Phytic acid has been referred to as “the anti-nutrient”. This phrase intrigued me, so I decided to do some digging to find out exactly what an “anti-nutrient” is, and more specifically, what phytic acid is. In doing research, I found this to be a fairly large topic, so I have written 2 articles on the subject. This is the first one. Read the second article here.
What are Anti-Nutrients?
According to the Weston A Price Foundation there are many anti-nutrients besides phytic acid which block absorption of nutrients, such as “oxalates, tannins, trypsin inhibitors, enzyme inhibitors, lectins (hemagglutinins), protease inhibitors, gluten, alpha-amylase inhibitors and alkylresorcinols.” In short, anti-nutrients are nature’s way of keeping some plant foods fresh as well as protecting them from insects. It is usually best for digestion and assimilation if the anti-nutrients are removed before consuming foods that contain them.
What exactly is Phytic Acid?
Phytic acid is also known as phytate, or inositol hexaphosphate (IP6). It is a tightly bound storage molecule of phosphorous found in many plants such as tubers, beans, seeds, nuts, and grains (particularly bran). Smaller amounts are found in some fruits, vegetables (berries, green beans) and coffee. Research has found that plants grown using high phosphate fertilizers have higher levels of phytic acid than plants grown with natural compost.
What effect does phytic acid have on our bodies? In humans, it causes mineral deficiencies in three ways:
- By blocking phosphorous from being available to us. Phosphorous is crucial for our bones.
- By binding with other minerals in the gastrointestinal tract, which makes them unavailable (magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, chromium, manganese).
- By preventing enzymes from doing their job – particularly pepsin (which breaks down proteins in the stomach), amylase (which breaks starch into sugar) and Trypsin (required for digestion of protein in the small intestine).
Mineral deficiencies can have a negative impact on our health, such as osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) due to calcium not being absorbed, poor digestion, and anemia (deficiency of hemoglobin in the blood) due to iron deficiency – to name a few.
There is a ‘safe amount’ of phytic acid that most people can handle, without having mineral absorption problems: from 100 to 400 mg per day. It is estimated that many people in North America consume between 630 and 750 mg per day; numbers vary in other locations around the world. There is a chart of Phytic Acid Levels in common foods in an article by Chris Kresser here. Nuts and raw cacao seem to top the list of foods high in phytic acid.
There is also an argument out there in the world of nutritional information that phytic acid can be beneficial because it can act as an anti-oxidant. But that’s another whole other topic for some other day! Some of the informational resources I provide below contain some related information.
In my next article, Phytic Acid & Phytase, I talk about phytase, and ways to reduce the phytic acid levels – particularly in seeds, nuts and grains.