Should You Avoid Eating Phytic Acid?

sprouting legumes
Neil Overy / Getty Images

Sometimes demonized as an evil “anti-nutrient,” phytic acid can prevent you from absorbing essential minerals. But it also has lots of disease-fighting properties and it’s found in healthy plant-based foods like legumes and whole-grains. Find out how to minimize phytic acid in your food, without giving up on the good stuff.

If you’ve ever heard of phytic acid or phytates it’s probably because someone told you that you should avoid them.

Phytic acid is sometimes considered an “anti-nutrient” because it binds minerals in the digestive tract, making them less available to our bodies.

The most concentrated sources of phytic acid are usually whole grains and beans. And that's why some people (especially folks on the Paleo diet) are afraid of eating these foods for their supposed “anti-nutrient” properties.

But these same anti-nutrient properties can also help in the prevention of chronic disease.

Potential Problems With Phytic Acid

Phytic acid can bind minerals in the gut before they are absorbed and interact with digestive enzymes. Phytates also reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins, and fats.

While in the intestines, phytic acid can bind the minerals iron, zinc, and manganese. Once bound, they are then excreted in waste.

This can be a good or bad thing, depending on the condition. It’s a bad thing if you’re having trouble building up iron stores in the body and have developed iron-deficiency anemia.

On the other hand, when phytic acid binds minerals in the gut, it prevents the formation of free radicals, thus making it an antioxidant. Not only that, but it seems to bind heavy metals (e.g., cadmium, lead) helping to prevent their accumulation in the body

In fact, phytic acid has some great preventative properties. For example, it helps fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney stones, and insulin resistance.

For most people, the fact that they contain phytates probably isn’t a good enough reason to stop eating legumes or whole grains.

That said, there are some steps you can take to reduce the anti-nutrient effects. (This might be especially important if you’re a plant-based eater, with a vegetarian or vegan diet.)

Best Ways to Moderate the Anti-Nutrient Effects

  • Heat your food. Heating foods can destroy small amounts of phytic acid. (Note: heat can also destroy phytase and vitamin C so be careful.) 
  • Soaking beans and grains can also reduce phytic acid (and other anti-nutrients).
  • Eat fermented foods. Fermentation and bread leavening (using yeast) can help to break down phytic acid due to the activation of native phytase enzymes, reducing the number of phosphate groups. Also, some of the acids produced during fermentation might actually boost absorption of certain minerals.
  • Eat sprouted grains. Sprouting and malting enhance native phytase activity in plants and thus decreases phytic acid.
  • Add Vitamin C. Vitamin C appears strong enough to overcome phytic acid. In one study, adding 50 mg of vitamin C counteracted the phytic acid load of a meal. In another study, 80 mg of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) counteracted 25 mg of phytic acid. A dense source of vitamin C includes guava, bell pepper, kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, papaya, broccoli, sweet potato, pineapple, cauliflower, kale, lemon juice, and parsley.
  • Eat animal protein. Animal protein may enhance absorption of zinc, iron, and copper. Adding small amounts of animal protein might increase the absorption of these minerals in the body. (Except for dairy/casein, as it also seems to hinder iron and zinc absorption.)
  • Support your gut health. A low pH in the gut enhances iron absorption. Balancing the level of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract might help with this.  

In the end, to argue that some plant foods are “unhealthy” because of their phytic acid content seems mistaken, especially when phytic acid’s potentially negative effects on mineral assimilation may be offset by its health benefits.

On balance, you don’t need to stop eating whole grains, legumes, or fruits and vegetables. Just aim to reduce phytic acid through preparation methods rather than eliminating the foods that contain it.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Bohn L, Meyer AS, Rasmussen SK. Phytate: impact on environment and human nutrition. A challenge for molecular breeding. Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B 2008;9:165-191.

  • Champ MMJ. Non-nutrient bioactive substances of pulses. British Journal of Nutrition 2002;88 Suppl 3:S307-S319.

  • Davidsson L. Approaches to Improve IRON Bioavailability From Complementary Foods. J Nutr 2003;133:1560S-1562S.

  • Inositol Hexaphosphate. December 11, 2012.

