The mineral inhibitor phytic acid: Reduce it in your food

Published: 01st October 2010
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Grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain a mineral inhibitor known as phytic acid which binds to the minerals in your food and keeps your body from benefiting from the mineral-rich nature of those foods. When you notice the packaging on your food item with high levels of iron, zinc, calcium, or magnesium. You should know that you will not be able to benefit from the high mineral content unless you prepare your food with purpose.

As luck would have it, however, there are basic kitchen techniques that work to reduce phytic acid in your food. Soaking, fermenting, and sprouting are some of the most effective methods for reducing phytic acid in your food. If you adopt these techniques in your cooking and baking, you may improve your absorption of minerals by anywhere from 50% to 400%, depending on the food itself. Kitchen preparation techniques are fairly simple if you are already cooking whole food from scratch.

For warm cereal like a whole wheat porridge, you can soak the cereal in warm water over night (about body temperature) to reduce the phytic acid. Use the portion of water that your recipe requires, bring it to about 100 degrees, and combine the water with the cereal the night before. In the morning simply cook the cereal, but watch your cereal carefully and stir it well -- it will cook quickly and could burn and stick. Now that your cereal is cooked, not only will you take in more minerals, you will also speed up the cooking time of your cereal.

Bread bakers will want to use sourdough strategies to break down phytic acid. Common bread flours such as wheat and spelt do have phytic acid but, for the most part, they are high in the phytase enzyme that breaks down the phytic acid during the rise time of the bread. Even a yeast bread with one rise will break down the phytic acid to some degree. A sourdough preparation will be much better still.

In the case of beans, many cooks soak their beans for some hours before cooking. To combat phytic acid soak your beans overnight (or better yet, for about 18 hours) in very warm water. When we soak beans, we start with a temperature of about 120 degrees and keep the beans in a warm place. The soak water will cool down over time but as the beans absorb the water, add more warm water to your soaking beans. When the beans are soaked and ready to be cooked, pour off the soaking water and add fresh water for cooking. Proceed with your recipe as it directs you.

You can also soak nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and almonds, to reduce the phytic acid levels, though the soaking will be more effective if the nuts and seeds are broken into pieces. By breaking the nuts, you increase the surface area of the item and the soaking is more effective. Soak the nuts or seeds for twelve to eighteen hours, much like you would do the beans. Drain the water from the nuts and then allow the nuts to dry on a clean cookie sheet until they are crunchy. You can dry the nuts or seeds in an oven with a pilot or in an oven set to low heat.

Science often comes with notable exceptions and in food science research, there are foods that do not respond to these techniques, including soy, corn, and oats. Each of these foods is low in an enzyme called "phytase" that reduces the phytic acid. Soy must be fermented -- turned into miso or tempeh in order to see any notable change in phytic acid. Oatmeal and corn can be fermented as well, but they will improve with the use of a complementary grain higher in the phytase enzyme such as fresh wheat or rye. Cornmeal is often used in recipes with wheat flour for instance. Use whole wheat flour, fresh ground, to leverage the phytase in the wheat to work against the phytic acid in the corn.

These foods, plant-based foods filled with minerals, can be especially nutritious, especially if they are prepared with techniques that reduce their phytic acid content. Soak your cereal grains, make sourdough bread, soak your beans and nuts and you will be well on your way to an improved mineral status.

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