An “anti-nutrient” in plant seeds, roots, and bran might have a big impact on the health of your teeth. Phytic acid, a compound in grains, greatly affects the way your body absorbs other nutrients your teeth need.
Phytic acid foods are all plant-based, so you may be getting more of it than you think at first. Oddly, it functions as an antioxidant. However, when it binds to nearby minerals, the compound causes those minerals to pass through your digestive system without being absorbed.
These mineral + phytic acid compounds are known as phytate. (1)
Still feel like we haven’t really answered the question, “Is phytic acid good or bad?” Not sure why it could be is bad for your teeth?
I’ll break it all down for you. Let me give you two key points to remember as you read:
- Phytic acid can be bad for teeth because it impairs the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. These are all important to your dental health.
- There are ways to reduce your intake and to make sure you don’t get phytic acid tooth decay.
What is Phytic Acid?
Technically speaking, phytate is: (2)
“A salt or ester of phytic acid, occurring in plants, especially cereal grains, that are capable of forming insoluble complexes with calcium, zinc, iron, and other nutrients and interfering with their absorption by the body.”
Phytic acid is also known as inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) or phytate as a salt. Grains and seeds use this nutrient to store phosphorus in their cells. (3)
Let’s simplify that.
Phytate decreases your body’s ability to absorb certain minerals. But, it only does this while you’re eating foods it’s found in. That’s good news and bad news. On one hand, you can eat a nutrient-rich meal free of phytic acid foods and you’ll absorb all the nutrients you eat, even if you had some nuts earlier in the day.
However, there are useful nutrients in many phytic acid foods that you miss out on—unless you learn how to reduce phytic acid content.
Apart from its negative effects, phytic acid is a useful antioxidant. One scientific review found that it might help: (4)
- Kill cancer cells
- Reduce diabetes symptoms
- Improve heart disease
- Reduce kidney stones
- Fight heavy metal toxicity
- Treat HIV-1
Phytate molecules are the energy source some plants use while they grow. When you eat phytic acid foods, your body produces an enzyme called phytase to break these bonds and get more of the nutrients.
What nutrients does phytic acid stop me from absorbing?
The nutrients phytic acid most commonly binds to are:
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
The human body, however, still needs phytate. When you’re healthy and eating a good diet, your digestive system will hold onto phytate compounds or excrete them to stay balanced.
Phytic acid also inhibits the body’s ability to digest starches, proteins, and fats. This happens because it blocks enzymes we need to digest our food. These include: (5)
- Pepsin, which breaks down protein
- Amylases, which converts starch into sugar for digestion
- Trypsin, which is also used in protein digestion
There are other anti-nutrients that can stop your body from absorbing important nutrients. Some of these plant-based nutrients include lectins, saponins, tannins, protease inhibitors, and calcium oxalate. (6)
Is phytic acid good or bad?
This question doesn’t offer an easy answer. Phytic acid is both good and bad. You need at least a little of it, but too much can cause problems like cavities.
How Phytic Acid Leads to Cavities
Your teeth depend on calcium, phosphorus, copper, and vitamin D to build and repair teeth and bones. A lack of these minerals also causes deterioration of the bones that hold teeth in humans, called alveolar bones. (7)
If you’re deficient in both vitamin D (which up to 90 percent of people are) and calcium, your teeth aren’t able to remineralize. Remineralization happens when your teeth absorb minerals to build them back up after demineralization.
This cycle of mineral absorption and loss happens throughout every day. The key to avoiding cavities is to remineralize your teeth more than you demineralize them.
So, can cavities heal themselves? Yes, but only if enough minerals are present. Since too much phytic acid binds to the minerals needed for remineralization to occur, too much phytic acid can be responsible for cavities.
But if you don’t have the nutrients you need, your cavities won’t heal and you may develop new ones.
You’re more susceptible to these deficiencies as you age, and it’s not always possible to take supplements to make up for it. (8)
Common Phytic Acid Foods
- Maize (highest in Maize germ)
- Wheat (highest in Wheat bran, and Wheat germ)
- Rice (highest in Rice bran)
- Wild Rice
- Kidney Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Navy Beans
- Broad Beans
- Cow Peas
- Black-eyed Peas
- Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
- Cashew Nuts
- Brazil Nuts
- Macadamia Nuts
- Pine Nuts
- Sesame Seed
- Sunflower Meal
How to Get Rid of Phytic Acid
As you can see by the list, not all phytic acid foods are bad for you! Is peanut butter high in phytic acid? Sure, but it’s also high in a lot of great nutrients.
Look at it this way: you shouldn’t just avoid phytic acid. Your body needs it, and eliminating the foods it’s fine in entirely means you’re missing out on good nutrition.
There’s good news for you, though! You can reduce the amount of phytic acid in foods in several ways. Plus, all of these methods also reduce saponins and other anti-nutrients that can block nutrient absorption.
1. Soak your grains.
Soaking stimulates grains to begin its germination process. This releases the naturally occuring phytase, breaking the bond between phytic acid and minerals. (5) Since many cereal grains are also chemically treated, rinse them thoroughly before soaking.
2. Sprout your grains (or buy sprouted products).
If you soak grains long enough, they’ll proceed to sprouting. This is another method to reduce phytate content. This process can take several days—but many grains are now available in pre-sprouted form, like Ezekiel bread.
