Stolen Minerals: The Story of Anti-Nutrients

I’m a big fan of healthy eating. I believe it is some of the best medicine available, and without it, no other treatments will work very well.

I love to keep it simple when I talk to people about how to eat well, and I love Michael Pollan’s recommendation to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” : ) For people who are just starting out on the journey of learning how to care for their body with a wholesome diet, this advice is overly simplistic, but it covers some important points.

So, my goal with bringing up the concept of anti-nutrients is not to make you feel like you’re doing it all wrong, or to make your life more complicated. It’s an important topic, especially for folks with mineral deficiencies, and there are some fairly simple things you can do to help your body extract more minerals out of that healthy food you are so lovingly feeding yourself and your family.  

First of all, what are anti-nutrients?

Anti-nutrients are compounds found in plant foods that prevent animals from extracting nutrition from them. These compounds likely evolved as a defensive system developed by plants (who can’t fight or run away) to help prevent them from being eaten in the first place, or to help their seeds survive intact as they pass through animals’ digestive systems.

There are a number of anti-nutrients including oxalic acid, tannins, enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. This article will focus on phytic acid for simplicity’s sake, and because it’s a particularly big issue in the American diet.

Definitions and language:

This is a technical distinction, but phytic acid, once it’s bound to minerals is called phytate. To avoid confusion, I’ll be using the term phytic acid throughout this article. Phytase is an enzyme that is prepackaged in seeds, nuts and grains that, once activated, breaks down phytic acid. Grains and nuts are both technically a type of seed, so I’ll mostly be using the word seed as a general term for all three of these foods.

Phytic acid and why it’s a problem

Phytic acid is found in large quantities in nuts, seeds and grains, especially in the bran or outer hull. It’s a snowflake-shaped molecule with an important job. It is a storage molecule that holds onto phosphorus in the middle of the snowflake and keeps it stable until the seed sprouts and needs the phosphorus to grow into a new plant. It holds onto that phosphorus so tightly, that when seeds are eaten by animals, they remain intact, and the phosphorus inaccessible all the way through the digestive tract.

Here is the issue. Unless dealt with appropriately, phytic acid not only doesn’t let us extract phosphorus from our food (which we need for cell growth and repair, and bone health), but the arms of the 'snowflake' actually bind to other minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium, and make them much more difficult to absorb, thus taking a healthy diet and depleting it of minerals.

To be clear, phytic acid doesn’t target your ability to absorb protein, fat or fiber (the macronutrients) or vitamins from your food, just the minerals. However, phytic acid also inhibits the activity of our digestive enzymes, so on top of making our food less nutritious, it makes our digestion less efficient.

To give you an idea of the scale of the issue, in a meal free of phytic acid, you will absorb approximately 20% more zinc (1) and 60% more magnesium from your food. (2)

It's actually a bit ironic, because we’ve been told for years that whole grains are healthier than white bread/grains. But unless those whole grains are prepared properly, there’s not much nutritional difference between white bread and whole wheat bread because the phytic acid makes the minerals in whole grains much less accessible.

Who needs to worry about this?

This is a particularly big deal for people struggling with issues of calcium metabolism such as osteopenia, osteoporosis and frequent cavities (Though there is actutally a lot more going on with these conditions than calcium deficiency). But we all need magnesium for nervous system and heart health, and small amounts of trace minerals including iron, cobalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc and molybdenum for countless other daily tasks our bodies must perform for us to thrive. Deficiencies in any of these minerals can cause all sorts of symptoms.

I won’t get into all the problems that can be caused by deficiencies in each of these minerals, but as an example, deficient magnesium can result in headaches, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, and irregular heart beats.

I think you get the point that paying attention to phytic acid is important.

As an interesting note, there is some research linking dietary phytic acid to decreased risk of colon cancer. This may be because it can actually bind to or chelate excess iron and harmful metals and remove them from the body, in essences aiding in detoxification. It may also act as an antioxidant.

