Thoughts on Phytic Acid and Soya

22 Jun 2014 at 14:24 (Plastic Vegan, Random Randomness) (, , , , , , , )

There seems to be an awful lot of hate towards wholegrains from the online community. I believe most of this comes from fans of the Weston A Price Foundation (aka WAPF), an influential group who advocate a diet high in animal products (more of this later).

I hadn’t heard of this group at the time when I first started reading these articles about how soya and wholegrains are really bad for you, will give you osteoporosis and bad teeth and kill you in any other number of ways. I was intrigued at first, as these sites, such as Mercola and Wellness Mama, seemed to be in accordance with what I believed about diet, i.e. natural, minimally processed, home-made, organic is best. So I was curious about this info.

One study that seemed to crop up a lot was this one (I am quoting from

To prove this theory, the Drs. Mellanby did a study on children with existing cavities. The children were put into three groups:

Group One: Regular diet plus oatmeal (which is high in phytic acid)
Group Two: Regular diet plus vitamin D
Group Three: Diet low in phytic acid plus vitamin D.

And then this graph:


Now the first thing I have a problem with is: where is the control group? Every single one of these three groups is testing a variable. There should be a control group first of all, who have an average intake of phytic acid (ie the amount consumed in a “typical” diet). They are testing too many variables without actually having a control to compare results. A fairer test would be:

  1. Regular diet, with average intake of phytic acid (control)
  2. Regular diet, with low phytic acid
  3. Regular diet, with high intake of phytic acid

Where the regular diet would be pretty much the same for each participant. The low phytic acid group would replace some high phytic acid foods with lower phytic acid alternatives. The high phytic acid group would replace some low phytic acid foods with high phytic acid foods.

If they can show me the results of such a study, with enough participants to show any correlation (I’d say at least 100 per group, preferably more), then I will take this study seriously. However, if this is the best they can do, it’s getting consigned to the scrap heap, like the other quack science WAPF (and its Paleo cousins) is so keen foisting on the unsuspecting public.

The second problem is, wellnessmama shows this study as if it is some kind of proof to back up her theory, but does not even quote the sample size. For all the readers know, there could have only been 2 kids per group. This does not constitute proof in any way, but how many readers will question this?

The third problem: Vitamin D seems to have the biggest impact on healing. How do we know that it isn’t the vitamin that impacts both the cavity-formation and the cavity-healing? No control, so we don’t know. Again, to test this we would need another three groups:

  1. Regular diet, low in vitamin D
  2. Regular diet, moderate vitamin D
  3. Regular diet, high in vitamin D

Nope, but we don’t get this.

Fourth: where is the data on how many cavities and the extent of the damage to the teeth of the participants? If those in the high phytic acid group already had much more severe cavities than those in the other groups, again, the test is flawed. Wellnessmama does not provide this data.

Fifth: we would also need to test for the effects of Vitamin D in combination with phytic acid intake, leading to more groups:

  1. High phytic acid + vitamin D
  2. Moderate phytic acid + vitamin D
  3. Low phytic acid + vitamin D

You see how many groups I have listed above so far: nine. They have shown the results of only three. This isn’t good enough, but so many people are seeing this study as some kind of proof. Seems to me it’s proof that by throwing around a few numbers, you can make people believe anything. Where is the link to the full study? If this study is as conclusive as wellnessmama and others say, then what are they hiding by not providing details on where to find the complete write-up?

To sum up: I don’t recommend eating nothing but wholegrains. I also don’t recommend eating no wholegrains at all (allergies permitting). Eat them in moderation, as you would with everything else.

Some more reading on the subject (not always scientific studies or proof of anything, but interesting points to consider):

The phytic acid robs the body of minerals myth
Inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) is not the same thing as inostiol. They have different functions. Just like betaine (Trimethylglycine), which is alkaline, has totally different functions than its acidified form betaine HCl.

It is funny that so many people bash phytic acid not realizing that phytic acid is actually IP6. The biggest rumor about phytic acid is that it robs the body of minerals. The way I have always explained this myth is to consider you are holding two bowling balls. If I go to hand you a third bowling ball you cannot hold it unless you first give up one of the bowling balls you are already holding. The same goes for phytic acid. It is already going to be saturated with the minerals of the plant. So in order for it to grab a mineral from the body it must first give up minerals it is already bound to. Another thing that anti-phytic acid proponents leave out is that phytic acid has a higher affinity for heavy metals than it does for beneficial minerals. So it can actually help remove toxic metals, and excess iron from the body.

