Might phytic acid cause iron deficiencies?
Have you ever wondered why so many of us suffer from chronic iron deficiencies? It’s so widespread nowadays that everybody seems to accept the fact that it’s kind of a normal thing to have. But is it really? Yes, women are more prone to iron deficiencies for obvious reasons but our iron storage should not be affected permanently. Do you know why iron is such an important essential mineral for our bodies? Iron is involved in various bodily functions including:
- Oxygen transport – red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a complex protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Hemoglobin is partly made from iron, and accounts for about two thirds of the body’s iron.
- Myoglobin – a special protein that helps store oxygen in muscle cells. Myoglobin contains iron and is responsible for the red colour of muscle.
- Enzymes – many enzymes throughout the body contain iron, including those involved in energy production. Enzymes are catalysts (they increase the rate of a chemical reaction) that drive many cell functions.
- Immune system – proper functioning of the immune system relies, in part, on sufficient iron. The immune system helps us fight infection.
There are animal sources and plant sources for iron. Heme iron, which is found in animals, is easier to absorb than plant non-heme iron. Still, a lot of people are diagnosed with iron deficiency. How come? If you have an iron deficiency, but you eat red meat or seafood the problem probably isn’t too little iron, it’s poor absorption. The reason can either be attributed to reduced stomach acid or to a chronic inflammation of the intestinal lining.
Though many plants are high in non-heme iron they often times contain iron-absorption inhibitors, such as polyphenols and oxalates. Both substances, at levels found in food, can prevent 90% or more of the iron in those foods from being absorbed. Plant sources of iron include whole grains, legumes, nuts& seeds, spinach, kale and other leafy greens or kombucha.
The secret therefore lies in the preparation of the particular plant foods!
Whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are all high in iron but contain phytic acid which has a high chelating activity, binding to iron (and also to zinc and calcium) and preventing absorption.
The good news is that rather simple processes can reduce the amount of phytic acid significantly… these are soaking, sprouting and fermenting. Soaking grains and flour in an acidic medium at warm temperatures, as in the sourdough process, activates phytase (the enzyme that breaks up phytic acid; see my post on activation http://plantbasedhappy.com/?p=6272) and reduces or even eliminates phytic acid.
However, the story is a bit more complicated than that, because phytic acid also has a number of health benefits including antioxidant effects and protective effects against cancer and kidney stones. Once again, it seems that the quantity of this particular chemical plays an important factor and will determine whether phytic acid is a “friend or foe”.
Spinach, for example, like broccoli or carrots, contains oxalic acid, an organic substance that can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and iron. Oxalic acid binds with calcium, making it unavailable for use by our bodies. It also attaches to quite a few other vital nutrients, and long-term consumption of foods high in oxalic acid can lead to nutrient deficiencies. The good news is that oxalic acid is broken down upon heating, so there is limited or no loss of nutrients in steamed or sautéed spinach.
The take home message for today:
- Know how to prepare your food and make sure you reduce phytic acid as much as you can by soaking your grains/nuts/seeds and legumes.
- Know what to eat raw and what to cook.
The recipe that I am sharing today is a great example for a nutrient rich food- if activated prior to consumption. Buckinis, activated and flavored buckwheat groats that make a great addition to fresh fruits, yogurts or other breakfast bowls.
The soaked and rinsed buckwheat groats are mixed with cinnamon (has a plethora of other impressive health benefits) and maca powder, which not only gives it a delicious taste but has also positive effects on hormone balance, energy levels, and boosts overall health. Maca is rich in vitamin B vitamins, C, and E. It provides plenty of calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and amino acids. Click here for the Buckini recipe http://plantbasedhappy.com/?page_id=6872.
Hope you’ll enjoy these little tasty powerhouses!