So this tells us that perhaps we don’t need to panic that we all get some phytic acid in our diet, we just need to be conscious of its presence and make sure we’re not getting too much. 

So, what can you do about it?

Solutions fall into two categories:

1.     Preparing food in a way that breaks down phytic acid.

2.     Optimizing digestion and food choices to help prevent mineral depletion.

How much is too much phytic acid?

It is neither practical, nor likely necessary to remove all phytic acid from your diet. So let’s get practical. According to Ramiel Nagel in his article “Living With Phytic Acid”, the average phytic acid intake in the U.S. and the U.K. rages from 631 to 746 mg per day; the average in Finland is 370 mg; the average in Italy is 219 mg; and in Sweden it is 180 mg per day. (11)

In the context of a balanced diet taking into account my other suggestions listed below for optimizing mineral absorption, most people should do ok with 400-600 mg of phytic acid daily. For anyone who struggles with bone loss, tooth decay or other mineral deficiencies, I would recommend a total of 150-400mg per day as a healthy guideline. (11)

This means preparing your foods to decrease phytic acid content, and sticking to 2-3 servings of phytic acid containing foods per day. For example, a small handful of nuts, two slices of true sourdough bread, and one serving of properly prepared oatmeal.

Problems arise when whole grains, nuts or beans are eaten with every meal and make up the main sources of calories. Regular consumption of granola or commercial cereals for breakfast is also problematic.

Check out this table for an idea of phytic acid content of various foods without special preparation.

Reference (5)


Preparation Techniques

Our ancestors figured out through trial and error how to deal with phytic acid through food preparation. Some helpful techniques that decrease phytic acid are soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains, nuts and seeds. Fermenting is the most affective and soaking the least affective, with sprouting somewhere in between. Basically the goal is to recreate the conditions under which the plant would naturally sprout (warmth, acidity and moisture), because under these conditions, the seed produces an enzyme called phytase, which breaks down the phytate, releasing the phosphorus within.


Soaking can begin the process of waking up the phytase enzyme and other enzymes stored in the seed to break down the phytic acid as well as complex sugars that might cause gas. It still leaves lots of phytic acid intact, however.


Sprouting not only activates the phytase enzyme which begins to break down phytic acid, but the process of germination also produces vitamin C and increases the B vitamin content and carotene content. Complex sugars (which would otherwise cause intestinal gas) begin to be broken down, and naturally occurring enzymes found in the seed, bean or grain are activated which work synergistically with our own digestive enzymes to improve our digestion.


Fermenting nuts, seeds and grains has the most dramatic effect on increasing their nutritional value and decreasing phytic acid content. The proliferation of lactobacilli bacteria in fermented foods significantly increases digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These probiotic bacteria produce copious enzymes that improve our digestion as well as substances that encourage growth of healthy bacteria, and discourage growth of unhealthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

Preparing foods for maximal removal of phytic acid can be a bit of a rabbit hole. Scroll to the bottom of this article for some basic preparation techniques for common foods, but if you want to investigate further, the Weston A. Price foundation and the cookbook Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon are good places to start. Look here for a more in depth exploration of this topic.

Optimizing digestion and food choices

1. Optimize stomach acid

Apple cider before meals – Drink 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar in a little water before meals to help optimize your stomach acid. Stomach acid is vital for absorbing minerals.

2. Have one paleo meal per day

For example, have a breakfast of eggs or sausage and a plate of vegetables. No toast, no grains at all, and no nuts, seeds or legumes. Alternatively, you could have meat and veggies for dinner. I don’t believe that most people need to follow a strict paleo diet, but one meal per day gives your body an anti-nutrient free meal, allowing for better mineral absorption.

3. Take your vitamin D or get enough sun

Sufficient vitamin D is associated with stronger bones regardless of diet. Obviously a healthy diet is crucial too : ) Aim for 2000 IU of vitamin D daily, bumping your dose up to 4,000 IU daily during the winter.