And we eat phytic acid in many of our foods. Phytic acid is common in all grain seeds, such as wheat and oats, and soy is also a great source.

Phytic acid actually has been shown to provide a number of health benefits including being anti-cancer.

Phytic Acid @ Wikipedia
Studies examining the effects of phytic acid demonstrate that they are important in regulating vital cellular functions. Both in vivo and in vitro experiments have demonstrated striking anticancer (preventive as well as therapeutic) effects of phytic acid. Research shows anti-carcinogenic effects, albeit to a lesser extent and it acts in inhibiting cancer. In addition to reduction in cell proliferation, phytic acid increases differentiation of malignant cells often resulting in reversion to the normal phenotype.

The study concludes that: “Given the numerous health benefits, phytates participation in important intracellular biochemical pathways, normal physiological presence in our cells, tissues, plasma, urine, etc, the levels of which fluctuate with intake, epidemiological correlates of phytate deficiency with disease and reversal of those conditions by adequate intake, and safety – all strongly suggest for phytate’s inclusion as an essential nutrient, perhaps a vitamin.”

The myth of phytic acid robbing the body of minerals

One of the false claims being made by the soy bashers is that phytic acid (inositol hexaphosphate, IP6) in soy will rob the body of minerals. I have tried to explain why this is a myth over and over, but the myth still persists.

In short the only way phytic acid can take something from the body is to give up the minerals it is already bound to. Just like how in order for hemoglobin to pick up carbon dioxide it must give up the oxygen it is holding on to and vice versa. If the phytic acid is already bound it is not going to be able to grab anything from the body. But it does have a higher affinity for heavy metals and free iron than it does minerals we really need. So the phytic acid in plants we eat will already be bound to beneficial minerals that it gladly give up in order to grab a hold of toxic metals it can then take out of the body. So the only thing it is really going to rob our body of is metallic toxins we do not want.

I have a list at home somewhere of the series of affinity that phytic acid has for metals, so I was checking to see if the list is online and ran across a site that was discussing a post here on CZ on the subject. So I went to the post which I feel nails it:

“Subject: Re: O/T Phytic Acid in whole grains – does it lead to loss of minerals??

Simple answer NO,

There is a simple, economical and effective way of ridding the body of all of these undesirable organisms, debris and metals with advancing age — IP6 rice bran extract.

IP6 is inositol hexaphosphate (also called phytic acid), which is found in every cell of the human body, is one molecule of inositol and six of phosphate and is found naturally in whole grains (bran), seeds and nuts. IP6 is known as nature’s master mineral chelator (remover).

IP6 is another of the many natural molecules that both conventional and alternative health practitioners continue to overlook. Researchers from around the world indicate they are searching for metal chelating agents to prevent or treat disease but fail to employ IP6 rice bran extract which is safe and economical. Conventional medicine’s narrow use of patented drugs rather than natural remedies blinds many health practitioners from the use of natural remedies such as IP6.

IP6, extracted from rice bran, is available as a dietary supplement and natural chelator of metals from living tissues. As a dietary supplement, IP6 is documented as a cleanser of arteries, the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, gall bladder (stones), and many other tissues. Here is the evidence for your review.

IP6 cleanses heavy metals
IP6 attaches to heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, as well as loose iron, copper and calcium. [J Agriculture Food Chemistry 47: 4714-17, 999] IP6 is a selective chelator — it does not attach to potassium, sodium or magnesium, important electrolyte minerals required for heart rhythm. IP6 does not remove calcium from bones or iron from red blood cells. Once chelated (attached), these excess minerals are excreted via the urinary tract. [Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 35:495-508, 1995]”

The phytic acid claims are a myth I have addressed a number of times.

First of all phytic acid levels quickly decline with cooking. Most of the phytic acid sources we consume are cooked before consumption.

