With many of us delving into the habit of eating whole foods we must consider the chemistry of how to maximize its benefits. Understanding how nature creates these foods and her mechanisms to protect them can help us overcome the digestive difficulties it can cause for us. Yes, there are challenges to eating whole foods other than acquiring them if you don’t understand their chemistry but you will get the inside scoop here. First let me say that I am an advocate of eating foods that are lacking that industrialized touch that seems to be increasingly inescapable lately. Read ahead to see the how to maximize the nutrients you get while beating down those nasty nutrient blockers that can disrupt our bodies’ abilities to absorb the very nutrients we are working so hard to consume.
A phytate, also known as phytic acid, is nature’s way of protecting her seeds. These phytates (or as we call them in my household, “phartates,”) are in the form of an outer coating on grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Mother nature doesn’t want the nutrients of these seeds to be lost to us animal folk. She wants the seed to keep those things even through animal digestion. That is how many plants are able to spread throughout nature. An animal eats a fruit or grain, then leaves its waste behind with an intact seed, ready to grow in all natural fertilizer!
This coating can inhibit mineral absorption and in a world of synthetic fertilizers, depleted soil, and less nutrient dense GMO’s, we need minerals; especially the trace minerals lacking in many diets. Many of these same fiber-dense, low glycemic grains and seeds are rich in B-vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that seed would need to grow into a plant. But these nutrient rich foods also have the downside that phytates present; digestive enzyme inhibition along with the blocked mineral and B-vitamin absorption. Eating foods like this in abundance without knowing how to deactivate the phytates can lead to digestive disturbances (hence our family nickname) such as gas, bloating, and more difficulty in digesting certain proteins (known as food intolerance). Nobody wants to be that guy in the restaurant listing off all the foods he can’t eat and unfortunately too many phytates, even consumed by the most well-meaning person, could aggravate such issues.
So how do we destroy these foes of whole foods? It’s simple. The phytic acid is primarily on the outer shell of the grain, so removing it with an acidic solution is the key. For instance, when you cook beans, notice the directions for soaking. These are important but perhaps not the amount of destructive force you need for your digestive well-being. Add a little lemon juice to the water and the acidity will dissolve that outer layer. Discard the water and use fresh, phytate free water to cook them in. You can also substitute whey separated from your non-homogenized raw milk, yogurt, vinegar, or other edible solvent as long as it is a weak acid (for all of you chemistry geeks remember: like dissolves like). The same goes for wild or brown rice (white rice is a moot point…the outer shell is gone and so are the phytates). What about nuts and seeds? Just soak them for a while in water and that may do the trick. Remember these simple tricks and wash away those destructive foes starting today to get the most out of your whole foods.