4. Get enough absorbable calcium

Getting good forms of calcium in your food helps prevent bone loss from phytic acid. This might explain why cultures that traditionally eat bread, often eat it with cheese. The calcium in the dairy helps offset the calcium losses from the bread.

Great sources of calcium include raw cheeses and milk, yogurt, bone broth, and dark leafy greens. If you need to take a supplement, consider a food based calcium like this one or this one.

5. Eat vitamin C -rich foods with your grains, nuts and seeds

Vitamin C helps keep the iron in your food absorbable, so it doesn’t get stolen by phytic acid.

Good sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, dark leafy greens, strawberries and citrus. Vitamin C gets rapidly destroyed when cooked, so this is a good reason to eat some of your veggies raw.

6. Eat foods rich in vitamin A and beta carotene

These compounds can also help keep iron soluble and prevent phytic acid from binding to it. (8)

Foods rich in vitamin A include organ meats, grass fed butter, cod liver oil, milk and eggs. Foods rich in beta carotene are orange and green vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, kale, collards, broccoli and chard. 

7. Eat plenty of probiotic rich foods, and make sure your digestion is healthy.

The extent to which phytic acid inhibits mineral absorption varies somewhat from person to person, with some people severely affected, and others seemingly immune. This likely has to do with each person's specific gut flora, as certain probiotic bacteria can break down phytic acid. Making probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha and other fermented foods a regular part of your diet can help cultivate a healthy gut. 

8. Ask for help

If you’re struggling with compromised bone health or frequent cavities and need further support, schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation to discover how I can help.


Specific Food Prep Tips for removing phytic acid

Brown Rice

Soak brown rice in filtered water for 24 hours at room temperature without changing the water. Reserve 10% of the soaking liquid (should keep for a long time in the fridge). Discard the rest of the soaking liquid; cook the rice in fresh water.

The next time you make brown rice, use the same procedure as above, but add the soaking liquid you reserved from the last batch to the rest of the soaking water.

Repeat the cycle. The process will gradually improve until 96% or more of the phytic acid is degraded at 24 hours. (


Process                                                                                   Phytate Reduction

Cook for 25 minutes at 212 degrees F                                           15-20 %

Soak for 12-14 ours at 68 degrees F, then cook                              60-77%

Sprouted quinoa is available as well. 

Oats and Corn

Some grains such as oats and corn are high in phytic acid, but naturally low in phytase, the enzyme that breaks down phytic acid under the right conditions. So even when soaked or sprouted, their phytic acid levels do not reduce much.

One option is to add a tablespoon or two of freshly ground rye flour (keep whole rye kernels around and grind some in a coffee grinder as needed) to your oats or cornmeal, then soak overnight (12 hrs) in an acidic medium. Soak your grain in 2 cups of warm water plus 2 TBSP of whey, lemon juice, yogurt or vinegar, and 2 TBSP of rye flour. Once processed this way, your oatmeal will only take about 5 minutes to cook the next day.


  • Sourdough starter is significantly more effective than packaged yeast at reducing phytate content.
  • Heat-treating flours destroys the phytase enzyme that breaks down phytic acid during fermentation. Therefore look for breads made with stone ground flour.
  • Phytic acid content decreases about 60% after 2 hours of leavening, and 80-85% after 48 hours of leavening. So make your own bread with non-heat treated flour, or look for a bakery near you who follows these guidelines.
  • Sprouted bread such as Ezekiel brand is widely available as well.


Soak for 24 hours, changing the water at least twice, then cook over low heat. This removes about 50% of the phytate. Sprouting would likely be even better. 

Some types of beans are available pre-sprouted, or you can sprout your own.


Consider buying sprouted lentils or sprouting your own. This removes about 50% of the phytic acid.

