Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Epic Battle Rages on Within our Digestive System Every Day. Phytates, versus Phytase

Storage is pretty much a universal problem.  There are rent a storage spaces all over the country and when people collect too much crap, they store it in them.  I'm guilty, stored a lot of my crap in a hundred buck a month locker until I got sick of it and threw out a ton of the stuff.  On a bit more molecular level, everything out there on this planet that is alive, needs a method of storing excess energy, nutrients, and vital things.  We need to store it for times of famine, times of drought, preparation for reproduction, and well, just because we don't want anyone or anything else to have it.  We humans, and most of the animal world, store excesses of gathered foods in the form of fat.  The scourge of swimsuit models everywhere Madison Avenue advertising mogels want Americans to believe that women should look like survivors of concentration camps instead of like humans that enjoy life.  Conversely those same people demand just the opposite of their steak, it must be rippling with extra fat.  Such a dichotomy of belief, but then that is the American way.

The plant world has a system for storage as well.  Not just production of fructose that goes into all the lovely bananas and strawberries being buzzed into smoothies but on a more molecular level, the production of phytic acid.  There are a whole group of these molecules and collectively we call them phytates.  Phytates as a group, are not actual vessels of storage for the end products of photosynthesis, but are storage facilities for the base minerals and compounds needed for the building blocks of life itself.  The big one, phosphorus.  Lots of other minerals get tied up in there as well, and the problem with phytates as a whole is that they do tend to latch
onto other minerals inside our digestive tracts thus making those minerals unavailable to us.  This wondrous snowflake design that makes up most of the phytate family of compounds takes advantage of their shape and molecular polarity to grab other stuff.  Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and pretty much anything else that is around.  That can be a problem.  Those are minerals that we need to grow healthy bones, strong teeth and sharp minds.  Sounds a bit like a dairy promo commercial now doesn't it.  Yeah, maybe a bit.  Wish it were all true though.  The problem with phytates is that they are very prevalent  in our food system.  Grains, legumes, nuts, seeds are the major contributors to our exposure of them.  They have their place in nature, they contain the building blocks of life and that's why seeds have so many of them.  Those seeds also contain the secret to unlocking the minerals within their structure and releasing them so that not only the seedling can grow, but also if a human were to consume it, they could unlock the richness within and get that vitality that nature  promised the new generation of plants.  That secret is the enzyme phytase.

This little enzyme is crucial to seed development, it does indeed breakdown the phytates into usable minerals for their growth. Pretty cool huh?  Nature creates a lock for the goodness, and provides the key as well.  The problem though is man.  We don't always play nice with the bounty provided for us by nature.  Man for centuries has figured out how to unlock the secrets of seeds and activate the phytase enzymes in order for nature's bounty to in fact become mankind's bounty as well.  When we use those techniques to prepare our foods, then we give the phytase a fighting chance for a big win in our digestive system.  Lately, those secrets have gone the wayside in favor of faster production methods (faster means more profit) that leave most of the phytates intact, and destroy the phytase that is so necessary. The big example I will mention here is wheat.  Wheat contains a lot of phytic acids and the phytase that is needed to properly digest the phytates is destroyed in the high speed milling processes used in modern mills.  In the old days, local mills used slow speed stone grinders that did not heat the wheat as it was milled and the phytase was left intact.  They also used to only grind what wheat was needed to bake breads for that day.  Today, high speed mills create so much heat the phytase is destroyed and those millers grind wheat, sift off the good stuff, the bran and germ, and use the starch.  Which is not all that nutritious.  Whole wheat flour in stores, and what most bakers use to make whole wheat bread is not whole wheat.  Real true whole wheat has a very short shelf life, the oils in the germ tend to turn rancid in a week or so and so the Federal government has given permission for the industry to use white flour with some bran added back in to give it color and they can call it whole wheat.  (FDA Title 27CFR137.200 (2))

Never fear, there are still ways to help activate phytase and to actually fool those phytic acid molecules with a substitute.  It's a method that I use, and I like it a lot.  I have talked about here before and you can actually go read the six part series of articles about making healthy foods healthier that I wrote back in May.  This is the first article. (Healthy Food)  The techniques are simple, they do take time, but the overall increase in nutritive value makes doing them worthwhile.  It is all simple, ferment your wheat before baking bread; soak beans, rice, nuts or seeds for 24 hours, then rinse drain and dry or cook before you eat them.  These are all techniques that our ancestors learned through trial and error on how to make the foods we have available to us a bit healthier and more nutritious. 

A lot of this information was garnered from a number of websites, this one in particular (Weston A Price)  It is long, boring and with a lot of specific measurements of residual phytic acid amounts in specific foods prepared using a number of differing techniques.  For me, it was fascinating reading, only fell asleep once.  But who knows, you might love it. 

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