3. Try fermentation.
Fermentation of flour and other grain products can help separate phytate compounds. (10) Next time you’re at a health food store, look for cultured or fermented grains, nuts, and seeds.
4. Take a phytase supplement.
If you’re at risk of nutrient deficiencies, consider adding a phytase supplement to your regimen. Your body doesn’t produce a lot of phytase on its own, so supplementing can help you get rid of phytic acid more effectively. (11)
5. Snack on phytic acid foods.
Phytate doesn’t stick around very long in the body. If you have a snack of pumpkin seeds and eat an hour later, it’s unlikely that the phytic acid in pumpkin seeds would stop you from absorbing nutrients from your meal.
Love grains, nuts, and seeds? Eat them alone, between meals, to reduce the impact of the anti-nutrient on your digestion.
Who is really at risk with phytic acid?
Unless you eat grains, nuts, and seeds at every meal, you’re probably not in danger of nutrient deficiencies due to phytate. Technically, no one should be consuming more than 800 mg/day. But that’s hard to track—it’s not listed on nutrition labels. (5)
There are a few categories of people who are at risk more than others, though. People who…
- are under the age of 6,
- are pregnant,
- have diagnosed iron deficiency, or
- eat strictly vegetarian or vegan diets
… are at the most risk.
Vegans and vegetarians may also struggle to get enough of certain minerals and vitamins. A strict plant-based diet probably contains phytic acid foods at nearly every meal. The biggest danger of this is the possibility of developing iron deficiency, since the iron in plants is already harder to absorb than iron in animal proteins.
Other Ways to Heal Cavities
Diet and dental hygiene has a lot to do with how many cavities you get. Just reducing anti-nutrients isn’t the only answer to reversing cavities.
If you have cavities you want to heal or just want to avoid cavities in the future, try some of these tips:
- Mouth tape at night. This helps you stop mouth breathing. Breathing through your mouth dries out your mouth and creates a breeding ground for bad bacteria that form cavities.
- Eat a Paleo diet. I recommend you follow a Paleo or keto diet about 80 percent of the time. Stay away from sugary, acidic, or processed foods/drinks.
- Try remineralizing toothpaste. This one is my favorite. It’s non-toxic (unlike fluoride toothpaste) and is the most effective product on the market.
- Do some oil pulling. This ancient practice is easy, quick, and balances your oral microbiome. Better bacterial balance in the mouth = less cavities.
- After you brush every morning, scrape your tongue. Tongue scraping is another bacteria-busting habit I recommend all my patients start.
The Truth About Phytic Acid: It’s complicated.
Phytic acid is an antinutrient that binds to minerals like calcium and iron, stopping your body from absorbing them. Compounds of phytic acid bound to a mineral are called phytate.
While too much phytate can lead to nutrient deficiencies, your body still needs it to prevent certain diseases. Plus, phytic acid foods are often healthy and contain important nutrients.
Too much phytate in your diet can lead to cavities, since it binds to calcium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. Your teeth (and bones) require those minerals to remineralize and heal cavities.
To get rid of phytic acid, you can try a few tricks, like:
- Soaking grains
- Sprouting grains (or buying sprouted whole wheat products)
- Fermenting nuts, seeds, and grains
- Taking a phytase supplement
- Snacking on phytic acid foods instead of eating them with meals
People most sensitive to phytic acid are kids under the age of six, pregnant women, people with iron deficiency, and vegans/vegetarians.
What other questions do you have about this complex nutrient?read next: Foods to Eat—And Foods to Avoid—to Heal Cavities Naturally
- Schlemmer, U., Frølich, W., Prieto, R. M., & Grases, F. (2009). Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Molecular nutrition & food research, 53(S2), S330-S375. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774556
- Dictionary.com. (2018). Phytate. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774556
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- Arnarson, Atli. (2017). How to reduce antinutrients in food. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774556
- Ferguson, H. W., & Hartles, R. L. (1964). The effect of vitamin D on the dentine of the incisor teeth and on the alveolar bone of young rats maintained on diets deficient in calcium or phosphorus. Archives of oral biology, 9(4), 447-IN21. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774556
- Krall, E. A., Wehler, C., Garcia, R. I., Harris, S. S., & Dawson-Hughes, B. (2001). Calcium and vitamin D supplements reduce tooth loss in the elderly. The American journal of medicine, 111(6), 452-456. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774556
- Garcia, M. N., Hildebolt, C. F., Miley, D. D., Dixon, D. A., Couture, R. A., Anderson Spearie, C. L., … & Civitelli, R. (2011). One-year effects of vitamin D and calcium supplementation on chronic periodontitis. Journal of periodontology, 82(1), 25-32. Abstract: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1902/jop.2010.100207
- Gupta, R. K., Gangoliya, S. S., & Singh, N. K. (2015). Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains. Journal of food science and technology, 52(2), 676-684. Full text: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1902/jop.2010.100207
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- Petry, N., Egli, I., Zeder, C., Walczyk, T., & Hurrell, R. (2010). Polyphenols and Phytic Acid Contribute to the Low Iron Bioavailability from Common Beans in Young Women, 2. The Journal of nutrition, 140(11), 1977-1982. Abstract: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1902/jop.2010.100207
- Zielińska-Dawidziak, M. (2015). Plant ferritin—a source of iron to prevent its deficiency. Nutrients, 7(2), 1184-1201. Full text: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1902/jop.2010.100207