Nuts and seeds

  • Nuts and seeds contain significantly more phytic acid than grains.
  • It’s unknown how much phytic acid is removed by various preparation techniques.
  • Roasting probably removes a significant percentage of phytic acid (since it does so in grains and soy nuts), but this hasn’t been studied.
  • Consuming large amounts of raw nuts, nut butters or nut flours like almond flour is likely problematic for long-term health due to mineral depletion.
  • Consider buying sprouted and dehydrated nuts like these.
  • Sprouted nut butters are also available and likely a better choice.
  • Don’t go overboard eating a ton of nuts. Keep it to occasional snacks, and don’t eat them with every meal, or handfuls at a time.


While coconut does contain phytates, they actually have an extremely low mineral binding capacity, and therefore you don’t need to worry about soaking or otherwise processing your coconut.


Limit tofu consumption, and purchase organic, sprouted tofu. 

*Note that if you soak your phytic acid-containing foods, you don’t need to throw out the soaking water, because the phytic acid has simply been broken down by the phatase enzyme. It is no longer present.


Thrive market offers discounts on wholesome non-perishable food items like sprouted lentils, brown rice, pumpkin seeds, etc.

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

The Weston A. Price Foundation, and this blog post in particular.

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  1. Barbro, N., Sandström, B., & ÅKE, C. (1985, January). Reduction of the phytate content of bran by leavening in bread and its effect on zinc absorption in man. British Journal of Nutrition, 53(1), 47-53.
  2.  Bohn, T., Davidsson, L., Walczyk, T., & Hurrell, R. F. (2004). Phytic acid added to white-wheat bread inhibits fractional apparent magnesium absorption in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79, 418-423.
  3.  Ellis, R., Kelsay, J. L., Reynolds, R. D., Morris, E. R., Moser, P. B., & Frazier, C. W. (1987, August). Phytate:zinc and phytate X calcium:zinc millimolar ratios in self-selected diets of Americans, Asian Indians, and Nepalese. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 87(8), 1043-1047. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  4.  Fallon, S., Enig, M. G., Murray, K., & Dearth, M. (2001). Nourishing traditions: The cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats. Brandywine, MD: NewTrends Pub.
  5. Figures collected from various sources. Inhibitory effect of nuts on iron absoprtion. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1988 47:270-4; J Anal At Spectrum. 2004 19,1330 –1334; Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 1994, 42:2204-2209.
  6. Guyenet, Stephan.
  7.  Kresser, C. (2011, September 23). Another reason you shouldn’t go nuts on nuts. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from
  8. Layrisse, M., Garcia-Casal, M. N., Solano, L., Baron, M. A., Arguello, F., Llovera, D., . . . Tropper, E. (2000, September). New property of vitamin A and beta-carotene on human iron absorption: Effect on phytate and polyphenols as inhibitors of iron absorption. Archivos Latinoamericanos De Nutricion, 50(3), 243-248. Retrieved October 20, 2016. 
  9.  Liang, J., Han, B., Nout, M. R., & Hamer, R. J. (2008, October 15). Effects of soaking, germination and fermentation on phytic acid, total and in vitro soluble zinc in brown rice. Food Chemistry, 110(4), 821-828. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2008.02.064
  10. Mensah, P., & Tomkins, A. (2003). Household-level Technologies to Improve the Availability and Preparation of Adequate and Safe Complementary Foods. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 24(1), 104-125. doi:10.1177/156482650302400106
  11. Nagel, R. (2010, March 26). Living With Phytic Acid. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from
  12. Zhou, J. R., & Erdman, J. W. (1995). Phytic acid in health and disease. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 35(6), 495-508. doi:10.1080/10408399509527712


A Naturopathic Doctor’s Thoughts on Sugar (And a Delicious Granola Recipe)

Sugar is delicious, but don’t kid yourself, it’s incredibly addictive. We’re evolutionarily programmed to think so. Sugar isn’t intrinsically good or bad, but human beings’ genetically mandated love of the stuff combined with the fact that it is incredibly cheap and ubiquitous spells trouble.

