't digest it, you pass it out as waste.
That's why it's so crucial for you to have a diet that has a wide array of vegetables and fruit in it. That way, you keep mixing up the different types of nutrients you're getting and can avoid deficiency. You should also avoid having beans in most of your meals, including soybeans and vegetarian-based meat substitutes.
Does Phytic Acid Have ANY Benefit For Us?
But, phytic acid does good in your body. It's excellent for helping to prevent cancer and other illnesses. Phytic acid seems to enhance natural killer cells' activity, which can inhibit tumor growth. It's one reason why doctors said soy was a preventative for breast cancer, the phytic acid content. Soy is exceptionally high in phytic acid, even if it also contains goitrogens that damage the thyroid.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Hardening of the arteries
- Kidney stones
- Insulin resistance
While phytic acid can help these conditions, it's only a part of the reason why a diet rich in vegetables and whole grains is healthy.
How To Reduce The Phytic Acid In Your Diet
There are a couple of ways to reduce the phytic acid found in grains and beans. It all depends on going back to more traditional methods of cooking and preparing foods.
Some of the oldest methods, such as soaking, fermenting, and sprouting, were time-consuming and beneficial. They ended up releasing more nutrients and reducing the phytic acid.
In cultures that relied on beans, such as much of the South American and African traditional cultures, beans soaked the day before, and the water frequently changed to remove impurities. Soaking ends up removing 30 to 50% of the phytic acid found in the beans. It also helps them cook faster.
Sprouting is another efficient way to reduce phytic acid in grains and beans. It enhances the natural phytase enzyme activity, as the phytase enzyme breaks down phytic acid. Some of the traditional methods of sprouting grains included soaking the grains and beans overnight and then allowing them to germinate. The combination of activity reduces the phytic acid between 50 and 75%.
Fermentation may be the healthiest way to go. It introduces beneficial probiotics and reduces the amount of phytic acid. The fermentation process and organic acids produced promote phytase activity, and much of the remaining phytic acid moves into the liquid. Since it's a more extended and time-consuming method, the phytase has longer to work and can destroy more of the phytic acid.
Milling, or the production of refined grains, reduces phytic acid by removing the bran layer with the phytic acid. It also significantly reduces all nutrients, leaving behind only sugars that are not healthy for most people.
If you eat a diet high in vegetables, particularly whole grains and beans, you should pay attention to your phytic acid content. It can determine how healthy your food is overall. The higher the phytic acid content, the lower the nutrients you get out of your food.
You may be eating more fruits and vegetables and have a higher quantity of vitamins going in, but you're not getting as much out of them. Using some of the methods above to reduce the phytic acid content helps you absorb more nutrients and get more out of your food. That is what makes you healthier.