As a Nutritionist I am often advising people to swap from ‘white’ and processed foods to wholegrain foods in order to achieve a healthy diet. Wholegrain foods are packed full of nutrients that not only help to slow down the release of sugar in to the blood stream but to give us sustainable energy as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
Having said that you may have read the following on the NHS website:
You can give your child wholegrain foods, such as wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice. But it’s not a good idea to only give wholegrain starchy foods to under-2s. Wholegrain foods can be high in fibre and they may fill your child up before they have taken in the calories and nutrients they need. After age 2 you can gradually introduce more wholegrain foods.
This advice tends to end up being interpreted by many parents that you can only give babies and young children white bread and white food generally!
Personally, I would much rather be filled up with a food packed full of nutrition than be loaded with a processed, nutrient devoid and high sugar one!
And how hard is going to be to then move a 2-year-old over to the wholegrain (or brown) versions of their favourite foods when they are used to the ‘white’ stuff!
We know that we need to eat more fibre and complex carbohydrates for our health, so, why is this advice being given to new parents?
It’s because of the phytic acid!
Phytic acid is naturally present in most nuts, seeds, grains and legumes; it is the plant’s storage form of the mineral phosphorus and is used as energy when the plant starts to grow.
The highest levels of phytic acid are found in rice bran, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, and walnuts.
Phytic acid and minerals
Have you heard of phytic acid being referred to as an “anti-nutrient?”
Phytic acid binds to the minerals iron, zinc, and calcium preventing them from being fully absorbed when eaten; this is why phytic acid is known as a “mineral reducer.”
Since zinc, calcium and iron are pretty important when it comes to children’s health you can see why this advice has been given.
NOTE: Phytic acid’s effects only apply to mineral-containing foods in the current meal. Once digested, there is no mineral reduction on any future meals and there is no impact to the minerals your body has already absorbed.
Phytic acid’s health benefits
Phytic acid isn’t all bad – it has some health benefits too.
It can act as an antioxidant. It can also help reduce your risk of kidney stones, heart disease, and even some cancers.
Because it loves minerals (which are metals), phytic acid in your gut can also bind to any heavy metals (the metals we don’t want too much of) that may have hitched a ride with your food. They can then be excreted safely. You do not want heavy metals building up in the body.
How to reduce phytic acid
As you can see, phytic acid shouldn’t be a huge concern, unless your main foods at most meals are nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes (Vegan’s take note). Because many of these are nutritious foods, you do not want to cut all of them completely out of your diet or your child’s diet.
Considering both the good and bad properties of phytic acid, you may still want to reduce how much you consume. Maybe you want to increase your mineral intake. If so, here are two popular methods to naturally reduce phytic acid:
● Soaking – Place nuts, seeds, grains or legumes in a bowl, cover with water and leave overnight. Then drain the water and rinse before eating or preparing.
● Sprouting – After soaking, draining, and rinsing, place damp nuts, seeds, grains or legumes into a container that’s exposed to the air (like a mason jar with a mesh lid). Every 8 hours or so, re-rinse them and drain the water. Continue doing this for a few days until you see sprouts peeking out.
Soaking or sprout nuts, seeds, grains and legumes helps to improve their digestibility and can help to increase their nutrition.
NOTE: Did you know you can buy sprouted bread?
Why do soaking and sprouting help reduce phytic acid in certain foods? It is because being wet is a “sign” to leave their dormant (dry) state and start a new life. Enzymes activated during soaking and sprouting deactivate phytic acid to use its energy and stored minerals for the plant as it begins to grow.
Basically, this means you can enjoy the food without the downside of the phytic acid!
Phytic acid has a bad rap as a mineral reducer. It’s found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Yes, it most definitely prevents absorption of critical minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium, if they’re in your gut at the same time. Phytic acid in food can become a health concern if you are deficient in these minerals, or if your diet is largely based on nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.
But, if you eat a varied diet, then phytic acid shouldn’t be as much of a concern. In fact, phytic acid does have some health benefits.
If you want to reduce it in your food, you can soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.
My recommendation for young children is to include a good variety of healthy natural foods in their diet. Aim to keep grains like wheat low in the diet (that’s another story…………) and avoid the processed and white foods that we know will not do them any favours in the long term.
If you want to check your child’s (or your) mineral levels, then a simple test can do this for you (suitable for over 1 year old). Click HERE for more information.