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GSE GSE Phytic Acid / Phytate - Malabsorption Agent

Phytic Acid - "Malabsorption Agent"

About Phytic acid / Phytate

Phytic acid and its salt phytate (both generally referred to as phytate) is a plant seed's storage form for ~70% of its phosphorus  (also the B-vitamin inositol) - which is used as an energy source for the sprouting seed.

Phytic acid is especially found in cotyledons and outer hulls of the seeds of oil-producing plants - particularly in grains (bran and germ), legumes, nuts, and other edible seeds. The cotyledon is inside the germ and provides food for the first leaves.

Shahidi F. (1997) Beneficial Health effects and drawbacks of antinutrients and phytochemicals in foods In: Shahidi F (Ed) Antinutrients and Phytochemical in Foods. Am Chem Soc Symp. Series 662

Phytic acid in food is only about 50% digestible by NON-ruminants - being able to chew the cud, ruminant animals can produce the phytase enzymes required to break down phytic acid. Humans cannot.

Schlemmer, U., Frølich, W., Prieto, R.F. and Grases, F. (2009) Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res 53, S330–S375.

 However, humans have other ways to break down phytic acid in foods to improve their digestibility:

✔   Phytic acid can be degraded by phytase enzymes intrinsic to its host food - not all phytic acid-rich foods contain an abundance of phytase E.g. oats and corn

✔   By specific gut flora that produce phytase enzymes (more on this at the phytase enzymes link)

✔   Before consumption using traditional food preparation methods that produce phytase enzymes - i.e. soaking, ideally, followed by fermenting or sprouting. Cooking / Roasting also degrades some phytate, but eventually the heat destroys the phytase.

Phytic acid has both negative and positive roles in the body

Phytic acid in WHOLE grains,  legumes, nuts, and other seeds eaten by humans and other NON-ruminants is considered an antinutrient - the grasping "arms" of the phytic acid molecule tend to bind certain minerals (multivalent cations, such as calcium (Ca++), magnesium (Mg++), zinc(Zn++), iron(Fe++)  copper(Cu++)), both in its host food and also in your digestive tract to minerals that you consumed in other foods. 

Phytic acid  inhibits enzymes needed for digesting food

When phytic acid is bound / chelated to a mineral it is called phytate

– It's snowflake-like molecule is basically an Inositol B-vitamin) ring with 6 phosphate groups attached -


(Phytic acid, myoinositol hexaphosphate, IP6)

Brune M et al. No intestinal adaptation to a high-phytate diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1989; 49: 542-545.

Consuming too many phytic acid containing foods on a regular basis without soaking/sprouting/fermenting / cooking can cause several health issues related to nutrient availability/utilization

✔ Cause mineral malabsorption

✔ Negatively impact utilization of protein and starch/carbohydrate

However, studies reveal that some people can consume phytic acid without adverse consequences - possibly mitigated by:

✔   Favorable gut flora - which produce phytase enzymes, and can actually adapt to a higher phytate (e.g. vegan/vegetarian) diet by increasing their phytase production.

L.H. Markiewicz , J. Honke , M. Haros, D. Swiaztecka, B. Wroblewsk. Diet shapes the ability of human intestinal microbiota to degrade phytate – in vitro studies (2013) J. Appl. Microbiology

✔   Other dietary contributions - such as concurrent consumption of vitamin A and vitamin D  (provided in animal fats).

Consumed in moderation, phytic acid also confers some health benefits.

Do we need to bother preparing foods to remove phytate?

PHOSPHORUS is vital for human bones and teeth, and health in general but . . . grains, legumes and nuts are not our best sources - which are meat, fish, dairy, eggs (a problem if you are a vegan)

Higher amounts of PHOSPHORUS (and therefore phytate) found in plants grown using today's typical commercial high-phosphate fertilzers - rather than natural compost.

Srivastava BN and others. Influence of Fertilizers and Manures on the Content of Phytin and Other Forms of Phosphorus in Wheat and Their Relation to Soil Phosphorus. Journal of the Indian Society of Soil Science. 1955 III:33-40.

Many cultures consume grains and beans as staples of their diet - and that includes Westerners, who mistakenly have grains at the bottom of their food pyramid.  Vegans or vegetarians center their diet around high-phytate foods as sources of protein amino acids.


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