These are naturally occurring substances in many foodstuffs which are deemed to cause harmful effects such as interfering with our body’s ability to digest and absorb food or cause inflammation and other immune system disturbances.
One such “antinutrient” is phytic acid
Present in virtually all pulses, grains, nuts and seeds, phytic acid is concentrated in the germ and also the outer husk. Thus, unprocessed whole grains contain greater amounts.
In vitro (in the “test-tube”) phytates bind to minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and zinc, rendering them insoluble and unavailable for absorption by humans.
There is no reliable research demonstrating malabsorption or any other harmful effect in vivo, other than in maybe in the case of zinc . On the other hand there is good evidence that phytate in our diet may in fact be beneficial.
Phytate is an anti-oxidant
Phytate is a powerful anti-oxidant and many scientists hold it responsible for many of the health promoting effects of eating a diet high in grains and pulses, including the Mediterranean diet.
Phytic Acid can
- reduce blood fats and increase high density beneficial cholesterol levels
- protects against osteoporosis and increases bone mass in osteoporotic individiuals –this nicely illustrates that brittle bones or osteoporosis is not related to calcium deficiency but is a loss of all components of bone tissue
- bind to alpha-amylase to slow down the absorption of sugars helping diabetics regulate their blood sugar
- There are many other claims including a positive anticancer effect
There is broad agreement that grain/pulse intolerant individuals are reacting not to phytate but to Lectins. We’ll look at this story later.
I always go for the middle ground (very Buddhist):
- Eat plenty of untreated whole grains, pulses nuts and seeds
- Include some of the above subjected to processes which reduce phytate. These include
- adding vinegar such as in salad dressings
- consuming vitamin c-rich foods
- sprouting – this release an enzyme (phytase) which effectively break down phytate