Are phytic acid in grains, beans, and nuts really a problem?

Phytic acid is found in most grains, beans, nuts, and some vegetables. Phytic acid is found is most legumes which is a class of vegetable that contains several seeds in a pod (such as beans, peas and lentils). Phytic acid in salt form is known as phytate. Phytic acid is the form in which many plants store their phosphorus. In grains, it is most often found in the hulls and bran of the grains.

Humans and other non-ruminate animals can not digest phytic acid or phytate because they do not have the digestive enzyme phytase that removes the phosphate from the phytate molecule.

Furthermore, the phytic acid chelates (meaning binds) to minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium reducing the bioavailability of the these important mineral from the food in which it came. For example, you have heard that whole grains contain a lot of such important minerals. However because of phytic acid, not 100% of the minerals that is in the whole grain is absorbable by our intestines since it is bound within phytic acid which we can not digest.

Because in part due to these reasons, the Paleo diet avoid grains and legumes. (It also avoid dairy for other reasons).

But is phytic acid really a problem?

phytic acid in grains and beans
phytic acid in grains and beans

Misconceptions about phytic acid

some say that the risk of phytic acid is overblown. And when consumed in moderation and with proper preparation of the foods with phytic acid, they should be perfectly fine. We probably can tolerate a certain amount of phytic acid. We do not need to completely eliminate foods with phytic acid. Many plant-based foods that contain some phytic acid are still healthy and nutritious for us to eat.

Just because not all the minerals in the grain is absorbed, it does not mean that none of the minerals is absorbed. You do get some of them. And it is not saying that phytic acid will remove these minerals out of your body. They do not.

In a Revolution Health Radio podcast, guest Mat Lalonde debunks the misconception that phytic acid is going to steal nutrients away from you. He says …

“But it turns out that that phytic acid in the food is most commonly bound to a metal ion already … it just means that if you look at, say, the iron content of kale, well, you’re not going to absorb all the iron that you see because some of it is bound to phytic acid or phytates”

Although some leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach have the mineral iron as listed on paper, they contain phytic acid that makes that iron not available for absorption. Therefore it turns out that you absorb more iron from animal sources such as from meats and liver.

As long as you do not have a sensitivity to nut, they are okay in moderation. And if you are concerned, just eat your nuts not at the same time as your intake of foods high in minerals and nutrients.

In fact phytates may have some health benefits in that it acts as antioxidants. It also may help prevent kidney stones by preventing the formation of calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate salts. LiveStrong article writes …

“However phytates are not anti-nutrients because they also act as antioxidants and phytate-associated mineral deficiencies are unlikely to occur in populations with a normal, healthy diet. An article in the September 2010 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition reports that diets high in phytates may be protective against kidney stones, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.”


Phytic Acid in Nuts

Nuts in general contain as much as or more phytic acid than in grains. Consuming a moderate amount of nuts is fine, just do not over-consume them or use too much nut flour.

Chris Kresser mentions in his article that …

  • Diets high in phytic acid may cause mineral deficiency
  • “we absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent more magnesium from our food when phytic acid is absent”
  • Phytic acid interferes with enzymes pepsin which helps breakdown proteins in the stomach
  • Phytic acid interferes with the enzyme amylase which helps breakdown of starch.
  • Best to avoid nut butters which are made with unsoaked nuts (which is most commerical nut butter). Sprouted nut butters may be better.

He says that …

“The majority of this data indicates that soaking nuts for eighteen hours, dehydrating at very low temperatures (either in a food dehydrator or a low temperature oven), and then roasting or cooking the nuts would likely eliminate a large portion of the phytic acid.”[3]


 Soaking to Remove Phytic Acids

The three primary ways to remove some of the phytic acid (but not all) from grains, beans, and nuts is by soaking, fermenting, or sprouting. Many traditional cultures take great care in preparation of such foods in order to make them as digestible as possible.

If you buy dry or raw beans, you need to soak them before cooking. Possible exception may be black-eyed peas and lentils.[2] Many cooking techniques explains how …

WildHealthFoods says that …

“legumes (including green beans) contain natural toxins and enzyme inhibitors and need to be either cooked or sprouted for proper digestion. Soybeans, which are particularly high in mineral-binding phytic acid, are best eaten only in cooked, fermented forms such as miso, shoyu and tempeh.”[1]

Before soaking, discard shivered, broken, or discolored beans because they will not cook properly. Soaking overnight in a glass container is best and beans can grow three to four times their size. So make sure you have enough water. Here is a good article on how to soak beans.

After soaking, discard water, drain and rinse thoroughly to remove the toxins that comes out.

