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Phytate Content Within Nuts

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Founder of The Paleo Diet
November 8, 2011
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Recently, Dr Cordain was asked to answer the question below:

Joe,

I've been a fan of yours for many years, and truly enjoy and appreciate the works you've produced, subscribing & reviewing the majority of them myself. Your advice & research has provided me immense benefits in my racing career.

I've recently completed your Paleo for athletes book and am transitioning to Paleo. One thing I am quite interested, and a bit concerned on is that you mention nuts as an acceptable food source on the diet, yet there is no mention to the high amount of phytate they contain. Albeit you reference phytate in your book, per grains, you don't specifically spell out the concern with regards to nuts. Obviously, one could soak them to "remove" some of the phytate, but not all is "removed."

Would you be willing to elaborate and explain why nuts are considered acceptable when they have such an inordinate high amount of phytate?

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely - Jason

Joe Friel's Response:

Loren,

Could you respond to this athlete (below) who read our book? More your area of expertise than mine. Thanks.

-Joe

Dr Cordain's Response:

Hi Joe,

Attached is the most recent comprehensive review of phytate in foods to date (Schlemmer U, Frølich W, Prieto RM, Grases F. Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Sep;53 Suppl 2:S330-75). This article lists the (phytate/phytic acid) content in cereals, legumes, seeds and nuts. Note that phytic acid and phytate are not synonymous terms - rather phytate is the salt of phytic acid (myo-inositol-1,2,3,4,5,6- hexakis dihydrogen phosphate) and contains other minerals including calcium and magnesium. In the scientific literature these two terms are often times used interchangeably which is inappropriate - hence reported concentrations of phytic acid may frequently include the total phytate content or vice versa. The bottom line is that there is great variability in reported values - making it difficult to precisely compare foods groups.

In the table in the attached article, nuts appear to be high in phytate, but these results require confirmation by reporting specific methods utilized for phytic acid analysis. Hence the jury is still out when it comes to precise concentrations of phytic acid in nuts.

The greatest known adverse health effects of phytic acid is that it binds divalent minerals (iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese etc.) making them unavailable for absorption or poorly absorbed in the gut. Vegetarian diets high in phytic acid from legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds) frequently result in mineral deficiencies and impairment of health. In a typical modern day "Paleo" diet (contain some nuts), these mineral shortcomings are of little concern because meat and seafood (including shellfish) are rich sources of iron and zinc, whereas fresh fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of magnesium and manganese. Only when nuts and seeds become the dominant daily caloric source would potential mineral deficiencies appear.

Phytate probably breaches the gut barrier and enters circulation in small concentrations, however few or no adverse effects upon health have been documented to date. Rather the opposite is true, and phytate may be protective against certain cancers and may have therapeutic antioxidant effects.

Nuts are one of the most common allergenic foods and therefore may contain antinutrients which interact with the immune system of certain people. The lectin content of nuts has been poorly studied, so we simply have no information how nuts may affect the immune system of certain people. Most people can eat modest amounts of nuts and have no ill effects. Unless, you have chronic allergies or are an autoimmune disease, nuts are highly nutritious foods and good sources of healthful monounsaturated fats.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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