THE TRUTH ABOUT PHYTIC ACID
Followers of Weston A. Price and the Paleo diet are adamant that adherents should avoid eating foods containing phytic acid, a compound found in many plant foods (including beans, edible seeds, grains, legumes, potatoes, and nuts).
Phytic acid is the form in which plants store phosphorus (when bound to a mineral it is known as phytate), and the highest levels are found in beans and whole grains (mostly in the bran of grains). Phytates are essential to the life of plants as they provide energy for the sprouting process. When a seed sprouts, phytase enzymes break down the stored phytates, the released phytic acid then provides the essential phosphorus, facilitating plant growth and development.
For the Price and Paleo people (as well as some other nutritional programs), phytic acid is considered an "anti-nutrient" and believed to be detrimental to good health. They believe this because phytic acid can bind minerals in the digestive tract before they are absorbed, making them less available to our bodies, and carrying them out of the body with our waste.
Yet this argument is flawed. For one thing our bodies have adapted to regulating phytate levels fairly well, given that we have been eating grains and beans for thousands of years. Most phytate (37-66%) is broken down in the stomach and small intestines, unless one is severely enzyme deficient (since this process requires the enzyme phytase). And in fact, one study showed that a diet which included 1 - 2 grams of phytic acid per day did not cause any appreciable reduction in mineral bioavailability.
It can even be argued that carrying out excess minerals can be a good thing. For example, if one has iron overload (hemochromatosis), removing excess iron could be of benefit. Excess calcium is now linked to causing hardening of the arteries and calcification in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. And, because phytic acid does not discriminate between minerals, it can also pull out heavy metals from the body, something most of us can benefit from, given these toxic times.
Potential Benefits of Phytic Acid
The fact is there are many benefits to consuming phytic acid, all scientifically well-established. Here is a list of the most common benefits.
~ Metabolites of phytic acid may have secondary messenger roles in cells.
~ It is theorized that it is the phytic acid in whole grains and beans that lends them their protective properties against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. (It is the refined grains that contain little or no phytic acid.)
~ When phytic acid binds minerals in the gut, it prevents the formation of free radicals, thus functioning as an antioxidant.
~ The supplement IP6 (Inositol hexaphosphate) is made from phytic acid and is widely used as an alternative cancer therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14608114
~ Phytic acid seem to enhance the activity of natural killer cells and inhibit tumor growth, linking its consumption to lower levels of breast and prostate cancer.
~ Phytic acid reduces platelet formation and helps prevent hardening of the arteries, protecting against heart disease.
~ Helps prevent the formation of kidney stones.
~ Plays a role in preventing insulin resistance, since it has a role in pancreatic function, and lowers the glycemic response from certain foods (also making one feel full for longer).
Reducing Your Phytic Acid Intake
Rather than throw out the baby with the bathwater (that is to eliminate whole grains, beans, seeds, and legumes from our diet), we can use certain techniques to reduce the impact of the phytic acid, while still gaining the benefits of the whole foods in question.
Humans have over time developed ways to reduce the impact of phytic acid in foods by a variety of processes, including cooking, fermenting, soaking and sprouting.
Other approaches to reducing the anti-mineral impact of phytic acid include eating foods rich in vitamin C with meals containing high amounts of phytic acid, or using vinegar (ideally apple cider vinegar) at such meals, either in salad dressing or added during the cooking process. (Notice how bean salad is commonly made with vinegar.)
If you have very poor digestion consider supplementing with enzymes that include a good amount of phytase.
If you believe that you may be mineral deficient, or if you have a vegetarian diet very high in phytic acid, you may want to take a mineral supplement. http://nutristart.com/mineral-mix/
For a much more detailed examination of phytic acid, check out this article at selfhacked: