What are phytates and how do I avoid them?

Getting off refined grain products and onto whole grains is a great thing to do! But some of you have been scared silly by Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions, regarding phytates.   I  hope you’ll feel a bit  more peaceful on that topic  after reading this three-part blog.

Phytates are a natural, acidic chemical compounds in the bran of grains that some experts say bind to calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc, making those nutrients less bioavailable and potentially leading to deficiencies.   So that we can absorb the nutrition of grains well in the gastrointestinal tract, grains can ideally be soaked in water, sprouted, or fermented to neutralize the phytic acid.   This is easy to do and requires only a little planning ahead.   Step 9 of 12 Steps will guide you through this.  

This process is related to the nutritional power of lactofermentation you know about with milks, if you have begun making kefir or yogurt from my Jump-Start Basic recipe collection.   This fall, we’ll also have a step on fermenting vegetables (like sauerkraut) with garden produce.

The way it works in grains is that enzymes and microorganisms break down starches, tannins, and proteins including gluten.   Many people who are gluten intolerant do well with soaked/sprouted grain.    

Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, PhD say in Nourishing Traditions thatvirtually all preindustrialized people soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles”  (p. 452).     Modern culture has largely abandoned this practice.   However, I do not believe (as Fallon did writing her book 15 years ago) that unsoaked grains pose a great risk to our health, and I also believe much evidence exists that unsoaked grains have also been widely used by healthy populations.  

Jordan Rubins (The Maker’s Diet) speaks of how ancient peoples stacked damp grain, which cultured it (as evidence of our need to soak/culture our grain).   This makes no sense, because damp grain quickly becomes moldy grain.   I find that sprouting grain is rather difficult to achieve without mold, even when you’re fairly experienced (like I am) and live in a dry climate (like I do).   Soaking grain 8-24 hours is easy, but sprouting it can be tricky.   Seeds and nuts are much easier.  

Part II tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “What are phytates and how do I avoid them?

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  1. I have to agree with the sprouting process. It isn’t fun for me. I sprouted rye berries and after soaking it for a day I then had the fun task of rinsing and filling the jar up for 3 days. I rinsed it every 4-6 hours. I then let it sprout and it did NOT mold. However, I tried oat groats and they molded quickly and only sprouted on some of them. I really wasn’t trying to sprout them. I just didn’t get them dry enough to put back in the cabinet and part were sprouted and the other part were so molded.

  2. jesusgirl: Your oat groats were likely steam treated at the processing plant. This is common practice and they won’t sprout, but they can be soaked. To sprout, you would need to purchase sprouting oats. When soaking, be careful to change the water often, because they can go bad.

    I don’t believe you necessarily need to fill the whole jar with water for every rinse. Annmarie Gianni of the Renegade Health Show says the sprouts don’t actually need water, they need to cool down, because the sprouting process generates heat. So, they only really need enough water to accomplish this.

  3. Perhaps people have been scared off grains by Sally Fallon…aren’t yo doing the same by scaring them off meat, regardless of the huge differences between grain-fed and grass fed?

    1. Marshill, there is a difference, to be sure. I’m not scaring anyone off, per se, but rather presenting the evidence for eating more plants.

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