anti-nutrients: what you need to know about phytic acid

You may have heard the recent news about nuts - that they're actually lower in calories than originally thought! In a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, almonds were found to contain 129 calories per 28 gram serving as opposed to the current calorie value of 170. Now that healthy nuts like almonds are lower in calories, some of my patients have been asking if they can incorporate more into their diet. As a recovering peanut butter addict, I wish I could in good conscience tell them yes, but I cannot. I found I've been explaining frequently to patients that while nuts (and some grains and legumes) are healthy in moderation, they contain a compound called phytic acid that causes issues when consumed in excess. Allow me to tell you about this sneaky little antinutrient. 

Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorous that plants use to grow once they sprout. It is found in the hull of grains, nuts, and seeds. While ruminant animals (cows, sheep, goats) can digest phytic acid, humans cannot. This is significant for two reasons:

once the seed sprouts, phytic acid is degraded to phosphorous which the plant uses to grow.

once the seed sprouts, phytic acid is degraded to phosphorous which the plant uses to grow.

1) because it is not digested, phytic acid binds to minerals (especially iron, zinc, and calcium) and prevents us from absorbing them. Over time this can lead to deficiencies in these minerals, causing serious health conditions. 

2) It interferes with enzymes that help us digest our food including pepsin and trypsin (required to breakdown protein in the stomach and small intestine, respectively) and amylase (required to break down starch). When your food does not get digested properly, it backs up into your intestines and causes all sorts of havoc on your organs and lymphatic system.

Now that I've caused you to be thoroughly terrified of phytic acid, let me tell you that the average human can tolerate low levels of phytic acid (400-800mg a day), and that by sprouting your grains and legumes you can reduce the phytic acid level by up to 50 percent. Soaking and roasting nuts will also significantly reduce the amount of phytic acid. 

I do really like phytic acid's chemical structure though. so pretty. 

I do really like phytic acid's chemical structure though. so pretty. 

Bottom line: even though nuts may have fewer calories that previously thought, it is a good idea to stick to one to two 1 oz servings a day due to the phytic acid content (as well as high levels of omega 6 fatty acids... we'll save that for another discussion). It is especially important for people with iron deficiency anemia, vegans, and vegetarians to watch their levels of phytic acid intake and consider sprouting or soaking beans, grains, and legumes prior to consumption.

What's Stealing Your Energy? Part 1 - Your diet

Everyone has days where they feel tired and unmotivated, but if you find yourself feeling tired nearly every day and need copious amounts of caffeine to get you going, chances are there may be something you're doing (or not doing) that is zapping your energy. Over the next few posts, we will explore some of the things that may be making you feel less than your best and how you can change your routine to feel refreshed and energized through out your day.

Your Diet

Energy zapper #1: Simple Sugar

You are probably familiar with the "sugar high" that is obtained after eating simple sugars (think pastries, candy, etc) followed by the subsequent "crash". This is because consuming simple sugars and foods with a high glycemic index leads to a rapid spike in insulin followed by a subsequent "crash". Say you eat a cupcake. You get a sudden blast of sugar into your blood stream and it must be moved somewhere, it can't just hang out there or it will cause damage. This is where insulin comes in. It grabs the sugars and transports them to your muscles. Insulin usually gets a little over zealous though, and takes your blood sugar down to a low level - sometimes even lower than it was BEFORE you ate. This accounts for the "crash" feeling you get after the initial high. Besides avoiding the obvious high-sugar foods like pastries and candies, watch out for "hidden" sugar in seemingly healthy foods like flavored yogurt and energy bars. Look for items with 5g of sugar or fewer.

Energy zapper #2: not eating frequently enough

Eating every 3-4 hours (or 5-6 times a day) helps maintain stable blood sugar and ensures you have enough energy through out your day. That being said, eating frequently does not mean eat whatever you want - portion control is key. Of course, the amount of nutrients and total calories that are needed varies greatly from person to person depending on age, gender, and activity level, but aim for a combination of protein, complex carbs, and good fats to keep you satisfied. The info graphic below shows some very simple examples.

Some examples of 6 small but balanced snacks

Some examples of 6 small but balanced snacks

Energy zapper #3: Too much caffeine

This seems counter intuitive at first because caffeine is a stimulant that can enhance your mental and physical performance. But like other stimulants, it is a drug that your body builds a tolerance to. This requires you to continually up your dose to feel the same effects. The added caffeine puts stress on your adrenal glands and can actually make you more tired. Consider taking a 2-3 day caffeine hiatus every month or so to reset your caffeine tolerance.

Next week we will be discussing posture and how it affects your digestion, breath, and energy level. Stay Tuned!