In this article, I explain what is phytic acid exactly and why raw vegans (or anyone) should be cautious when eating foods containing it.
What is phytic acid?
Phytic acid is found in all seed foods. By seed foods, I mean foods that are eaten in a form of a seed — grains, nuts, seeds and beans. Some tubers contain phytic acid but in smaller quantities. A few vegetables and fruits contain it as well.
Why is it there in the first place? The thing is, in plant embryos (aka seeds) phosphorous is stored in the form of phytic acid (phosphorous is required for germination).
Phytic acid is quite a large molecule. Its 2-dimensional structure (if you draw it on a piece of paper, like the one on the picture) reminds a snowflake.
However, its real structure, that is, a 3-dimensional structure (if you build this molecule from plastic atoms) is a bit messier than a snowflake.
No matter what structure you look at, you can see that there are six identical parts to this molecule that are sticking out. These “arms” are known as phospates and are the guys that create trouble.
When you eat foods with phytic acid, in your digestive tract, the “arms” bind to certain minerals. Examples are iron, zinc and calcium.
Once the minerals are bound to phytic acid, you can say goodbuy to them, now they are lost forever. None of them would cross the wall of your small intestine, enter blood and consequently your cells. In other words, minerals are not absorbed* or assimilated**.
That’s because phytic acid+mineral complexes, called phytates, stay in your small intestine and are eliminated like all waste.
Above I described one bad side of phytic acid.
But there is another bad side to phytic acid
Consider the following: phosphorous is the second most abundant mineral in your body and is vital for strong bones and teeth.
In plants, the majority of phosphorous is locked within a phytic acid molecule.
To free phosphorous, phytase, a digestive enzyme, needs to break phytic acid molecule.
We, humans, creatures with one stomach, don’t have phytase in sufficient enough quantities (Cows do).
Because it blocks absorption of minerals and humans can’t free phosphorus from its structure, phytic acid is called an antinutrient.
How phytic acid threatens raw vegans
Now, answer this question: Where do raw vegans get the bulk of their calories? The answer is — grains, nuts and seeds! Where phytic acid is found! A trap!
For this reason, if you are not properly preparing your seed foods properly, with time your cells may experience a lack of phosphorous, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper or manganese. Among several other problems, this may result in brittle bones and teeth!
So, because of phytic acid, if you are vegan, you are playing a risky game. Okay, maybe a little bit less than risky 🙂
What happened to me? My teeth, genetically strong and almost resistant to decay, started to have cavities twice as often after a year on this diet. That includes cavities along the gumline which I never had before. I admit, over 50% of my calories were coming from inadequately prepared grains.
Phytic acid is probably the weakest spot of the raw vegan diet. You fuel up on what seems like the best foods but the health of your teeth may worsen!
What you can do is, first, don’t eat seed foods every day. When you do eat them, do something to reduce phytic acid. Depending on the type of foods you eat, soaking in acidic water, fermenting or sprouting would reduce phytic acid to some degree.
How? By activating the naturally-present phytase enzyme which I mentioned earlier.
Second, you can also load up on vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamin C lowers the mineral-binding effects of phytic acid.
It’s not all bad
Phytic is not all awful and black. Because it doesn’t make distinction between good and not-so-good stuff in your gut it also attaches to harmful compounds. For example, heavy metals.
You see, if you don’t want this compound to become your enemy, you need to know how to deal with foods that contain lots of phytic acid. This will be the focus of the coming posts. There is much more to it, this is just an intro!
*absorption – movement of nutrients from digestive tract into blood
**assimilation – movement of nutrients from blood into cells
Vikas Kumar, Amit K. Sinha, Harinder P.S. Makkara, Klaus Becker. 2010. Dietary roles of phytate and phytase in human nutrition: A review. Food chemistry, 20(4):945–959
Ramiel Nagel. Cure Tooth Decay. 2011 (e-book)
Phytic acid is a large molecule that looks like a snowflake and is found in many common plant foods.
Phytic acid is found in many healthy foods like grains, nuts, seeds and beans.
Phytic acid can be bad and good!
Let’s see how it can be bad:
When you eat foods with phytic acid, in your digestive tract, it binds to certain minerals. For example, iron and calcium.
Once these minerals are attached to phytic acid, you cells cannot absorb them. For this reason, when you eat lots of foods with this compound you may develop, for example, iron or calcium deficiency.
Now, let’s see how it can be good:
Phytic acid can also bind to heavy metals which are harmful for your body. For example, cadmium, copper, lead and nickel, which is awesome!