Phytate–Friend or Anti-Nutrient?
This week, we’re going to talk about phytate or phytic acid and whether it’s healthful or harmful.
Phytate is a unique natural compound found in seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes. This compound stores phosphorus. Once the seed sprouts, that phosphorus is released and used by the young plant for survival.
Phytic acid has been labeled as an anti-nutrient because it hinders the absorption of some minerals such iron, zinc, and calcium. It’s possible that this can cause mineral deficiencies among people who don’t eat a balanced diet.
So is it really an anti-nutrient?
Is it totally bad for your health?
No, it’s not. In fact, it has a number of benefits!
Phytate only blocks the absorption of the aforementioned minerals at the time it is ingested and doesn’t affect the absorption of minerals in subsequent meals.
And besides, the benefits of high-phytate foods far outweigh its anti-nutrient ability. The following are some of the health benefits of phytate:
- Phytate is anti-cancer. Not only does phytic acid stop the growth of cancer cells, but it also boosts the immune system so that the natural killer cells are able to get rid of cancer cells without hurting the normal cells. They cut down blood supply to tumors so that the tumor is starved and not able to thrive. What’s better news is that phytate allows cancer cells to go back into normal cells. It’s that fascinating?!
- Phytate protects from osteoporosis. In a study, women who had high phytate levels had the lowest levels of bone loss in the hips and spine.
- Phytate prevents kidney stones. The presence of phytate inhibits or stops the crystallization of calcium salts and thus prevents the formation of renal or kidney stones.
So generally, phytic acid isn’t bad for your health just because it is an anti-nutrient. Unless, of course, you don’t eat a balanced diet.
For example, meat is a heme source of iron and is more efficiently absorbed by the body in contrast to non-heme iron which is derived from plants. It’s the same with zinc.
So it’s ideal if your diet consists of both plant and meat sources of these minerals to avoid having problems with mineral deficiencies. Plus, you can try these 3 strategies to lessen or degrade phytate in your plant sources:
- Soaking. Legumes and cereals can be soaked in water overnight so that their phytate content can be reduced.
- Sprouting. Also known as germination, sprouting degrades the phytic acid in seeds, nuts, and legumes.
- Fermentation. This process allows the formation of organic acids that break down phytate.
Overall, your body receives more benefits than harm from phytate. It only becomes significantly a problem if your mineral sources are not varied. However, there are techniques that can reduce the phytate content of your food, such as soaking, sprouting, and fermentation.
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