I am an impatient person. I live on carbohydrates, and I have never been so great at the pre-soaking business that is apparently a necessary precursor to putting seed-based foods in my face.
So, if you – like me – have ever wondered why some food gurus swear by pre-saturating sweet planty goodness before indulging, allow me to explain a thing or two about a little anti-nutrient called phytic acid.
What is phytic acid?
Phytic acid is the main phosphorus storage system in seeds, and as a seed develops it binds to minerals in the seed and becomes phytate.
It is found in varying amounts in all edible seeds, nuts, whole grains and legumes, and it’s also used in a commercial capacity as a preservative (due to its hectic antioxidant abilities).
Why all the phytate hate?
If phytic acid is an integral energy source for sprouting seeds, and it’s great for soil health, why is it apparently not great for us?
In humans, phytic acid impairs mineral absorption by binding minerals in the digestive tract. It then becomes an excretory phytate and pulls the minerals out along with it. This is obviously not ideal if you’re trying to up your levels of manganese, magnesium, selenium, potassium, iron, copper, calcium and zinc.
Phytates also reduce the digestibility of proteins, starches and fats by inhibiting digestive enzymes.
Phytates deserve some love!
So, when you eat that quinoa salad without soaking your quinoa, sure you’ll lose some iron and zinc, but uranium and lead are coming out too. That isn’t good. That’s great. Fuck the zinc.
In addition to reducing heavy metals, phytic acids also:
- Helps control blood glucose levels (thanks enzyme inhibitors!)
- Acts as a potent antioxidant
- Protects against alcohol-related liver injury and DNA damage by blocking free radicals and elevating antioxidant potential
- Decreases inflammatory cytokines in colon cells
- Induces autophagy, an important cellular process for removing junk proteins and cell pathogens
So, contrary to what my fellow diet enthusiasts had lead me to believe, phytic acid is actually a healthy plant compound!
How do I fit phytates into my diet?
Ironically, the people who benefit most from phytates are those who are already motivated enough to follow a balanced and nutritious diet.
Phytic acid only impairs the mineral absorption of the meal you consume it with. If you have a diverse nutrient-load in your other meals, you’re fine. But if you eat phytic foods with most of your meals (which is easy to do if you rely on grains and legumes for a protein source) and you do this for many meals in a row, mineral deficiencies are likely to develop.
So, those that need to prepare their phytates are usually the lazy ones who rely on beans and grains to keep them upright and functioning because they aren’t adult enough to eat adequate amounts of vegetables (I am referring to myself here).
One phytate warning you need to know…
Phytate-heavy foods should be conspicuously absent from many meals of those at risk of iron and zinc deficiency. Anaemics, vegans and vegetarians, I am looking at you here; non-heme iron from plant-derived foods is not easily absorbed, and i salso highly affected by phytic acid.
If this is you, there are a few different preparation methods available to you.
- Soaking: It’s the least labour intensive method, so it’s great for the lazy, but not for the impatient.
- Sprouting: This takes even more time and effort (but is such a cute idea! Baby beans!)
- Fermenting: During this process the organic acids formed enable phytate degradation over an extended time period. Not for me.
The bottom line
As far as I can see, when it comes to leaving deez nuts dry, the pros far outweigh the cons. So it’s a high-five from me for high-phytate foods.
This article was written by Tamara Kenna, Dreamland’s resident health reporter. If you’ve got a topic you’d like to see Tamara investigate, drop us a Facebook message!