Health benefits and drawbacks of phytic acid

Phytic acid (IP6, phytate) is a substance produced in the seeds of plants, which apparently has an effect on the absorption of minerals by people when consumed. It is a phytate in the seeds of plants where most of the phosphorus is stored. When the new plant grows and the seed sprouts, this phosphorus is released for use of the growing new young plant sprouting from the seed.

According to some studies, phytic acid hinders the assimilation of zinc, iron and calcium, which in some cases may lead to harmful and even dangerous deficiencies. This interference with the absorption of certain minerals and nutrients is why phytic acid is sometimes referred to as an “anti nutrient”.

In many cases, IP6 is used as a preservative because of its antioxidant properties.

This though doesn’t mean that this substance is entirely harmful and it should be avoided fully. Quite the contrary, phytic acid has some health benefits for humans as well.

Naturally, phytic acid can be found only in foods derived from plants, in fact from most plants with edible seeds, legumes, nuts and grains, as well as in some roots and plant tubers as well.

Phytic acid  in walnuts is about 0.2-6.7%.

Phytic acid in walnuts is about 0.2-6.7%.

Almonds contain some of the largest quantities of phytic acids (0.4 to 9.4%), followed by rice bran, wheat bran, walnuts, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds and a number of other seeds, legumes, nuts and other plants. The amount of this phytrate can vary greatly in the same type of seeds, nuts or legumes, as can be seen from the numbers quoted for the phytic acid content in almonds, which can vary from 0.4% to 9.4%.

Phytic acid impairs absorption of some minerals

The problem which some people have with phytic acid is its interference with the proper and full absorption of iron, zinc and calcium by the human organism. This though is true only for one meal and doesn’t mean that the IP6 has an effect on overall mineral absorption. So, in case you decide to eat some nuts after a meal, this could hinder the proper absorption of the essential minerals by your organism at that moment.

The problem with phytic acid may be serious if you tend to eat mainly grains, legumes or nuts. This may lead to some severe mineral deficiencies. If you lead a healthy lifestyle, and eat well balanced meals, the phytic acid shouldn’t pose a problem in the long run.

But even though this substance in plant seeds may cause problems with the proper absorption of zinc, iron and calcium, this shouldn’t stop you from eating nuts, legumes and grains at all. They are nutritious and healthy foods. In some countries, such as the poor developing countries these foods are the main dietary components, so there is no way to stay away from them.

How to reduce phytic acid in your food

Even if you need to eat plant foots with phytic acid on a daily basis, there are ways to treat these foods, so that the amounts of this substance in them is significantly reduced.

For example, you should soak your cereals or legumes for one night before preparing them. Sprouting or germination of the legumes, seeds or grains also causes the reduction of phytic acid. Fermentation of these products also causes a very serious reduction of the phytic acid.

The phytic acid in these main plant-based foods is not all so bad though. It does offer some antioxidant effects to the organism, and is known to protect the kidneys from developing kidney stones or cancer, especially colon cancer.

So, in general a person who eats diverse foods and has a balanced and diverse diet shouldn’t be too worried about the negative effect of phytic acid. But for people who rely mainly on grains and legumes, the risk of developing a serious and even life-threatening iron deficiency or other mineral deficiency could be a serious one.

For people with iron deficiency and for vegetarians and especially for vegans, phytic acid should be something to be careful about.

People who eat meat shouldn’t be so worried, because the animal products also contain heme iron and zinc which is not affected by the phytic acid. So for those who eat meat on a regular basis and for others who choose to soak, ferment or sprout their grains and legumes before consumption, this shouldn’t be a problem either.

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