(December 2012) A must-read for those trying to improve their health is Westin A. Price Foundation’s treatise on phytic acid. I’ve read it before, but there’s so much info in it that one is bound to pick up something new with every read. The basic premise is that there are anti-nutrients in whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts that steal minerals from our diet, and inhibit enzyme activity in the gut. These supposedly healthy foods can work against us, if not prepared properly.
However, the answer is not to avoid whole grains, since white bread contains far less nutrients. It is also not smart to avoid beans, nuts and seeds, which are loaded with nutrients of all kinds – especially vegetarian protein, fiber and healthy fats – and are good low-carb alternatives. But these foods can rob minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc if eaten raw.
It’s all in the preparation. Phytate is a molecule that contains six phosphates, which steal minerals as they pass through the digestive tract. All these raw foods must at least be soaked overnight and rinsed well before eating, to remove roughly half of the anti-nutrients. Sprouting also reduces the anti-nutrient content, as does cooking. Fermenting food effectively eliminates all anti-nutrients. That’s why fermented soy (miso, tempeh, soy sauce, natto) is good for you, while regular soy (tofu, edamame, soy milk) is detrimental. Our ancestors went out of their way to prepare these foods, but we’ve lost the art in this fast-food culture.
Part of the problem is the influence of the raw food movement. Unfortunately, eating nuts and seeds in their raw state can be detrimental to health. On the other hand, soaking nuts and seeds negatively affects flavor, so it’s often necessary to roast them afterward to add back flavor. It’s not enough just to buy roasted seeds or nuts, because it’s the soaking and sprouting that removes most of the bad stuff. It’s worth it to read up on this controversy, and learn how to prepare these foods in advance.
An easier way to avoid some anti-nutrients is to consume minerals along with them. Taking a calcium/magnesium citrate capsule any time you eat brown rice, whole wheat bread, bran cereal, hummus, or raw nuts can saturate phytate with minerals to keep it from stealing others. Another nutrient to take when eating raw food is vitamin C, which can steal back the minerals and make them more available for absorption. These methods do not completely solve the problem, but they may have a significant impact. Another solution is to buy organic (composted) food. Nonorganic foods are grown with synthetic fertilizer containing excessive inorganic phosphate, which is converted to phytate (the storage form of phosphorus). GMO foods are also heavily sprayed with pesticides like RoundUp (Glyphosate), which also steals minerals from the body.
The best yardstick to assess the impact of these anti-nutrients is bone health. If you are dealing with dental problems, chances are it’s due to the whole grains, raw nuts, seeds and beans you eat. This is also true if you’re losing bone mineral density post-menopausally. The choices are clear: Either reduce the anti-nutrients that steal minerals, or add extra minerals and vitamin C to your diet, or both, if you want to preserve your bones and teeth.
We soak and sprout virtually all our beans, seeds, nuts and grains, and cook most of them. The cereals and breads we buy are sprouted as well. But, after reading about these anti-nutrients again, we will make an effort to cook or roast all our beans, nuts and seeds. I also want to explore the souring and fermenting process. Lately I’ve taken to adding a TBS of apple cider vinegar to the soak water, which helps the process. I may start adding a touch of yogurt as well to foster fermentation. Warmer temperatures, such as in the oven (turned off), also help promote these processes..
Unfortunately, this runs counter to everything we’ve been told about eating healthy. Eating bran is supposed to be good for us, but the science says otherwise. Eating raw is supposedly key to a healthy diet, but not for certain foods. Eating whole grain is better than eating white, processed junk, but it has its own set of drawbacks. The good news is, these problems can be corrected with a little bit of effort and advanced preparation. Learn to soak, sprout, ferment and cook these foods and they will serve you well.