On a personal note, I discovered some time last year via a dietary evaluation and elimination diet that I react very poorly to cane sugar (aka table sugar, made out of sugar cane). I actually get an earache within moments of eating something with cane sugar in it, and if I keep eating more, I catch a cold. It’s like clockwork. Following this discovery my subsequent adventures in removing cane sugar from my diet have been enlightening.

Here are some of the things that I have learned:

  • Suffering is quite motivating. Knowing that if I cheat, I’ll feel terrible makes it much easier to stay away.
  • My sweet tooth has become much more manageable since giving up cane sugar. I still enjoy occasional treats sweetened with maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, agave, etc., but I don’t feel controlled by those sugar cravings the way I used to.
  • For the most part I don’t really miss it (seriously).
  • I do sometimes feel awkward saying no to sugary sweets when spending time with friends and family. Not because I want to eat the offered treat (My body actually doesn’t want it), but because it’s just hard on a social level to say no sometimes.
  • There are many completely delicious desert options that don’t contain cane sugar.
  • Without trying to count calories or lose weight (Though I certainly pay attention to eating a healthy, whole food diet), my weight naturally rests at about 5 lbs less than it did when I was eating cane sugar.

How does sugar affect your body?

Well I'm glad you asked!

For the purposes of this next section, when I say sugar, I mean added sweeteners of any kind, because any sweetener causes the same host of problems when eaten in excess. A few of the names you might find on labels include cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup, honey, rice syrup, agave, coconut sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup etc. Sugar naturally found in whole fruit, vegetables or milk doesn’t count. Calorie free sweeteners also don't count, though I beg you to steer clear of NutraSweet (aspartame), Splenda (sucralose) and saccharine (Sweet N' Low). They are toxic. Stevia is generally fine in small amounts, and xylitol is well tolerated by some while others get some digestive upset from it as it is not absorbed. Be aware though, that even non-calorie sweeteners contribute to an addiction to excessively sweet foods. 

I talk to all of my patients about limiting sugar. It may not be necessary for everyone to avoid cane sugar entirely like I do, but most people could benefit from eating less of it.

Here’s why:

Table sugar is made up of half glucose and half fructose. All the other sweeteners I listed above contain some ratio of these two sugars. Glucose and fructose are processed very differently by the body. Glucose is mainly what the body needs to function (though you don’t have to eat sweet things to get enough of it because your body gets plenty from complex carbs found in whole grains, legumes and vegetables, and can even make its own out of fat and protein). Fructose, while fine in moderate amounts found in fruit is very taxing to the liver in high amounts. I encourage you to watch Sugar: The bitter truth for more on how your body processes glucose and fructose.

The body’s goal is to maintain the level of glucose in the blood at a very specific level because that is what the brain needs to be happy. When blood glucose drops too low, you feel terrible. Foggy thinking, irritability, nausea, and fatigue: these are all common feelings when your blood sugar drops too low and your brain is expressing its displeasure. On the other hand, the brain doesn’t protest when blood sugar is too high. If it did, we likely wouldn’t have such high rates of diabetes in this country because people would receive consistent negative feedback from their bodies when they overindulged.

The pancreas produces two hormones that are responsible for keeping your blood sugar in the perfect middle range:

  • When blood sugar levels are too high, Insulin tells your cells to remove sugar from the blood and store it as glycogen in the liver, and as fat all over the body, but especially around the midsection.
  • When blood sugar levels are too low, Glucagon tells your cells to add sugar to the blood.

But what if blood sugar levels are bumped up over and over again throughout the day because you regularly eat sugary meals or snacks, and this continues for days, months or years on end? Over time your cells stop listening when insulin tells them to remove sugar from the blood. Like a child who no longer listens to her mom nagging her to clean her room, cells all over the body quit listening to insulin telling them to clean up the sugar. When this happens, sugar levels remain high, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes. High sugar levels in the blood begin to gum up the blood vessels as well other cells in the body. This leads to heart disease and speeds up the aging process. If you’re interesting in slowing or reversing the aging process, listen up. The first and best way is to keep your blood sugar levels in the normal range. All of that excess sugar floating around directly causes wrinkles and sagging skin.

