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    Archive for the ‘phytates’ Category

    Q&A Roundup #4

    Time to answer some questions I’ve received via Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail over the past few weeks.

    Enjoy — and keep the queries coming!

    Continue Reading »

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    You Ask, I Answer: Nutrient Losses in Beans

    Kidney-BeansHTMy boyfriend recently bought some dry beans.

    After watching him soak and cook the beans, I couldn’t believe that beans are considered good sources of anything – copper, manganese, iron, and whatever else, because they get soaked for so long, and then they’re boiled for soooo long!

    I would expect for a lot of the “good stuff” to have leeched out through all of the preparation.

    Can you explain why this is not the case?

    – Christine Ho
    (Location unknown)

    Great question, Christine!

    I find it a little odd that your boyfriend boiled the beans for a very long time after soaking them, since part of the reason for soaking beans is to significantly cut down on cooking time.

    Another benefit to soaking (and this also applies to grains and nuts) — making nutrients more bioavailable!

    Whole grains and beans contain phytates, which interfere with absorption of certain nutrients, like zinc.  Soaking significantly reduces phytate content.

    FYI — that is why why sprouted whole grain breads offer more nutrition than regular whole grain breads.

    While phytates are only a concern in mono-diets (diets that mainly consist of one food, as is the case in some under-developed third world communities), there certainly is no harm in soaking these foods if one has the time and desire to do so.

    Soaking does not, however, reduce beans’ mineral content.

    While cooking beans in boiling water does leach out some minerals, the amount is insignificant — roughly two to four percent.  Even after boiling, beans are an excellent source of many minerals.

    Remember — the nutrients most affected by boiling are vitamin C as well as all B vitamins.

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    Shame On You/Say What?: Intruder Alert!

    A reader by the name of Rachelle recently left a comment on this blog notifying me about author John Gray’s foray into nutrition.

    If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Mr. Gray is the author of the “let’s make cultural norms seem like biological qualities” pop-psychology book Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus.

    Despite a lack of nutrition credentials, Mr. Gray now considers himself knowledgeable enough to dole out nutrition advice. Oh, joy.

    Perhaps it is the “PhD” after his name that gave him this confidence, although that credential has been severely questioned.

    In any case, Mr. Gray offers nutritional cleanses retreats (red flag, anyone?) and hawks — are you ready for it? — Mars & Venus shakes.

    According to Mr. Gray, these shakes offer the “ideal balance of nutrients” for men and women. Don’t you love vague pseudo-science catch phrases?

    You do? Great, because here’s another one: “the shakes are designed to assist the brain in functioning in a more balanced and harmonious manner.”

    Mr. Gray also claims these shakes get you to your ideal weight. If you need to lose, you will lose. If you need to gain weight, you will gain. I would love to see the randomized double-blind control trials that confirm this (because I’m so sure he conducted them.)

    Despite having the exact same ingredients in different amounts, Mr. Gray claims the Mars shake produces more dopamine in the brain, while the Venus shake produces more serotonin.

    Huh? Both shakes contain a protein powder. Protein-rich foods cause a surge of dopamine. So, how then, does the Venus shake differ?

    If you’re looking to lose weight, Mr. Gray has you covered!

    All you have to do is buy his shake powder (of course!) and have it as your breakfast and dinner.

    For lunch, you can eat a salad “with as many raw vegetables and avocado as you wish” as well as some form of protein, all topped with olive oil and either lemon juice or vinegar.

    Although Mr. Gray claims the “effortless weight loss” (15 pounds a week, he claims!) is due to the magic ingredients in his shake, it’s clear that the “magic” is simple caloric deprivation.

    How can you NOT lose weight if your only solid meal of the day is a salad and your other two meals each consist of one scoop of powder and eight ounces of water?

    Despite all the fantastic claims, the small print at the bottom of his website reads “John Gray’s Mars & Venus LLC does NOT guarantee weight loss.”

    Hmmmm… interesting how he never mentions that in his breathless infomercials where he mentions how “life changing” his shakes have been!

    Now we come to my favorite part — the head-scratching nutrition-related statements:

    * The weight loss cleanse prohibits the intake of any dairy, yet the shakes — which are a significant part of the cleanse — contain whey protein!

