The Truth About: Phytic Acid

(Photo: by Unsplash)

(Photo: by Unsplash)

A plant compound with interesting properties, phytic acid is forsworn by those on Paleo diets–it’s in those evil grains and legumes. It’s been called an anti-nutrient. Wait, hold up. I mean, even the Big Mac and the Whopper haven’t been called anti-nutritious. so this phytic acid must be awful, right?

I first came across phytic acid when I was looking into how to make muesli the first time about two years ago. There was a blog post I found (that cited absolutely no research) that claimed that you could only eat oats after soaking them at least overnight. Otherwise, you’d unleash phytic acid upon your body–your digestion, your skin, your whole body would suffer from this. There was something about how it was traditional to soak grains the same way you’d soak beans, but now we had stopped and it was all for the worst.

Of course, with nothing to back up the claims, I went on my merry way. I mean, humans have been eating oats and other grains for thousands of years–so how bad can they be for us?

When I came back from Europe this summer, after eating tons of bread and muesli for three weeks, I had quite a few pimples. Was it the jet lag? The stress of school starting back up? Or–gasp–that stuff from that blog post that I disregarded a couple year ago? Nothing prompts me to look at what I am eating like feeling icky in my own skin. And maybe there was something to this phytic acid stuff.

So, into the research I delved.

I couldn’t find anything directly linking phytic acid to zits–ironically, I did find that phytic acid applied topically is supposed to be a good beauty ingredient. On Beautypedia, it’s got a “good” rating. It turns out that phytic acid chelates–meaning it binds to certain metals (note that when phytic acid is bound to a mineral, it is called phytate. Also, you can find phytic acid as a supplement called inositol hexaphosphate or IP6).

Phytic acid binds to iron, calcium, zinc*, and magnesium, rendering the molecules it attached un-absorbable. Binding to errant iron molecules in makeup means that phytic acid prevents that ugly, oxidized orange color your foundation may sometimes turn. However, this same property can have a negative effect on mineral absorption–but it doesn’t have to. If you eat a balanced diet, the effect on nutrient absorption (at least according to my research) should be minimal.

For those of us looking to reduce phytic acid, remember the soaking thing I mentioned earlier? It works. As does sprouting and fermenting beans, seeds, nuts, and grains. Cooking them also contributes to breaking down the acid.  There are even more possible solutions, from vitamin C to eating more meat, according to Precise Nutrition.

So, in some ways, the “anti-nutrient” label makes sense–phytic acid can literally physically stop your body from absorbing what it needs. But that isn’t always a bad thing. Having too much iron can be a problem, too.  Phytic acid also binds to heavy metals, preventing them from causing health issues. Similarly, it can bind to reactive oxygen species (those pesky oxidizers), so it acts as an antioxidant, too. Phytic acid is also connected to inhibiting cancer–which for many people may outweigh issues with mineral absorbance.

Ultimately, though the possibility of a mineral deficiency is very real for some of us, for many of us this can be mitigated by reducing the phytic acid and we can even benefit from its effects on health. If you are reading this and thinking, Gosh, Mariana, how wishy-washy can you get? Let me lay down what is purely my opinion: phytic acid doesn’t constitute a reason to completely cull an entire food group from your life. I vote for grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds–in moderation and properly prepared, of course.

* Zinc levels may be linked to acne, so perhaps phytic acid is indirectly linked to acne.

Are there any Paleo People in the audience? Feel free to bring your views and research to the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

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