Phytic acid and saponins: what’s the deal?

January 26, 2017 10:17 am Published by 1 Comment

If you’re interested in healthy eating, or have dietary issues – and particularly, if you’re eating gluten-free – you might have heard about problems with phytic acid and saponins in food. We thought we’d take a look at the issues surrounding these, and the ways of overcoming them. We’ve carried out our own basic research, but are indebted to Naomi Devlin’s book River Cottage gluten free for much of the information. Naomi knows a lot about eating and cooking for those with dietary issues and Naturally Good Food is proud to be one of her suppliers of specialist ingredients!

We look at some ways of mitigating the effects of phytic acid.

Concerned about phytic acid in grains and pulses?

What’s phytic acid?

Phytic acid is found in grains and pulses – in the bran of grains and combined with the protein in pulses. It’s an antioxidant, which for many people is a real plus point. It’s therefore not a ‘baddy’ in itself – but the problem arises in the way in which it acts within our gut.

Phytic acid ‘binds’ to minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron in our gut, forming phytates, which cannot be absorbed, but are excreted. An excess of phytic acid could, it’s believed, exacerbate mineral deficiencies.

How can I deal with it?

No-one at Naturally Good Food is going to suggest that you stop eating grains and pulses! But if you’re concerned about phytic acid, it’s a good idea to work out how to minimise its effects. One answer is to make sure that you eat meat or fish, as well as vegetables, with your grains and pulses. These help with absorption and allow you to retain the nutritional benefits of the wholefoods. And let’s face it, you’re probably doing this anyway. Not many people simply eat grains or pulses without any additional ingredients.

Another answer is to sprout grains and pulses – essentially, covering them in water and waiting until they start to sprout shoots, after which they can be used as normal. The sprouting process reduces the ‘binding’ effect of the phytic acid. We sell lots of pulses and grains (as well as seeds and nuts) specifically designed for sprouting. You can see them all here, and our Sprouting equipment here. Make sure, if you’re new to sprouting, that you follow all the instructions on the Sprouting kit – it’s very important to maintain hygiene when sprouting.

If you're concerned about phytic acid, sprouting could be the way forward.

Sprouting can minimise the harmful effects of phytic acid – and we sell everything you’ll need.

Fermentation is another way of minimising the binding properties of phytic acid, essentially, by introducing some ‘friendly bacteria’ to grains and pulses, in the form of lemon juice, vinegar, yoghurt or sourdough culture. This can be as simple as adding a splash of vinegar to the water in which you soak your pulses overnight.

What are saponins?

Saponins are naturally occurring substances found in pulses and in grains such as amaranth and quinoa. They’ve been noted for their positive qualities – they help build immune systems and reduce cholesterol, for instance, – but it does seem that they can also make the lining of the gut more likely to reject certain foodstuffs, leading to an overall lack of nutrition.

You'll also find saponins in pulses and in quinoa.

Amaranth is great for you – but what about saponins?

How can I deal with Saponins?

Obviously, you should keep on eating pulses and grains. However, just as with phytic acid, soaking and rinsing pulses and grains, and fermenting and sprouting them, is believed to reduce the harmful effects of saponins.

If you’re interested in gluten-free food, then see our Free from section here. We supply many customers (not just famous chefs and authors!) with gluten-free food and ingredients. We’re always concerned to make sure that our food is as nutritious as it possibly can be – and open to new research on issues that can affect this.




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This post was written by Yzanne

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