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.