Secondly, phytic acid in plants are already bound to minerals the plants picked up from the soil. So how can this phytic acid rob the body of minerals when it is already saturated with minerals? The ONLY way the phytic acid can bind to a mineral from the body is if it gives up the minerals it is already bound to. Therefore, the phytic acid is not “robbing” the body of minerals as is often falsely claimed. The phytic acid is exchanging minerals with the body.

In addition, most people don’t realize that phytic acid has a higher affinity for toxic heavy metals and dangerous free iron than it does beneficial minerals. Therefore, phytic acid can help remove toxic heavy metals, and can help reduce oxidative damage to tissues as well as reduce iron dependent pathogens and cancer cells by binding the free iron. This is why free phytic acid (inositol hexaphosphate, IP6) is sold in health food stores and is often used in the treatment of cancer.

Enzyme inhibitors are also removed by pre-soaking, or destroyed by cooking and are even reduced during long term storage. Since many seeds, such as beans, can be stored for years before reaching the market their levels of enzyme inhibitors are likely low to begin with.

Phytic Acid Friend or Foe? (click for full article)

Phytic acid can be digested by humans and actually releases inositol during the process. Inositol is a key B vitamin necessary for the metabolism of fat and cholesterol. Whole grains are a valuable source of inositol, as well as choline and lecithin, which are also important in the break down of cholesterol. This may explain why so many people have reported a significant reduction in cholesterol levels once they began making their own bread from freshly milled grains. Inositol is also an essential nutrient in reducing depression. Again I ask – why would we want to denature this valuable nutrient?

One should really wonder why whole grains and phytic acid were “picked on” at all. Why not oxalic acid? It is a mineral chelator found in spinach, chard, cranberries, almonds, rhubarb and other vegetables. Should we quit eating these healthy foods as well? Sally Fallon encourages the use of flaxseed for its rich source of fatty acids, stating that it is low in phytic acid. Yet sources that herald phytic acid as a nutrient, give wheat bran and flaxseed as the richest sources. Does soaking the grain over night actually denature the phytic acid? Not from what I have read. Only about 10% of the phytic acid is broken down in an overnight soak and that is not enough to make a significant difference.

The anti-soya movement also seems to originate from WAPF. Remember, these are the people who say that it is better to give babies a mixture made of raw cows’ milk, butter oil whey, or if they have an allergy to milk, give them chopped liver instead (you couldn’t make this up), rather than to give them breastmilk from a vegan mother.

Yes, really.


Please see Unlatched’s page for more info.

Regarding soya, if phytoestrogens are the problem, why do you not hear the anti-soya movement raving about flax?

Flax seeds contain the highest amount of phytoestrogen of any foods, with 379,380 international units in 100 grams

Have a read of these and make up your own mind (click the links for the full articles):

by Leo Babauta .

It’s one of those things that has spread on the Internet and unbelievably, has become accepted truth to many people: that soya is unhealthy, even dangerous.

I mention (to otherwise smart and informed people) that I drink soya milk sometimes, and a look of pity comes over their faces. ‘This guy doesn’t know the dangers of soya, and might get cancer, or worse … man boobs,’ they’re thinking.

Just about every fitness expert I read — people I respect and trust — says that soya is bad for you, from Tim Ferriss to the primal/paleo folk. I absolutely respect most of these guys and otherwise think their work on fitness-related matters is great. And yet, when I look for their sources on soya, often they don’t exist, and when they do, I can always trace them back to one place.

The Weston A. Price Foundation.

Seriously. I’ve never seen anyone cite a single peer-reviewed study that shows that soya is unhealthy. The only sources are the Weston A. Price Foundation, or other articles that use the Weston A. Price Foundation as a source (read more).

Here’s the thing: the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) have been on a vendetta against soya (and on a campaign for meat and raw milk) for a couple decades now, and they have no solid evidence to back up their vendetta. They have lots of quasi-scientific evidence, lots of reasonable-sounding arguments, but if you look for solid proof, you won’t find any. They are not scientists, and have conducted no actual peer-reviewed studies of their own (that I know about).

It’s amazing how many people have been influenced by WAPF’s wacky writings — whenever you read articles not only against soya, but about the myths of cholesterol or saturated fat (WAPF dangerously advocates a diet high in saturated fat), or about raw milk or meat, or about coconut oil and butter, it is based on the work of WAPF. WAPF has even influenced the writings of major writers as Gary Taubes and Michael Pollan.