Soaking not only removes some of the phytic acid and some of indigestible complex sugars that causes gas, it hydrates the bean so that it cooks more evenly and quicker. Raw beans are dirty and has not been washed. They can not wash them beforehand because any moisture will cause them to mold or sprout. Therefore, soaking the beans helps remove the accumulated surface dirt, bacteria, fertilizer, and pesticide residues.

After soaking, cook in rapidly boiling water without lid — adding water as needed. Most beans will take a hour or more to cook until they are soft. They should be soft enough so that you can mash them with two fingers.

Do not worry about overcooking because it is difficult to overcook most beans. Better to overcook than to undercook. If you see any foam in the boiling water, skim it off as that will remove more of the toxins.

To improve digestion, you can add Kombu seaweed in the soaking and cooking process.[1]

MayoClinic has several soaking methods which includes “slow soak”, “hot soak”, “quick soak”, and “gas-free soak”. The last one is interesting as it says that “75 to 90 percent of the indigestible sugars that cause gas will have dissolved into the soaking water” using this method.[2]

Cooked beans can be frozen for later use.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble to soak and prepare beans properly, look for manufactures that prepares and cooks bean properly before canning them.

One such product is Eden Organic Kidney Beans which indicate that they are “soaked overnight and expertly cooked” in the product description.

Soaking however, will not remove the phytic acid from certain grains that are low in phytase. Brown rice for example does not contain enough of the enzyme phytase; so soaking brown rice would not reduce phytic acid much. White rice has much less phytic acid since the bran has been removed. But that also means that the vitamins have been removed too.

Fermenting to Remove Phytic Acid

Raw soybeans and processed soy products are not great foods to eat due to their anti-nutrient phytic acid content. However, people in Asia eat soy without any problems. That is because they eat them in fermented form such as in miso, natto, tempeh, and tamari. The fermentation process neutralizes the anti-nutrients in soy.

Sprouting to Remove Phytic Acid

Sprouting the nuts and seed is another way to remove phytic acid. Sprouting activates phytase enzyme which helps break down phytic acid. Sprouting is also known as germination and may also enhance the vitamin content of the seeds and beans.

You may find that some nuts and seed from health food store are labelled as “sprouted”. For example, GoRaw has pumpkin seeds that are sprouted then dehydrated under 105 degrees. That is because high heat will destroy the phytase enzyme.

Soaking and Sprouting Decreases Enzyme Inhibitors

In addition, soaking and sprouting can also decrease the non-beneficial enzyme inhibitors naturally present in the grains and nuts. Grains and nuts are seeds, they want to pass through your digestive system and out the other end unharmed so that they can perpetuate their species. That is why they are naturally more difficult to digest. They also have natural enzyme inhibitors that makes your digestive enzymes less effective.

Soaking and sprouting simulates rain in nature. When grains and seeds gets rain, it lowers their defensive mechanism and decrease their phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.



What Are Some Good Gluten-Free Bread?

Here are some various gluten-free bread that is recommended by the Internet…

According to David GetOff in the Ask the Low Carb Experts podcast episode 18 (at 1 hr : 06 min), he likes the bread “Purity Bread”, “Bean Bread”, “Smart-Carb #3” by  This is based on them being gluten-free and low net carbs and the type of ingredients used.

HufffingtonPost has a slideshow of 10 best gluten-free breads based on taste test judging on taste and texture and mouth feel.  Udi’s came in number one.  And Kinnikinnik Foods came in number two.  Article dated year 2012.

Best Of Gluten Free Awards lists the “Bread & Pasta” winner of 2012.   Udi’s Gluten Free won best gluten-free sandwich bread, best gluten-free multigrain bread, and best gluten-free specialty Bread.

Is Coconut Water Healthy?

Coconut water is okay in moderation or if diluted in water.   It is definitely healthier than soda.  Because soda is one of the two worst foods according to Dr. Jonny Bowden.  (The other food is french fries.)

The healthy part is because it contains five important electrolytes and minerals:  potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and sodium. [reference]

The main drawback is that it does contain some amount of sugar.  And too much sugar is bad.  David Getoff says in a podcast that he doesn’t consider coconut water healthy due to the sugar.

Does Butter Contain Casein?

Yes, butter contains trace amounts of casein. So if one is on a strict casein-free diet, as some children with autism, ADD, and ADHD are, then butter would not be acceptable. Ghee, which is clarified butter, is casein-free. [reference]

The amount of casein that butter contain is not a large amount, however.  Casein is a protein found in dairy.  And if you look at the box label, it typically says 0 grams of protein.

Butter has less casein than milk.  Depending on a person sensitivity, they may be able to tolerate butter even though they may not be able to tolerate milk.

What are centenarians eating?

Many people who lives a long life have low insulin within the normal range. And sugar spikes insulin and should be avoided. Most cenenarian do eat meat.

