Phytate in Whole Grains and Legumes

Promoters of  “Paleo” diets and other “low carb” diets, often use small  slivers of truth from reductionist research to make global claims against the consumption of whole grains and legumes (beans, peas and lentils).

One example of this practice is claiming that phytate or phytic acid – found in large amounts in whole grains and legumes – blocks the absorption of important minerals.

This assertion is correct, but to conclude that all grains and legumes should be eliminated from the human diet requires one to ignore large amounts of research (both reductionist and wholistic) that show these foods to be health promoting.

There used to be a concern that phytate consumption might lead to calcium deficiency, but research has shown the opposite to be true –  phytates protecting against osteoporosis. 1, 2

Cases of zinc deficiency in rural Iran are believed to be caused by the very large amount of phytate that villagers consume in unleavened bread.  Leavened breads (which contain much less phytate) are popular in the cities where zinc deficiency is much less common. 3

So, in extreme cases, when phytate intake is very high and zinc intake is not optimal, zinc deficiency can occur.  But this reality does not represent the overall effects of diets that include plenty of whole grains and legumes.

There is abundant wholistic evidence showing the amazing disease preventing effects of diets rich in whole grains and legumes.  There also are reductionist studies showing the health promoting effects of phytate.

Dr. Michael Greger shares some of the research that shows that dietary phytate prevents kidney stones, diabetes mellitus, dental cavities, heart disease and a variety of cancers.

Some of the remarkable cancer fighting abilities that are being attributable to phytate include:

  • Inhibiting the growth of leukemia cells, colon cancer cells, both estrogen receptor-positive and negative breast cancer cells, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, liver tumors, pancreatic, melanoma and muscle cancers
  • Targeting cancer through multiple pathways, a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune enhancing activities: detox, differentiation, and anti-angiogenisis
  • Causing cancer cells to stop acting like cancer cells and go back to acting like normal cells
  • Blocking the ability of cancer cells to produce tumor invasion enzyme in both human colon cancer cells and human breast cancer cells, thus inhibiting metastasis

According to Dr. Greger, phytate, which is often called an antinutrient,  might more adequately be described as an essential nutrient.  He gives the following convincing reasons for this determination for phytate:

  • Its participation in important intracellular biochemical pathways,
  • Its normal physiological presence in our cells, tissues, plasma, urine, etc., the levels of which fluctuate with intake
  • Its safety and
  • Epidemiological correlates of phytate deficiency with disease and reversal of those conditions by adequate intake

Remember, foods impact our health through highly integrated, interactive, even symphonic effects produced by countless food chemicals. The food chemicals in whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) promote health and fight disease. Phytate is one of these countless chemicals.  Don’t let any “antinutrient’ properties that phytate may have dissuade you from enjoying and benefiting from whole grains, beans, peas and lentils.

 1.)   A. A. Lopez-Gonzalez, F. Grases, J. Perello, F. Tur, A. Costa-Bauza, N. Monroy, B. Mari, T. Vicente-Herrero. Phytate levels and bone parameters: A retrospective pilot clinical trial. Front Biosci (Elite Ed) 2010 2:1093 – 1098.

 2.)   A. A. López-González, F. Grases, N. Monroy, B. Marí, M. T. Vicente-Herrero, F. Tur, J. Perelló. Protective effect of myo-inositol hexaphosphate (phytate) on bone mass loss in postmenopausal women. Eur J Nutr 2013 52(2):717 – 726.

 3).   Reinhold J  High phytate Content of  Rural Iranian Bread: A Possible Cause of Human Zinc Deficiency., Am J Clin Nutr October 1971 vol. 24 no. 10 1204-1206

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