ANTINUTRIENTS – WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE ALL THE FACTS
Recently, my husband shared an article with me discussing the nutritional advantages that white rice has over brown rice. It presented the case that minerals are better absorbed from fortified white rice than brown rice. The culprit for binding mineral bioavailability in the brown rice was identified as phytate.
Articles sourced from those who promote “ancestral” forms of eating have expressed their concern that phytic acid found in grains, nuts, seeds and beans represents a serious problem in our diets. Calcium, iron and zinc deficiencies are attributed to this anti-nutrient. Some have even labeled it a toxin.
There are those who have witnessed the deficits in calcium, iron and zinc along with key vitamins in developing countries where the major staples of the diet are plant foods, namely grains. Associated with diets based on unrefined cereals and legumes, the nutrient deficiencies are considered to be partially due to poor bioavailability as a result of phytate content. Bioavailability is referring to the actual absorption and utilization of the nutrient. It is influenced by dietary and physiological factors. The emphasis in this arena is what can be done to increase bioavailability.
Interestingly enough, phytic acid is not the only ingredient in plant foods that is classified as an anti-nutrient. Oxalic acid, found in spinach, inhibits calcium absorption. Enzyme inhibitors, found in soybeans, prevent protein absorption. Why would anti-nutrients be found in foods that we have thought to be nutrient rich; which we believe were designed to provide optimal nutrition?
Phytate is found in the bran and germ of grains, in legumes, nuts and seeds. It prevents premature germination and stores the phosphorous that plants need to grow. We wouldn’t be able to store these food items through the winter if it weren’t for phytates. When seed germination begins, for example, after a good soaking in the ground, “phytate is hydrolysed, and phosphorous along with minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron are liberated, becoming available for germination and development of the seedlings.”1
PHYTIC ACID IS A PHYTOCHEMICAL WITH SIGNIFICANT ANTI-CANCER AND OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS
Phytate’s molecular structure is attracted to minerals and binds with them, plain and simple. Phytate sounds fine and dandy for the seed’s sake, but what about its impact on us?
Lab analysis and experiments have demonstrated that when phytic acid is added to refined flour magnesium absorption is decreased. “Consuming 5-10 mg of phytic acid can reduce iron absorption by 50%.”2 While in the intestines, phytic acid can bind the minerals iron, zinc, and manganese. Once bound, they are then excreted. All that good nutrition is whisked away.
Interestingly enough, however, there are others who have found a bright side to the apparently bleak phytate saga. They call phytate a phytochemical, an antioxidant, a blood sugar lowering agent, and an anti-cancer compound. Another term for phytate is inositol hexaphosphate (IP6). I will cite some conclusions of researchers who approached phytate from the other side of the mountain.
“Recently IP(6) has received much attention for its role in cancer prevention and control of experimental tumor growth, progression, and metastasis. In addition, IP(6) possesses other significant benefits for human health, such as the ability to enhance immune system, prevent pathological calcification and kidney stone formation, lower elevated serum cholesterol, and reduce pathological platelet activity.”3
“All of the evidence regarding the anti-cancer effects of IP6 has come from laboratory cell cultures and animal studies. Laboratory studies of cell cultures have shown that IP6 may help put cancer cells on a path toward normal cell death and may help keep them from spreading to other parts of the body. It may also affect the growth of blood vessels that supply the tumor and the immune system in general. These studies have shown IP6 may have activity against cancer of the pancreas, breast, prostate, colon, and other types of cancer. Results of some studies in cells have also suggested that IP6 may help certain chemotherapy or hormone therapy drugs work better.
Studies in animals have found that supplementing the animals’ diets with IP6may help prevent tumors from forming in the prostate, lung, colon, skin, and other areas.”4
Joel Fuhrman states, “Phytic acid is a phytochemical with significant anti-cancer and other health benefits such as reducing inflammation, lowering blood sugar and insulin, and protection against diabetes, Parkinson’s, and even reduces kidney stone formation.”5
“The bioavailability of different minerals and trace elements is considerably reduced by phytate complexes. . . . There is also evidence for protective functions of phytic acid such as the prevention of the formation of free radicals, the delaying of post-prandial glucose absorption, the decrease in plasma cholesterol and triglycerides as well as a change in the carry over of heavy metals.”6
Preconceived opinions aside, how do you process conflicting information on any given subject? Acknowledging that I do not know all the facts is a good place to begin. When you don’t have all the facts, be slow to come to definite conclusions or state positions as absolutes. I hope you will wait to come to any definite conclusions on phytates. We do not have enough information. May God grant us wisdom and knowledge.
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1Wenche Frølich, “Phytate–a natural component in plant food”
2Ryan Andrews, “Phytates and phytic acid”
3Vucenik I, Shamsuddin AM, “Protection against cancer by dietary IP6 and inositol,” Nutr Cancer, 2006;55(2):109-25
4“Inositol Hexophosphate,” American Cancer Society, 8/5/13
5Linda Carney, MD, “Phytic acid in Grains? No problem!”
6J. Pallauf, G. Rimbach, “Nutritional significance of phytic acid and phytase,” Arch Tierernahr, 1997;50(4):301-19