Robb Wolf says that …
“centenarians ALL eat red meat, typically drink a little, are go-getters in attitude.”[reference]

And in his podcast 146, he says …
“one of the things that we see as a defining element of people living longer is that
they tend to eat more protein.”

Paul Jaminet found that centenarians tend to eat two types of diets:
1) Calorie-restriction and intermittent fasting.
2) High (saturated and monounsaturated) fat low-carb diets.

Of course there are some with good genes that can eat anything and still be healthy. Look at George Burns who smokes and lives to 100.

Typical Lifetime Dietary Habits of Centenarians

Vegetarian Who Switch Back to Animal Products

Although it is true that many people do well on vegetarianism, it depends on the individual as everyone has different genetics. Some people require more animal products than other.

There have been many cases where people after years of vegetarianism eventually ran into health challenges which was remedy by adding in animal products.

On the Livin La Vida Low Carb Show, Denise Minger talked about her years of being a vegetarian until she encounter health issues. Her health improved when she added back animal products. She then started learning about nutrition and gave the talk “How to Win an Argument with a Vegetarian“. Some people believes that eating purely plant product is healthier. Her talk debunks some of those myths.

Similarly, Chris Masterjohn talked with Dr. Mercola about similar situation of running into health issue when Chris was a vegetarian. Again these problems disappeared after adding back animal products. He believes that everyone can benefit with at least some animal products. Chris Masterjohn is now studying nutritional science as an PhD candidate.

Others that believe in the health benefits of animal products includes the Paleolithic diet advocates and the Weston A Price Foundation.

For those who want to avoid land animal meats, consider eating fish. If not, consider bivalves (such as scallops and muscles) which do not have brains and can not feel pain. If not, at least consider eggs. Eggs are very healthy and consists of complete high quality protein as well as vitamin B12 and other nutrients.

Here is article that explains why eating some animal products in moderation can be beneficial to health.

Why Saturated Fats May Have Gotten a Bad Rap

Perceptions are changing. More and more evidence is showing that sugar is the bad culprit making us unhealthy rather than natural saturated fat.

Natural saturated fats from clean non-hormone and non-antibiotic pasture-raised animals can be healthy in moderation. Because these animal eat their natural diet of grass, they contain essential omega-3 fatty acids which commercial grain-eating animals do not have. Because they are naturally raised, their fats do not accumulate hormones, toxins, and antibotics. This clean fat is a good source of fuel for the body without raising our glucose level in our blood.

Dr. Andrew Weil himself has changed his position to no longer recommending “low-fat” dairy foods. He now recommends “high-quality, organic dairy foods in moderation”. In his article Rethinking Saturated Fats, he writes …

“through their direct effects on insulin and blood sugar, refined starches and sugars are more likely than saturated fat to be the main dietary cause of coronary heart disease and type-2″ diabetes.”


He also wrote that …

“It now appears that many studies used to support the low-fat recommendation had serious flaws.”

Many others also feel that our outdated notion of fats and cholesterol may be wrong.  For example, Annette Presley speaks about this on the Livin La Vida Low-Carb Show.

Is Cholesterol as Bad as We Thought?

Similarly, cholesterol from foods may not be as bad as we once thought.  You can read Chris Kresser’s view on this on his site.

Some would argue that cholesterol in and of itself is not bad. One such argument is presented in “The Oiling of America” (video and article).

As typical of in the midst of any movement, the ideas are controversial. And saturated fats are still being debated. FrontLine interviewed several experts in the subjects on both sides of the issue.

If Saturated Fats do not cause heart disease, then what does?

Dr. Dwight Lundell writes article that says it is inflammation of artery wall caused by chronic consumption of sugar, flour, and vegetable oils.

Learn why sugar is unhealthy.

Learn why vegetable oils are bad.

Are Rice and Potatoes Safe Starches?

For those who are on a low-carb diet, they know that bread, pasta, pastries, and flour products are among the bad starches to avoid.  And they contain the anti-nutrient gluten from wheat.

But there is some debate as to whether rice and potatoes are okay to eat — in which Paul Jaminet termed “safe starches”, where “safe” refers to free from toxins like gluten.   However, whether a person can eat them depends on their level of hyperglycemia and their level of low-carb diet.  Certainly healthy people can eat them.

There is debate about safe starches between Paul Jaminet, Jimmy Moore, and Ron Rosedale about it.  Dr. Mercola summarize in an article.  And in interview with Jaminet, Dr. Mercola tended to side with Paul that we do need at least a little bit of carbs from safe starches.    Kurt Harris weighs in by saying …

“I also have come to see most starchy plant organs as perfectly legitimate fuel sources.”


In conclusion, yes, I think rice and potatoes (including sweet potatoes) are safe.