Phytic acid and mineral imbalance

Phytic acid (or phytate when in salt form) is the primary storage form of phosphorus in many plant foods. Humans and nonruminant animals cannot digest phytates since we do not produce adequate levels of the enzyme phytase (separates phosphorous from phytate molecule).

Phytates: mineral robbers

When we ingest foods high in phytates, mineral deficiencies and imbalances can occur. Phytic acid binds with iron and zinc and to a lesser extent with calcium and magnesium making these minerals non absorbable in the
intestines. A study done in 2003 showed that iron absorption was over 1000% higher when grains high in phytates were removed from the diet (wheat, specifically).

Mineral imbalance and deficiency can cause serious health problems including cancer, Alzheimer/senility, anemia, arthritis, depression/mood swings, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease. Large amounts of high-phytate foods should be consumed with caution.

Therapeutic uses of phytates?

Ironically, lowering iron can be helpful in fighting certain cancers. Since phytates are natural chelators, it is argued by some that eating lots of phytate-rich foods helps fight colon and breast cancer. However, phytates also deplete other minerals such as zinc that are critical for our main line of defense: a strong, healthy immune system.

High-phytate foods

  • Cereal grains: wheat, rye, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, and millet
  • Nuts and seeds: pumpkin and sunflower
  • Soy beans and tofu
  • Beans
  • Vegetables: green beans, broccoli, artichokes, potatoes, carrots
  • Fruits: raisins, cantaloupe, citrus, blackberries, figs, strawberries


Reducing phytate content in high-phytate foods

Ways to reduce phytic acid in foods are sproutingsoaking, fermenting, and cooking. Soak grains for 12-24 hours in an acid medium such as buttermilk, yogurt, other cultured milk, or water with lemon juice, whey or vinegar.

Santa Cruz local health food stores carry plenty of sprouted grain options, raw nuts, seeds and beans in bulk that can be soaked, and organic produce that can be lightly cooked or fermented to reduce phytate levels.

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