The Ten Week Challenge Syllabus

I walked people through a ten week challenge, using the following syllabus.

Week 1 - Sugar-free
Week 2 - Whole grains
Week 3 - Wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats
Week 4 - Raw dairy
Week 5 - The microwave
Week 6 - Fats and oils
Week 7 - Cultured and fermented foods
Week 8 - Local and organic produce
Week 9 - Processed foods
Week 10 - Implementing lifestyle changes

Visit my Recipe Index over at Going Green in a Pink World.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Week 2: Grains 201

Phytic Acid: Friend or Foe?

That's the question I've been wrestling with this week. We know that white flour, stripped of its nutrients, bleached, and dead, isn't a great option for our health. However, what about whole wheat (or kamut, or spelt, or rye)? Some people can't tolerate gluten, which is the protein found in rye, barley, and wheat, and eat a gluten-free diet. (If you have symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramping, or failure to thrive or grow, you may want to look into Celiac's disease a bit more.) However, if you do fine with gluten, there are a few things you may want to consider more in-depth.

What is Phytic Acid?
Amanda Rose, author of the book Rebuild from Depression, says this about phytic acid,

"Grains, legumes, nuts and seeds contain a substance called phytic acid or phytate. In humans, phytic acid is a strong chelator of iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorous. What this means is that the phytate generally stays undigested in our digestive tract and it clings to other minerals in our food and escorts them out of our bowels. Because of phytates, you are missing out on about half of the minerals your food could be providing if you prepared it a bit differently."

What does that mean for me?
Research proves that phytates inhibit absorption. In an article in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "Phytates and the inhibitory effect of bran on iron absorption in man," the author finds that the removal of phytates significantly increases the absorption of iron. There are additional benefits of reducing phytic acid in our foods. An experiment involving two groups of people, one eating bread with phytates, and one with the phytates removed, showed a 50% increase in mineral absorption in stool samples. Those who consumed food without phytic acid absorbed about 30% of magnesium and zinc, whereas those who consumed food with phytic acid absorbed only 13% of the magnesium and 23% of the zinc (Egli et al. 2004; Bohn et al. 2004). Interestingly, the numbers also suggest that we absorb a fairly small amount of the vitamins and minerals in our food, irregardless, so keep that in mind as you read labels!

How can I increase absorption?
Since our body doesn't produce the enzyme phytase, which breaks down phytic acid, we need to find another way to do this. There are a couple of key factors to activating the phytase in grains: time, moisture, acid pH, and warmth. Sourdough breads are made using a fermented starter that involves all of these things. My favorite sourdough is made by Nashoba Brook Bakery in Concord, MA. So many stores carry this bread, and for a reasonable price - $3.19 for a loaf! You can make your own sourdough starter, and incorporate it into pancakes, breads, and other baked goods. If you're not up for keeping a starter going, you can make your own yeast breads, and give them a long rise time, letting these factors break down the phytic acid. There are ways to adapt your bread machine recipes too!

Breakfast Preparation
Mark and I eat oatmeal at least three times a week. I've been faithfully soaking my rolled or steel cut oats in a water/whey solution for over a year, following the time/moisture/warmth/acid pH guidelines, with the understanding that I was activating the enzyme phytase to break down the phytic acid. I've been digging a lot deeper into this subject, and realized that oatmeal happens to be notoriously low in phytase, so even a long soaking won't be very effective in reducing phytic acid. There are a few solutions. One, is to add a T or so of ground wheat (in a coffee grinder) because it is high in phytase. Another is to substitute oatmeal for other grains, like kamut, amaranth, millet, or hard or soft wheat. I've made a 5 grain cereal mix before and it's delicious. (Grind 1 cup each of rice, lentils, wheat, oats, and millet. Store in fridge and soak individual portions as desires. The third way to handle this is to not care too much, as we'll be learning about the benefits of phytic acid soon!

My Opinion
Scientists agree - if the grain is untreated, as in all non-sprouted commercial whole grain cereals and breads, the phytic acid remains intact, and combines with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc in the digestive tract, and renders these minerals unabsorbed. This logically points to the fact that a diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies or bone loss! That makes me leery, but I do consume many nutrient dense foods, and only occasional grains, so I'll soak/sprout when I can, and not worry when I can't! Plus, there are health benefits to phytic acid--stayed tuned. On Tuesday I'll be posting about the better face of phytic acid, so you can make the decision yourself: phytic acid - friend or foe?

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