What is phytic acid?
There are four types of foods that contain phytic acid: grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. For ease of reference, I will refer to these four food groups together as GLNS through the rest of this article.
Also known as phytate when in the form of a salt, it is an amazing mechanism developed by many GLNS’s to store phosphorus. Phosphorus is important for the germination and growth of the GLNS’s and the continued growth of that sprout to a full-grown plant.
This is a particularly interesting protection mechanism for these little plant precursors. These little guys are popular food choices for many wild animals, and when consumed, can survive the digestive process and germinate. Phytic acid is the mechanism by which the GLNS’s protect their source of nutrients so that if they survive digestion, they can go on to grow and establish.
Why should I be concerned about it?
While phytic acid serves an excellent purpose for the GLNS’s that are trying to stay alive, it doesn’t benefit in the same ways.
Ruminant animals such as cows, goats and sheep are able to digest phytic acid because they have a rumen that functions to ferment the food and break it down before completing digestion. We, however, are not ruminants.
Because we are not ruminants, the foods that we eat that contain phytic acid tend to sit in our stomach undigested. This can lead to heartburn and acid reflux as the food begins to ferment and rot (lovely, right?). Eventually it all passes through the system but we repeat the cycle every time we eat food with phytic acid.
Aside from the digestive discomfort, phytic acid is considered an anti-nutrient for three main reasons:
- It blocks the absorption of the minerals in the food we eat that contain it,
- It binds to other minerals that our bodies need and holds on to them so we cannot absorb them,
- It inhibits the digestive enzymes produced by our body to digest the food we eat. (Acid reflux happens here) 
Let me clarify here that I am NOT saying that these foods are inherently bad for you! What I am saying is that they need to be used with intention. We can glean great nutritional benefit from these foods.
How to eat foods with phytic acid
Phytic acid is neutralized by soaking other acidic foods or fermenting.
An excellent resource to learn how to implement this into your everyday cooking is a book called “With Love From Grandmother’s Kitchen” by Monica Corrado. This book outlines specific soaking times and mediums for the variety of GLNS’s that you eat.
Fermenting these foods also yields the neutralization of phytic acid, but it takes longer than soaking.
You can also find pre-soaked foods if you feel like the process is too time-consuming.
Pre-packaged grains like noodles can be soaked but I have found that they become mushy when cooked. The best solution I have found is to cook noodles with apple cider vinegar in a ratio of 1 tablespoon per cup of water, keeping the ratio to the quantity of water you need.
If these things are a part of your life…
If you can relate to any or some of these things, you may need to consider changing your routine with GLNS foods:
- Take a prescription or over-the-counter antacid frequently or daily
- Often have heartburn or digestive discomfort such as bloating, slow digestion, or constipation
- You have allergies to grains, legumes or nuts
- You have a chronic inflammatory disorder
- You are constantly hungry, even after having a large meal
- You eat a lot of carbohydrates
- You strive to eat a raw food diet and have problems with fatigue, weight gain or tooth de-mineralization (these occur at times with the paleo diet)
- You suffer from malnutrition-type symptoms but don’t know why
- You suffer from mood swings or other emotional difficulties
Do these ring a bell? Then consider purchasing the book I recommended above and integrating the suggestions into your diet. You will be glad you did!
I have lived with what I thought was a gluten intolerance for many years, and cooked all gluten free. After I began soaking these foods, I have found that I can eat foods containing gluten. It has broadened my choices in food and I feel much better for it!