… And Other Terrible Things You Missed
Do you ever get sharp pains or sickness in your stomach after eating a load of nuts?
Are you often getting aching joints and muscles no matter what you do or how much exercise you get?
One likely possibility is that you’re losing minerals because of phytates.
Phytates or phytic acid is a major problem for getting enough zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron and vegans, vegetarians and Paleo walkers might want to rethink grains and nuts in their diets.
How One Guy Got Stabbed in the Gut by Phytates
That guy is me.
When I used to be a vegetarian about four years ago I used to eat grains and nuts every day.
In fact I used to eat entire bags of almonds (almost one pound) every day – even at conferences.
Then about seven to eight months ago I went on a hard core version of paleo to drop every food that had anti-nutrients (poisons) in it.
To get enough energy I used coconut milk to replace what I used to get from grains and nuts.
Yet coconut milk also had phytates and I’ve been noticing that every 2-4 months during this experiment my muscles felt sore and aching every day until I stopped drinking it for a day or more.
I also got clumsier and my brain wasn’t working at top speed (chess and memory game tests confirmed this).
After all I was taking 12 servings per day (800 mL or 800 g), which is an insane amount.
(You’ll learn later on there’s some conflicting evidence with coconut.) 
Here’s what my research and personal experimentation found.
What is Phytic Acid?
If you’d asked that question about a year ago you’d never have gotten an answer (from a lot of people anyway).
Frankly everyone needs to take a truthful nutrition course (and not what the food industry pays for).
Phytic acid or phytate salt is something that makes you lose other nutrients from your food (in humans anyway).
For plants it’s great for non-plant eaters it’s bad because we can’t use it for energy and so it works more like a poison that weakens you. 
You can generally find it in most plants especially in the bran, grain hulls, nuts and seeds. 
Why You Should Get Rid of Phytic Acid in Your Diet
Phytic acid causes you to lose iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium.
In fact if you stopped getting phytates in grains, nuts and seeds you’d get 20% more zinc and 60% more magnesium from your food. [1, 3]
Magnesium helps you fight off stress and stay calm and relaxed.
It also prevents muscle cramping and PMS. 
According to Robb Wolf in The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet most people don’t get enough magnesium as it is (only a third or less).
Phytate just makes things worse.
Calcium is important for keeping your bones strong and your brain working. 
Phytates also mess with digesting protein from meat for example interfering with a body chemical called trypsin. [1, 3]
And to make things even worse, nations or people who eat lots of cereal often have major problems with rickets and osteoporosis (soft or easily breaking bones). [1, 3]
According to Ramiel Nagel:
Through observation I have witnessed the powerful anti-nutritional effects of a diet high in phytate-rich grains on my family members, with many health problems as a result, including tooth decay, nutrient deficiencies, lack of appetite and digestive problems. 
Yes phytates are pretty nasty in a cloak-and-dagger sort of way.
I see similar problems with friends, family and colleagues that I know.
Where Phytates are Popping Up in Your Diet
Many nuts and seeds are more phytate and lectin poison rich than grains and beans.
A few slices of bread or five handfuls of almonds can easily give you over 1000 mg of phytates.
Imagine eating that for your three meals per day.
The safe level is only 100-400 mg for most people. 
Here’s a chart on phytate levels in different foods. [1, 3]
As you can see raw cacao or cacao in general is one of the worst.
There is some research indicating that coconut (which is already low) phytates have no effect on minerals however one study doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. 
And based on personal experimentation so far it may turn out that coconut does have an effect if you drink a large amount of it.
(Note: Every mL of coconut milk provides about a gram of coconut).
After doing some number crunching it turns out that I was drinking over 2900 mg of phytates per day from coconut milk, which looks extreme.
How Much Phytic Acid Can You Really Handle?
As you heard above, the safe level is 100-400 mg per day. 
If you’re walking the Paleo way then you’re already avoiding grains and beans (especially soy).
If you’re following a relaxed Paleo path, which may have nuts you may want to rethink that in light of phytates.
Frankly I recommend everyone take a hard core Paleo approach eating high phytates foods only once in a blue moon – a day of it won’t kill you, months of it (like in my personal test above) will.
And until the research can confirm that coconut phytates really are different or have less of an impact it’ll be dropped from my testing (at most 60 g a day for amusement).
Is There a Way to Drop Phytic Acid and Keep Your Nuts?
There are several ways to pull this off.
- soaking, dehydrating, fermenting or roasting
- add back what you’re losing
- increase phytase
- acid soaking
Soaking, dehydrating, fermenting or roasting means exactly that. [1, 3]
The soak often has to last 24 hours to get rid of 96% of phytates in beans though it often requires sprouting and roasting for foods like quinoa for example.
See the articles in the References section for more details.
Add back what you’re losing means taking supplements for calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. 
Unfortunately it’s a hit or miss tactic – according to Robb Wolf in the Paleo Solution supplements like calcium carbonate don’t work (and I’ve tested it and can say it’s so).
Eating naturally calcium high foods like kale, salmon and bok choy work.
Milk is avoided in strict Paleo.
I’ve found magnesium and zinc supplements do work.
Yet my personal experiment so far with coconut milk tells me it may not be enough because I was taking high levels of supplements during the entire time.
Increasing phytase – the chemical that allows you to destroy phytate is another way. 
Some of the foods that have phytate have phytase too except when it’s processed and heated phytase goes down while phytate survives.
The best thing to do is to sprout foods or to eat them raw and unprocessed.
The other point is to eat probiotic foods that create phytase from bacteria in your gut.
Finally you can use acid soaking as part of your strategy, which activates phytase to destroy phytate. 
This is usually combined with cooking for grains and legumes and the amount of phytic acid dropped depends on the grain and time.
Who Definitely Should Avoid Phytates?
Frankly every human being out there should.
I’m not going to tell you to take a middle path because I’ve seen what mineral deficiency does to people (and to myself).
People who already have trouble with tooth decay, bone loss; pregnant women, children under age 6 and seriously ill people should definitely drop phytic acid like it is ton of bricks.
Go true and hard core Paleo as mentioned in Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet.
Grains and especially nuts have a high level of phytic acid that could make you unhealthy over the long term by weakening your bones, wrecking your mood and making you more likely to get sick.
There are ways to lower the amount of phytates you get in food or you could try supplementation.
So get out there and follow the Paleo lifestyle – cut out the grains and as much nuts and seeds as you can.
For those who are unwilling to do so, think about how you can eat less grains and nuts or lower the phytic acid.
If you’d like help calculating your phytate levels or have any questions feel free to shoot me an email using the Contact Form.
 Chris Kresser. “Another reason you shouldn’t go nuts on nuts.” Last modified; September 23, 2011. http://chriskresser.com/another-reason-you-shouldnt-go-nuts-on-nuts.
 Neely. “WHY NO GRAINS & LEGUMES (AND NUTS?): PHYTIC ACID.” Paleo Plan. Last modified April 27, 2011. http://www.paleoplan.com/2011/04-27/phytates/.
 Ramiel Nagel. “Living With Phytic Acid.” The Weston A. Price Foundation. Last modified March 26, 2010. http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/living-with-phytic-acid.
 Trinidad P. Trinidad et al. “Dietary fiber from coconut flour: A functional food.” Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 7(4) (2006): 309-317. Accessed March 13, 2012. doi:10.1016/j.ifset.2004.04.003.
No related posts.