Phytic acid reduces the absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron. It is because phytate acts as a chelating agent and binds to minerals. Humans do not have hydrolytic enzyme phytase to degrade phytic acid. Thus, the minerals bound to phytate become unavailable for absorption. It is known as reducing the bioavailability of nutrients.
Essentially, phytate in food inhibits the absorption of micronutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and manganese. Thus, phytic acid is often called an anti-nutrient.
With lower bioavailability of nutrients over a period, metabolic disorders related to nutrient deficiency arise. In many countries, legumes and unrefined cereals are major sources of food. However, the nutrients present in these foods have low bioavailability due to the presence of phytate, along with other anti-nutrients. Therefore, it results in micronutrient malnutrition conditions like iron deficiency and zinc deficiency.
Animals, like poultry, are also incapable of degrading phytic acid. Thus, about 70% of the phosphorous in animal feed, which is stored in the form of phytate, is excreted out. It is because of the inefficient uptake of phosphorous minerals in animals.
The high-phosphorous excreta of farm animals, for instance, are used as manure. It means that high levels of phytate and inorganic phosphate leach out into water bodies. It could lead to eutrophication of water and algal blooms, lack of oxygen in water bodies, and death of fishes. An animal feed could be supplemented with phytase to increase phosphorous bioavailability.
Safe and Healthy Consumption
There have been various attempts to either reduce the levels of phytate or increase the bioavailability of nutrients.
Plants with low levels of phytic acids have been created. For example, maize, barley, and rice varieties with lower phytic acid in their grains could improve the bioavailability of nutrients.
The phytic acid content can be removed at home by soaking nuts and cereals. Some nuts can be allowed to sprout or ferment as these processes lower phytate levels. Legumes and grains could be consumed after letting them germinate. For example, white sorghum and maize could be fermented with lactic acid. It degrades phytic acid almost completely.
Phytic acid also has some health benefits aspects. They have antioxidant and anticancer properties that could be helpful, especially in older people.
Phytate poses a threat to health only if one is consuming high-phytate food for a while. Therefore, those suffering from mineral deficiencies especially need to be wary of high-phytate food consumption.
In those following a balanced diet that includes various foods, phytate does not pose any concern.
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