Should it really fear phytic acid?

As an “anti-nutrient” commonly found in beans and legumes, phytic acid has been warned against by certain restrictive diets.  Should it really be feared?


There’s a lot of confusion about whether or not beans are actually “healthy”. Proponents of plant-based diets extol the virtues of beans (and all legumes).

Those who follow a Paleo diet or Whole30 program are quick to ban beans (and all legumes, including peanuts).  Often times, they cite a myriad of reasons often revolving around their “anti-nutrient” properties that make them unbeneficial to one’s health.

However, it’s important to reiterate that there is no one perfect solution when it comes to nutrition. Nutrition has to be individualized to what’s a fit for you.

With that said, let’s check out what’s been said about phytic acid in beans and legumes.

One popular argument against beans is their phytic acid (or phytate) content, which is also found in plant seeds, nuts, and even in smaller quantities in roots and tubers. Phytic acid can impair the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium. It also may lead to a higher risk of mineral deficiencies over time.

While mineral absorption can be very individualized, the potential for impaired mineral absorption from diets high in high phytic acid foods is something to be aware of. Mineral deficiencies from high phytic acid intake is really only a concern if minimal meat is consumed and the majority of one’s diet is made up of foods high in phytic acid (like legumes and whole grains). This may especially affect individuals in developing countries or even vegetarians.

Sounds scary and like we all need to purge our pantries of legumes ASAP, right? Well…not so fast.

There is research that suggests several preparation methods that can help reduce phytic acid content in foods like whole grains and legumes, similar to how the amount of lectin, another villainized anti-nutrient, can be reduced. That includes cooking, soaking, sprouting, and fermentation.

There are still other many factors that can impact mineral absorption:

  • Dietary variety – Are you just eating beans and grains all day long?
  • Other foods consumed with high-phytate foods – For example, foods high in vitamin C help increase the absorption of iron from the high phytic acid food, despite the presence of phytates.
  • Gastrointestinal adaptation – Research suggests that people who consume larger amounts of high phytic acid foods may have a GI tract that adapts. Their GI tract may have higher concentrations of intestinal phytase, which helps break down phytic acid and means better mineral absorption.

Still on the fence?

Impaired mineral absorption from high phytic-acid foods only pertains to the single meal that you’re eating. It doesn’t apply to foods consumed later in the day (meaning if you snack on yogurt later, you’ll still absorb maximum calcium).

One last thing: there are actually health benefits to phytic acid. Phytic acid is a natural plant antioxidant that’s actually added to other foods as a natural antioxidant to help prevent spoilage. Research also suggests it may decrease the risk of colon cancer and protect against other inflammatory bowel diseases.

So what’s the bottom line?

Beans and legumes are wonderful plant-based foods with many health-enhancing properties. Yes, there are potential nutritional concerns that some individuals may need to be aware of, but there are ways to prepare them so you can easily include beans and other legumes in your diet.

As with every single food and anything related to nutrition, it is completely up to you to see what works for your body.

Adapted from the original article.

Lindsey Janeiro RDN, CLC is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Counselor based in Sarasota, FL focused on helping busy moms live stress-free in the kitchen. She inspires moms with the confidence and encouragement they need to create simple, affordable family meals that nourishes everyone’s health and happiness. Learn more about Lindsey at Nutrition to Fit.