    Newsflash, Mr. Gray, whey protein is a dairy protein!

    * Mr. Gray on Omega-3′s: “A couple of tablespoons of flaxseed [have as many Omega-3's] as a meal of salmon.”

    Firstly, how big is a “meal of salmon”?

    Additionally, can you say “back to Nutrition 101 for you”? The Omega 3′s in flaxseed consist of alpha linolenic acid, whereas salmon offers Docosahexaonoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

    It is not an equal comparison!

    * Mr. Gray hates soy, mainly due to its phytate content, which blocks mineral absorption.

    Had he bothered to research the topic, he would have realized that although phytates interfere with the absorption of some minerals, they also offer a variety of well-documented health benefits.

    Tannins in coffee and tea interfere with iron absorption, but that doesn’t mean coffee and tea are “bad” beverages.

    * Mr. Gray refers to a food that contains a certain amount of cholesterol as one that provides “3% of the daily requirement.”

    Wrong again! There is no daily requirement for cholesterol; it is not an essential nutrient. The 300 milligram figure is considered a “limit,” not a requirement.

    * Mr. Gray claims coconut is the only food that contains lauric acid.

    Not so! Goat’s milk, cow’s milk, and palm kernel oil also contain the fatty acid.

    These examples merely scratch the non-sense surface.

    As I said in an earlier post — enough is enough! The last thing anyone needs is more inaccurate nutrition advice from individuals who don’t possess even the most basic knowledge!

    This Earthling is not amused.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Soaking Grains & Phytate Levels

    I just ran across a website that advocates soaking or sprouting whole grains prior to using them to neutralize the phytic acid and make the nutrients in the grain more bioavailable.

    Since the person blogging about this stuff is NOT a doctor, scientist, or nutritionist of any kind, I wanted to get a second opinion on the value of the methods described/benefits obtained, etc.

    The article quotes someone by the name of Sally Fallon, who writes:

    Grains require careful preparation because they contain a number of antinutrients that can cause serious health problems. Phytic acid acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

    Other antinutrients in whole grains include enzyme inhibitors which can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas; irritating tannins; complex sugars which the body cannot break down; and gluten and related hard-to-digest proteins which may cause allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness.

    Is this true or mumbo-jumbo?

    – Kristina Hartman
    Concord, NC

    It is true that soaking and sprouting grains greatly reduces their phytate content.

    However, I don’t see any reason to soak grains prior to eating them, and here is why.

    Number 1: simply cooking grains reduces their phytate content to some degree.

    Keep in mind, too, that when you are cooking whole grains (whether it’s brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, or quinoa), they are already immersed in water.

    Number 2: phytates cause mineral deficiencies only when the diet is largely made up of grains (as is the case in many third world nations.)

    Eating whole grains as part of a diet that also includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, meat/meat alternatives and dairy/daily alternatives is not a health concern.

    Lastly, studies have shown that phytates offer some health benefits, including decreasing the risk of certain cancers (mainly colon, cervical, liver, and prostate) by slowing down and inhibiting maturation of cancer cells.

    As for “complex sugars the body can not break down” and gluten causing mental illness, I have no clue how the author came to such conclusions.

    Some people are allergic to gluten, but that does not make it a dangerous or unhealthy component in food for those who can eat it without experiencing symptoms.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Having a cup of tea with a meal decreases the body’s absorption of non-heme iron (the only type of iron provided by plant-based foods, dairy products, and eggs) contained in that meal by roughly 60 percent.

    Yikes!

    This is particularly important for vegetarians as well as anyone diagnosed with anemia, as a meal moderately high in iron can lose quite a bit of that punch if you’re accompanying it with tea (thanks to substances known as phytates).

    If you’re a tea lover, the safest bet is to drink it an hour before or after a vegetarian meal, so as to not inhibit absorption.

    If you’re interested in increasing non-heme iron absorption during a meal, be sure to include vitamin C (meat also aids in the absorption of non-heme iron, but this is a moot point for vegetarians and vegans.)

    A cup of orange juice, for instance, increases absorption by approximately 80 percent!

    Tea isn’t the only inhibitor, by the way.

    All foods containing phytates (mainly whole grains, coffee, and berries) decrease non-heme iron absorption rates.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Iron/Vegetarianism

    For women with low iron stores, [who therefore] need to consume beef, does [soy ground beef] contain iron that can help keep the stores up?