So what are some basic guidelines to aim for around eating sugar?

I generally have people focus on sticking to the American Heart Association’s recommendations, which say that:

Women should aim to consume no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar per day

Men should aim to consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day

Children up to age 8 should consume no more than 3-4 teaspoons (12-16 grams) per day

Children age 8 to 18 should consume no more than 5-6 teaspoons (20-24 grams) per day

An important conversion to keep in mind is that there are 4 grams of table sugar in 1 teaspoon. Most nutrition labels list sugar in grams, so this helps with label reading.

The US Food and Drug Administration recommends that people not exceed 10% of their daily calories from added sugar. That works out to about 50 grams of sugar per day or 12.5 teaspoons of table sugar. That’s over double the American Heart Association’s recommendations for women and much too high in my opinion.

My Favorite Granola

I recently made my own granola, modifying a recipe from Food 25 to reduce the sweetener and only use maple syrup. I ended up with a completely delicious crunchy, mildly sweet and ever so slightly salty granola that I absolutely love. I love that this recipe contains a ton of nuts and seeds lending it a relatively high protein content. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are some of my favorite super foods as they’re packed with minerals. This granola is also high in healthy fats from the coconut flakes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. I enjoy it with some whole fat yogurt and fresh berries to increase the antioxidant punch. I’ve listed the nutrition facts below the recipe.

An important thing to note is that even though it has relatively low sugar, I still consider this granola a treat and don’t eat it every day. My goal is to make the majority of my diet veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains and occasional meat. In order to eat enough veggies each day, it takes eating vegetables with most meals, and having granola for a meal usually means I don’t eat vegetables. So I reserve it for special occasions or times when I’m in a bit of a hurry.

Here’s the recipe


3 cups gluten free rolled oats

1 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds

1 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds

1 cup unsweetened coconut chips

1 cup raw pecans, left whole or coarsely chopped

½ cup pure maple syrup

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 scant teaspoon coarse salt


  1. Heat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Place oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut, pecans, syrup, olive oil, and 1 scant teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Spread granola mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until granola is toasted, about 45 minutes
  3. Remove granola from oven and season with more salt to taste. Let cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Serving size: ½ cup

Makes about 14 servings

Per serving (approximate):

Total fat: 29g

Omega-3 fats: 257mg

Potassium: 369mg

Total carbohydrate: 33g

Dietary fiber: 6.5g

Added sugar: 5g

Protein: 11g

Vitamin A: 47IU

Calcium: 42mg

Iron: 4mg

Magnesium: 151mg

Selenium: 7mcg

Zinc: 3.6mg

Looking at these stats, I’m impressed with the protein content. One of my main problems with having granola or oatmeal for breakfast (besides that it usually means skipping vegetables) is that it has fairly low protein content unless you’re adding protein rich toppings. 11 grams of protein is great! The fiber content and omega 3 fats are good too. I’m very impressed with the amount of potassium, iron, magnesium and zinc in this granola. It is loaded with minerals! Though it is true that minerals are less well absorbed with eaten with grains. The added sugar of 5 grams per serving is nice and low, and it still tastes amazing, especially with added berries or other fresh fruit. The fat content of 29g is pretty high, but as I am always trying to convince my patients, added sugar is the main culprit for weight gain, not fat. The fats in this recipe are all very healthy, and a higher fat content means you don’t crave added sugar as much. You’ll likely feel more satisfied by this granola than a lower fat variety, meaning you won’t be craving additional snack foods after eating it.

What questions do you have about eating healthy?


Dr. Jennea


p.s. Ready to start getting down to the nitty gritty root causes of your health concerns? Schedule a free 15 minute consult to chat about your story and how I can help. 

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