I’m not going to tell you to fill your diet with soya. I eat it moderately, like anything else, but am not afraid of it. What I am going to do is clear up some myths, and challenge those who disagree with me to show actual peer-reviewed studies (not articles by WAPF or that cite WAPF as their source).

In discussions of soy foods, the assertion is sometimes made that only fermented soy foods are safe and healthful to consume, with the eating habits of traditional Asian cultures cited as support for this claim. In fact, contrary to this common misconception, the soy products regularly consumed in Asian countries are not all, or even primarily, fermented. According to research from Ginny Messina, R.D., “In Japan, about half of soy consumption comes from the fermented foods miso and natto, and half comes from tofu and dried soybeans. In Shanghai, most of the soy foods consumed are unfermented, with tofu and soymilk making the biggest contributions. In fact, even in Indonesia, where tempeh is a revered national food, unfermented soy products like tofu account for around half of soy intake.”

Response to “Not Soy Fast”, by Jack Norris RD:

Wartman implicates soy as a cause for breast cancer, mentioning only one study. Unfortunately, she didn’t cite the study correctly, so it is not clear to which she was actually referring. In any case, here is a run down of the research.

Case-control studies on soy and breast cancer have been generally encouraging to those with soy in their diets, with about half associating soy with a lower risk for breast cancer and the other half showing no effects…

… The Beginnings Study is an ongoing study examining the effects of formula on child development (86). It is in its early stages with findings from children only a year old, but to date no negative effects of soy have been found on growth, sex organs, or neurological development compared to children on cow’s milk formula.

Some research shows that is best to choose a soy formula with DHA, and it is important to note that soy-formula is not intended for pre-term infants.

Soy for cancer survivors

What about women who have had breast cancer, especially ER-positive breast cancer? A recent study looked at soy consumption in the diets of more than 9,000 breast cancer survivors who were participating in 3 studies of eating habits and other lifestyle factors after breast cancer. Two of the studies were from the U.S. and 1 was from China. Women from both the U.S. and China who consumed 10 mg/day or more of soy had a 25% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence. These protective associations were slightly stronger in women with ER-negative tumors. In women with ER-positive tumors, the associations also seemed protective (though not strongly so) for women regardless of whether they were taking tamoxifen or not.

But to find out for sure whether we should recommend soy foods to women, researchers would need to repeat these findings, ideally through a controlled study (considered the gold standard in research). At the very least, the evidence from the studies in women reassures scientists that moderate consumption is likely to be safe.

The 2012 American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors, written by a panel of experts, including researchers with expertise in this area, concluded that current research finds no harmful effects to breast cancer survivors from eating soy. Both the guidelines for cancer prevention and the guidelines for survivors recommend against taking soy supplements because they contain much higher isoflavone concentrations than what you would normally find in the foods you eat, haven’t been as rigorously tested, and may have other potent effects on body tissues.

When you make the decision about consuming soy, it’s also important to remember that breast cancer survivors (and the rest of the population) are also at risk for other cancers and cardiovascular disease. Tofu and other soy foods are linked to lower rates of heart disease because they are excellent sources of protein, may replace other less healthy foods in the diet (e.g. animal fats, red and processed meats), and may help lower cholesterol, and so can be a good meal choice for anyone.

Bottom line: Even though animal studies have shown mixed effects on breast cancer with soy supplements, studies in humans have not shown harm from eating soy foods. Moderate consumption of soy foods appears safe for both breast cancer survivors and the general population, and may even lower breast cancer risk. Avoid soy supplements until more research is done. So, enjoy your occasional tofu stir-fry or tofu burger – they are unlikely to increase your risk of breast cancer and, on balance, are some of the healthier foods you can eat

Anyway, my stance is quite clear, though my opinion isn’t set in stone. Your health is your own responsibility and your own choice. So do the research, question the sources, know your facts and don’t be swayed by numbers that don’t really say anything at all. Remember that misquoting, taking out of context and outright lying are typical behaviours from those who would push these faddy diets down our throats.

(Don’t believe me? Pick any random video from and you’re bound to see an example of this. Or for a quicker and funnier exposé check out carbsanity’s post HERE.)

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