Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's a Phytate?

Phytates are, essentially, how grasses and beans store phosphorous. Phosphorous is important for building strong bones and teeth, and it plays an important role in releasing energy from fat, protein, and carbohydrates during metabolism. It is also involved in the formation of genetic material, cell membranes, and many enzymes. So phosphorous is a good thing. Unfortunately, in the form of a phytate, phosphorous is not available to humans for digestion. We don't have the right digestive enzyme (phytase) to release the phosphorous from the phytate. So that's one problem.

The other problem is that the phytic acid binds to important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. This can lead to some serious nutrient deficiencies in the bodies of people who eat a lot of wheat, barley, rice, rye, oats, and other grasses, and beans. (Those of you who train with me have likely gotten your magnesium lecture already, but I'll be posting more on getting enough magnesium at a later date).

So, then, what's the solution? If you've read my discussions, you've heard me talk about sprouted foods. I'm a big fan. The sprouting process increases protein and nutritional content, and even better, it reduces phytate content significantly. (example: ) Fermentation is also a great way to remove phytic acid content almost completely (example: ).

Ezekiel makes a plethora of sprouted wheat products, like tortillas, bread, buns, English muffins, pita bread, and pasta. I buy sprouted brown rice ( some examples: ) for my rice needs, and I used sprouted whole wheat flour for baking ( example: ). You can purchase all sorts of sprouted grains and beans like oats, barley, lentils, tofu, and such, and you can even sprout your own: , .

As far as fermentation goes, you can do some home fermentation (, , ), or purchase fermented foods yourself ( tempeh, natto, sauerkraut/veggie-kraut, olives, vinegar, soy sauce, kimchee, kombucha, etc).

Now here's the good news: phytic acid does seem to have health benefits as well. It is currently being studied as a suppressive agent for several types of cancers ( ) . So it's not all bad, and does have its place in the diet.

To conclude: the hierarchy of beans/grains is as follows: processed/white foods at the bottom of the barrel-- keep these to a bare bones minimum-- once or twice a month or less (i.e. white bread, white rice, processed soy "meats," etc). Whole, unprocessed/minimally-processed foods are next-- choose these over white, processed products (whole beans, tofu, whole grains, etc). Sprouted/fermented items at the top-- choose these first whenever they are available (tempeh, miso, natto, sprouted beans and grains, etc).

Any questions/comments? Post 'em here!

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