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To soak or not to soak---that is the question. You may have
heard the words phytic acid before. Currently, there is a lot of media and
attention surrounding the negative “anti-nutrient” effects of this compound. So
what exactly is phytic acid? And should you be concerned?
The LOW DOWN
Phytic acid is a storage form of phosphorous found in
plants—specifically in the bran portion of grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes
(although also found in other vegetables in lesser amounts). It’s role in the
life of a plant to preserve and protect the seed until the seed is ready for
germination. However, this compound can bind to minerals in the gut such as
iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium sending them out for excretion in the stool
rather than being absorbed. Phytic acid also reduces the digestibility of
starches and proteins by inhibiting important enzymes required for their digestion
found in the stomach and small intestine (1). Due to these properties
individuals on a vegetarian or vegan diet need higher amounts of the
aforementioned minerals. For example vegans need to consume more plant-based
iron than omnivores because they consume more anti-nutrients, including phytates
that reduce the bioavailability of iron and other minerals. Therefore the RDA
for vegetarian diets is 1.8x greater than those for omnivores. For example
females 19-50 years of age eating an omnivore diet require 18mg of iron whereas a vegetarian or vegan would required 32 mg (2). If the diet is poor in minerals and rich in phytates
then nutrient deficiencies can develop. Children are often at an higher risk
than adults due to their increased vitamin and mineral needs during times of growth.
The GOOD ATTRIBUTES
However, phytic acid also binds to toxic heavy metals such
as cadmium and lead promoting detoxification. Phytic acid has also been
associated with reduced risks of cancer due to its antioxidant capabilities,
and can be beneficial in individuals with hemochromatosis (an iron overload
genetic disorder) (1,3). Also, the foods that contain phytic acid have a whole
host of other beneficial properties, as they are generally nutrient dense if
properly prepared, contain powerful plant compounds called phytochemicals, and
are a great source of both insoluble and soluble fiber. Not to mention eating
more plants is very important for overall health and longevity. So the question
is not should you eat beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, but rather the
question is how do you prepare them.
So, are you confused? Stay with me.
So technically yes, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains
contain anti-nutrients, such as phytates, which can play a role in developing
nutrient deficiencies. However, there are a few things you can do to make these
plant based foods, the superstars that they are, and increase the bioavailability
of their nutrients. By no means do I want to deter you from eating beans,
legumes, grains, nuts and seeds as they are a wonderful part of a healthy diet.
It is just that generally speaking the more phytate that is reduced the more
beneficial the food becomes (3). To find our answer we must look back at our
fore-fathers and see what they did, and what we may be missing today. More
often than not traditional practices are in place for a reason.
One word—SOAK. Soaking grains and beans has been done for centuries. However, in today's day and age, we are just more crunched for time, and have forgotten the ways of the past. When we soak nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and
grains before cooking them, the water stimulates an enzyme called phytase,
which breaks down the phytate. This begins a natural phenomenon. A signal is sent to
the dormant seed that it is now time to germinate, releasing the nutrients it needs
to become a seedling. Although cooking does reduce some phytic acid, soaking
the grains or beans in water prior to cooking will reduce the phytic acid by
8-50% depending on the duration and warmth of the water. The longer the seed is
soaked, the more the phytic acid is reduced. Roasting grains, nuts, and seeds
can also help reduce phytic acid content by about 40% (1,3). By reducing the phytate content, not only will you better absorb the nutrients, but YOU will also be better able to digest the foods in general. Most people experience less gas and bloating after consuming soaked grains and beans compared to the latter.
So generally speaking SOAK or ROAST if you can. Yes, it
takes more time than opening a can, but not only do you gain nutritional
benefits, but the flavor and texture is so much better when prepared from scratch.
However, if you are in a pinch EDEN carries soaked and properly prepared
canned beans. Although the texture isn’t perfect, they can fill in last minute.
This lentil salad recipe is a great weekday recipe. It is so
versatile and flavorful you can use it with anything. I add it to tacos, use it
as a side topped with pan seared sockeye salmon or roasted chicken legs, or even toss into a leafy green
salad to add more heartiness. Full of fresh garlic, parsley, and capers, this salad
has a vibrant personality—and a very good one at that.Rich in fiber and plant based protein, it can
help fill you up and fuel you up simultaneously!
Cover the dry lentils with about 3 inches of filtered water.
Mix in the teaspoon apple cider vinegar and pinch sea salt and allow to soak 4-8
hours.Then strain the lentils through a
fine mesh sieve and rinse with cold water.
Transfer the lentils into a medium saucepan and cover with
filtered water (or low sodium vegetable/chicken broth). Add in ½ kelp frond and
bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low (it should barely
bubble) and leave the lid off. Set timer for 10 minutes. Taste test for
tenderness—they should be firm, yet tender, and somewhat creamy in the inside.
If not quite tender enough set timer for 2 more minutes…always make sure the
lentils are covered with water. Do not overcook them because they will turn
mushy. Once they are finished, strain through a fine mesh sieve, and rinse with
cold water. Set the lentils aside.
Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees—once preheated place
the walnuts onto a baking sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven
and finely chop.
In a medium bowl mix together the first 6 dressing
ingredients. Add the lentils and mix well with a spoon. Stir in the capers and
the finely chopped parsley. Finally, add the chopped walnuts, stir to combine,
and pour the salad into a nice serving dish.
3. Coulibaly A , Kouakou B, Chen J. Phytic Acid in Cereal
Grains: Structure, Healthy or Harmful Ways to Reduce Phytic Acid in Cereal
Grains and Their Effects on Nutritional Quality. American Journal of Plant Nutrition and Fertilization Technology.