You may have heard of phytic acid as a "mineral reducer," and this is very true. Eating raw nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes can prevent your body from absorbing some of the minerals from your food.
But phytic acid has another side too. It has some health benefits.
In this post we are exploring the health benefits and drawbacks of eating phytic acid, and how to reduce its content in foods.
Phytic acid and minerals
Have you heard of phytic acid being referred to as an “anti-nutrient”?
Phytic acid is naturally present in most nuts, seeds, grains and legumes; it is the plant's storage form of the mineral phosphorus and is used as energy when the plant starts to grow.
Phytic acid binds to the minerals iron, zinc, and calcium. When phytic acid is bound to a mineral, it is in the form of phytate.
The highest levels of phytic acid are found in rice bran, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, and walnuts.
Problems with phytic acid in foods
Phytates or the phytic acid content of plants is not a bad thing… However, the problem arises because the human digestive system lacks the ability to break the bonds of phytates to release the minerals, making minerals unavailable for absorption into the body.
This is why phytic acid is known as a "mineral reducer."
Phytic acid's effects only apply to mineral-containing foods in the current meal. Once digested, there is no mineral reduction on any future meals and there is no impact to the minerals your body has already absorbed.
Phytic acid’s health benefits
Phytic acid isn’t all bad - it has some health benefits too.
It can act as an antioxidant. It can also help reduce your risk of kidney stones, heart disease, and even some cancers. It also prevents your body from absorbing too much iron that leads to hemochromatosis, or iron overload, which can be fatal.
Because it loves minerals (which are metals), phytic acid in your gut can also bind to any heavy metals (the metals we don't want too much of) that may have hitched a ride with your food.
How to reduce phytic acid
As you can see, phytic acid shouldn't be a huge concern, unless your main foods at most meals are nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Because many of these are nutritious foods, you probably don't want to cut all of them completely out of your diet.
Considering both the good and bad properties of phytic acid, you may still want to reduce how much you consume. Maybe you want to increase your mineral intake. If so, here are two popular methods to naturally reduce phytic acid:
Soaking - Place nuts, seeds, grains or legumes in a bowl, cover with water and leave overnight. Then drain the water and rinse before eating or preparing.
Sprouting - After soaking, draining, and rinsing, place damp nuts, seeds, grains or legumes into a container that's exposed to the air (like a mason jar with a mesh lid). Every 8 hours or so, re-rinse them and drain the water. Continue doing this for a few days until you see sprouts peeking out.
Why do soaking and sprouting help reduce phytic acid in certain foods? It is because being wet is a "sign" to leave their dormant (dry) state and start a new life. Enzymes activated during soaking and sprouting deactivate phytic acid to use its energy and stored minerals for the plant as it begins to grow.
Phytic acid is found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. It has a bad rap as a mineral reducer. Yes, it most definitely prevents absorption of critical minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium, if they are in your gut at the same time. Phytic acid in food can become a health concern if you are deficient in these minerals, or if your diet is largely based on nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.
But, if you eat a varied diet, then phytic acid should not be as much of a concern. In fact, phytic acid does have some health benefits.
If you want to reduce it in your food, you can soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.