  • Fardet A. New hypotheses for the health-protective mechanisms of whole-grain cereals: what is beyond fibre? Nutrition Research Reviews 2010;23:65-134.

  • Fox CH & Eberl M. Phytic acid (IP6), novel broad spectrum anti-neoplastic agent: a systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2002;10:229-234.

  • Gibson RS, et al. A review of phytate, iron, zinc, and calcium concentrations in plant-based complementary foods used in low-income countries and implications for bioavailability. Food Nutr Bull 2010;31(2 Suppl):S134-S146.

  • Gibson RS, Perlas L, Hotz C. Improving the bioavailability of nutrients in plant foods at the household level. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2006;65:160-168.

  • Gilani GS, Xiao CW, Cockell KA. Impact of antinutritional factors in food proteins on the digestibility of protein and the bioavailability of amino acids and on protein quality. British Journal of Nutrition 2012;108:S315-S332.

  • Hotz C & Gibson RS. Traditional Food-Processing and Preparation Practices to Enhance the Bioavailability of Micronutrients in Plant-Based Diets. J Nutr 2007;137:1097-1100.

  • Hunt JR. Moving toward a plant-based diet: are iron and zinc at risk? Nutr Rev 2002;60:127-134.

  • Hunt JR & Roughead ZK. Nonheme-Iron Absorption, Fecal Ferritin Excretion, and Blood Indexes of IRON Status in Women Consuming Controlled Lactoovovegetarian Diets for 8 Wk. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:944-952.

  • Hurrell R & Egli I. Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:1461S-1467S.

  • Hurrell RF. Influence of Vegetable Protein Sources on Trace Element and Mineral Bioavailability. J Nutr 2003;133:2973S-2977S.

  • Itske M, et al. Effect of tea and other dietary factors on iron absorption. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 2000;40:371-398.

  • Linus Pauling Institute. Iron

  • Lonnerdal B. Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption. J Nutr 2000;130:1378S-1383S.

  • Ma G, et al. Phytate intake and molar ratios of phytate to zinc, iron and calcium in the diets of people in China. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007;61:368-374.

  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Inositol Hexaphosphate. January 18th, 2013. 

  • Murgia I, et al. Biofortification for combating ‘hidden hunger’ for iron. Trends in plant science 2012;17:47-55.

  • Norris J. Vegan Health

  • Raboy V. Progress in Breeding Low Phytate Crops. J Nutr 2002;132:503S505S.

  • Raboy V. Seeds for a better future: ‘low phytate’ grains help to overcome malnutrition and reduce pollution. TRENDS in Plant Science 2001;6:458-462.

  • Sandberg A. Bioavailability of minerals in legumes. British Journal of Nutrition 2002;88(Suppl 3):S281-S285.

  • Schlemmer U, et al. Phytate in foods and significance for humans: Food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food res 2009;53:S330-S375.

  • Seshadri S, Shah A, Bhade S. Haematologic Response of Anaemic Preschool Children to Ascorbic Acid Supplementation. Hum Nutr Appl Nutr 1985;39:151-154.

  • Sharma DC & Mathur R.Correction of Anemia and IRON Deficiency in Vegetarians by Administration of Ascorbic Acid.Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 1995;39403-406.

  • Siegenberg D, et al. Ascorbic Acid Prevents the Dose Dependent Inhibitory Effects of Polyphenols and Phytates on Nonheme-Iron Absorption. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53:537-541.

  • Singh RP & Agarwal R. Prostate Cancer and Inositol Hexaphosphate: Efficacy and Mechanisms. Anticancer Research 2005;25:2891-2904.

  • Urbano G, et al. The role of phytic acid in legumes: antinutrient or beneficial function? J Physiol Biochem 2000;56:283-294.

  • Vohra A & Satyanarayana T. Phytases: Microbial sources, production, purification, and potential biotechnological applications. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology 2003;23:29-60.

  • Vucenik I & Shamsuddin AM. Cancer Inhibition by Inositol Hexaphosphate (IP6) and Inositol: From Laboratory to Clinic. J Nutr 2003;133:3778S-3784S.

  • Vucenik I & Shamsuddin AM. Protection against cancer by dietary IP6 and inositol. Nutrition and Cancer 2006;55:109-125.