    – Micah and Katie
    (Via the blog)

    Great question!

    Let’s start with a few basics.

    Iron is located in hemoglobin, a protein within our red blood cells (pictured at left).

    Hemoglobin is responsible for delivering oxygen from the lungs to various body tissues so other cells – which rely on oxygen — can use it.

    Low hemoglobin levels are therefore problematic, as they result in cells not having enough oxygen delivered to them to perform their required tasks.

    The recommended dietary allowance for iron is set at 8 milligrams for men and women over 50, but vegetarian men of all ages and women over 50 should be consuming approximately 15 milligrams a day.

    The reason? There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme.

    Heme is found in animal sources of iron, non-heme in vegetarian contributors.

    Non-heme iron is not absorbed as easily, so 10 milligrams of purely non-heme iron is not sufficient.

    This is not to say that vegetarian diets are inadequate; simply that they require a higher intake of iron.

    This is not too difficult to do, especially given the high amount of fortified vegetarian products that provide plenty of iron.

    Beans and dried fruits are also great sources of this mineral.

    Keep in mind that women who menstruate have higher iron needs.

    Those on omnivore diets are recommended to consume 18 milligrams a day. Vegetarian women falling into this category should be taking in 30 to 35 milligrams a day.

    The issue of low iron stores is an interesting one because it often gets mixed up with iron-deficiency anemia, although they are two very different things.

    Iron stores run a gamut, from “inadequate” to “excessive”.

    In the middle of that spectrum lies the “adequate/healthy” point.

    Anemia is actually the “end stage”, or lowest point, of iron deficiency.

    The condition of anemia is diagnosed by looking at hemoglobin, mentioned above, and hematocrit (the number and size of red blood cells).

    In anemia, there simply isn’t enough iron present to form hemoglobin. In turn, cells are not receiving enough oxygen.

    Now here’s where things get interesting.

    Someone falling in between adequate stores and anemia has what is known as “iron deficiency.”

    Iron deficiency is diagnosed by looking at levels of the transferrin – a protein that binds to and transports iron – receptor and transferrin saturation (in other words, the percentage of molecules of transferrin that are saturated with iron).

    The bad news is that standard blood tests only show hemoglobin and hematocrit.

    Hence, you could very well be iron deficient and not know it.

    You need to specifically ask for transferrin receptor and transferrin saturation blood labs.

    This is crucial because iron deficiency affects brain function, particularly short-term memory, concentration, and cognitive processes.

    What is important to know is that iron deficiency has nothing to do with the type of iron you are consuming.

    If anyone tells you you need to eat meat to increase your iron stores, feel confident to tell them to read the literature.

    The solution to increasing iron reserves is simply to consume more iron.

    In the case of soy ground beef, two ounces contain 2 milligrams of non-heme iron. That same amount of ground beef contains approximately 1.6 milligrams of the heme variety.

    Another interesting tidbit: runners — especially vegetarian ones — need even MORE iron.

    When we exercise, we undergo a miniscule amount of internal bleeding (which is normal), thereby increasing blood loss — and our chances of developing anemia if we are already iron deficient.

    Again, what is important thing to keep in mind is that increasing body stores can be done with animal or vegetarian sources as long as the right amounts are being consumed.

    There are also certain food combinations worth keeping in mind.

    Vitamin C helps with absorption of non-heme iron.

    So, a soy-based meal accompanied by a tomato salad or glass of orange juice will be beneficial.

    There are also some components of food that will have the reverse effect and inhibit the body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron.

    These include oxalates (found in spinach, quinoa, collard greens, peanuts, and strawberries), tannins (found in tea and coffee) and, more strongly, phytates (found in whole grains).

    Therefore, a soy patty in a whole wheat bun with a side of spinach salad isn’t the most efficient way to include more iron in your diet.

    Here’s some good news, though. Since sprouted whole grains have lower levels of phytates, you’re better off enjoying Ezekiel 4:9 bread products than standard whole wheat varieties.

    Many, many thanks to Dr. Domingo Piñero of New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health for providing a private iron 101 mini-lesson earlier today to help me answer this question as exhaustively — and accurately — as possible.

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