Bread 101: Phytates and Phytic Acid


This series originated in a Facebook group I am running, but I decided to share it here on the website as well. I am by NO MEANS an expert, I have simply researched the topic a bit and wanted to share what I found, as well as sharing my recipe and methods for making whole grain, whole wheat bread for my family. 


I’m not going to be super formal about the information I’ve found. This is a pretty basic “research” I’ve done on the Internet and I know there is SO much more to it.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the health benefits of grains right now, obviously. But do you know why the naysayers are saying it needs to be avoided? it’s interesting for sure, and will help everyone to make decisions with a little bit of knowledge to back it.

Grains are clear full of great things, right? Vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. So what’s wrong with that? Well, one thing. Phytic acid. The grain seeds are protected in a layer of phytic acid. This substance protects the grain from having those important ingredients leached out. Think of it almost as a protective layer of plastic. Unfortunately, phytic acids are difficult for our bodies to digest, and even worse, they leach those same important ingredients from their surroundings. So the argument is that grains cause us to be DEFICIENT in those same vitamins and minerals, rather than giving them to us. Some have gone so far as to BLAME the introduction of grains into the diet of human beings (which wasn’t always so common, and only became an every-day thing when roller mills were invented back in the 19th century, I believe) for many of the health epidemics we are experiencing (diabetes, heart conditions, autism, you name it, they blame it).

On the flip side, there are still plenty of people who feel that this is incorrect, that our bodies CAN handle phytic acids, IF the bread is made properly. This is where homemade bread comes into play. When you make bread at home, you allow it to rise for quite a long time. My recipe calls for an hour rise time, then another hour after forming and shaping the dough. Some recipes call for or allow even longer rise time, making it so you could prepare your dough before bed and let it rise overnight.

The process of allowing the yeast to rise is basically fermentation, as gross as that may sound. The yeast is fermenting the ingredients in the bread, which is basically doing some of the digesting for us. It breaks down the phytic acid coating the grains enough that our bodies can complete the digestion process properly.

The problem with store-bought bread is that it is done using a quick-rise method. A special kind of yeast is used that allows it to rise in less than 30 minutes, allowing for faster mass production of the product. Unfortunately, this means that the phytic acids are not broken down at all, thus creating a serious problem for our systems. Do you want to know something else super disgusting? Most store-bought breads contain chemicals that you would DIE if you knew you were eating them. One such chemical is commonly used to make rubber yoga mats. See what I mean? Gross!

So, if you HAVE to buy bread at the store, check the ingredients list and try to find one that has only ingredients you recognize!

Back to the phytic acid. So are we doomed to have to stop eating bread? Not at all! There are several things that can help break down the acid. Heat (baking), fermenting (yeast), soaking (you can soak your whole grains for a period of time), milling (when grains are milled into flour, some of the phytic acid is broken down…along with some of the good stuff. But you have to use flour in homemade bread, so at least we know it has less phytic acid.)…all help to break down phytic acid before it enters our bodies.

So what about the phytic acid that makes it past all our efforts and into our bodies? Bad deal? Possibly. The phytic acid binds with nutrients in your intestines, making it so your body cannot absorb them and they just pass right through. The biggest issue this has been linked to is low iron stores, more commonly found in a vegetarian or vegan diet. It’s pretty easy to correct just by adding more iron to your diet, however.

BUT…phytic acid has also been attributed as being the reason whole grains are considered to help aid prevention of cardio vascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Say what?

I know, right? So, it’s not as clean cut as many of the articles I found made it seem. There for a bit, I was getting ready to close down the group and stop eating bread! The BEST article I’ve found on this topic is here, I’ll share it so you can read it from someone who knows what they are talking about. This article gives both sides of the argument, so take a few minutes to read through it!

Moral of the story: It’s totally up to you to decide if bread is good for your diet or not. For my family and I, it’s staying, but I’ll be making a much better effort to provide them with homemade bread that has gone through a proper fermentation process!

Tomorrow we’ll talk about gluten sensitivities and how they could possibly be avoided even while enjoying bread!