Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Should you be fighting phytic acid?


I’ve had a few people ask me about the merits of soaking grains overnight to remove phytic acid. “What is phytic acid and why would I want to get rid of it?” you might ask.

Phytic acid is an antioxidant present in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Many people are adamant that it be removed from foods before consuming as it binds to minerals such as calcium, zinc, and iron, minimizing the amount that you’re able to absorb from that food. It’s been suggested that grains should be soaked or sprouted before cooking in order to remove the phytic acid.

The issue: it’s uncertain how much phytic acid is actually removed by soaking grains and beans. It seems that only about 10% of phytic acid is removed through overnight soaking (1). Also, it’s unlikely that, if you’re consuming a healthy diet including a variety of foods, you’re going to experience any malnutrition due to the presence of phytic acid in your oatmeal or bean salad.

Finally, it’s possible that there may be benefits to the consumption of phytic acid of which we’re unaware. For example, some research (admittedly not the greatest study, nonetheless) has indicated that phytic acid may actually be of benefit in¬†Alzheimer’s disease prevention/slowing of progression. Even if this research proves to be meaningless it helps to illustrate how little we know about the individual components of food. This is one reason we dietitians are always harping on about obtaining as many nutrients as possible from whole foods. We don’t know precisely how all of these nutrients are interacting with each other in food and we don’t know how that impacts the benefits we obtain from foods.

While there’s no harm in soaking your grains, or sprouting them, there’s probably little benefit as far as phytic acid removal is concerned. And who knows, that may not be such a bad thing.

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Humans cannot live on bread alone

This tweet came through my feed last week: “Whole grains are approximately 10-12% protein. The exact percentage we should be eating. Nature knows best!” I started to respond via twitter but I couldn’t keep it down to 140 characters. Lucky you, you get to read my rant in response.

I’m not sure where the notion that 10-12% of calories from protein is optimal came from. Acceptable Macronutrient Data Ranges put protein needs at anywhere from 10-35% of total calories. The 10-12% is within this range, but it’s at the low-end. Also, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that “man cannot live on bread alone”. Even if this is the amount of protein that you’re obtaining from whole grains, they’re not going to be the only food that you’re consuming so you’ll need to eat other protein-containing foods to ensure that you’re getting enough protein.

I looked at the protein content of a few whole grains. 3/4 cup of cooked rolled oats contains 2.85 grams of protein. That means that of total calories in a serving, about 8% come from protein. About 9% of calories in long-grain brown rice come from protein. Quinoa fares better, coming in with 14.6% of calories from protein. Multi-grain whole-grain bread actually has about 20% of calories coming from protein (although this amount is likely to vary considerably depending on the recipe). My point here is that not all whole grains consist of 10-12% protein.

The last point that I want to make is that not all proteins are created equal. Proteins are made up of amino acids of which there’s a recommended pattern of consumption (we need more of some than of others). Grains do not generally contain the pattern of amino acids that we need, making it necessary for us to consume other sources of protein to ensure that we get all of the amino acids we need.

Sure, nature knows best. Nature also knows that grains are not our best or only source of protein.

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Eat your granola bars to get your calcium

I recently saw a commercial for Quaker Chewy Granola Bars. The tagline was “ten grams of whole grains”. I love how advertisers can insert essentially meaningless information like that to make their product sound healthy. Whole grains are healthy; therefore, these granola bars must be healthy. But what does that information even mean? Well, it means that out of the total 24 grams each granola bar weighs, ten of these grams are composed of whole grains. “What are the other 14 grams?” you might ask. Well, they’re things like various forms of sugar (i.e. brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, invertsugar, corn syrup solids, and molasses but don’t worry, they no longer contain high fructose corn syrup!) and oil.

When I visited the website to find the nutrition information for these granola bars I also noticed a little factoid stating: “Good source of calcium (per 40 grams)”. Why they can get away with putting facts for amounts larger than the serving size is beyond me. You would have to eat nearly two chewy granola bars to get that “good” source of calcium which is really only 16% of the average person’s daily recommended intake. You would then also get about 3 teaspoons of sugar. Call me crazy, but I don’t recommend eating granola bars to get your calcium.