Nutrient Deficiencies: Are nuts, grains & beans the culprit?

gluten-free vegan berry millet breakfast bowl

I was baffled that my blood tests show that I am deficient in many nutrients, like zinc, magnesium, and iron, even though I eat a well-rounded, whole-foods diet. I stay away from wheat, gluten, fried foods, fast food, and limit packaged foods and sugar. I make all my meals from scratch. I’m a healthy weight and exercise regularly. So, what the heck is the issue? At first I thought my nutrients were low because I don’t consume a lot of calories, but my iron levels have been low for years. I have added probiotics, which helps with digestion, but I am still nutrient deficient. My various trainers over the years have told me time-and-time again to stop eating nuts, but I love nuts. They are my favorite go-to snack, and they’re good for you.

I have cut back on nuts, and added more grains to my diet, but I realized that my body will only tolerate so much quinoa, rice or oats in one day. That maximum limit my sensitive stomach seems to be okay with is a total of 1 ½ cups of total grains a day, which isn’t a lot. The same problem goes with beans; some is good, more is no-so-great, even with the addition of probiotics chock-full of enzymes. Do those on Paleo diets that omit these foods know something I don’t. Is phytic acid from grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes really something I need to be concerned about, or it is just another diet-scare tactic?

After quite a bit of research over the years, having digestive issues, and odd blood work, I do believe that the phytic acid is doing me harm*. Phytic acid protects nuts, seeds, grains, and beans, and unless the phytic acid is removed, it won’t unlock the nutrients from these foods for us to digest. What’s even worse is that phytic acid can reduce our absorption of vitamins and minerals (1,2,5,6), but I don’t want to give up these foods and I don’t want to spend more time in the kitchen soaking and sprouting food. The good news is that sprouted quinoa, sprouted rice, sprouted oats, sprouted nut butters, sprouted vegan protein powder, and sprouted nuts are available in specialty stores or on-line. I haven’t seen any reputable information on whether canned beans have less phytic acid, but I choose to buy Eden brand beans because they include kombu which helps with digestion.

Unfortunately, there are other foods that I eat often that also contain phytic acid: chocolate and coconut. I’ve switched to carob powder instead of chocolate, and I like it because it’s sweeter, and not bitter like cocoa powder. Coconut is another food I eat every day. I do like coconut flakes sprinkled on top of a smoothie or in a dessert, but you can buy freeze-dried sprouted coconut (I haven’t tried it yet, but definitely want to). I could probably put the chunks of freeze-dried coconut in my food processor to shred it.

I use coconut milk in my smoothies, but since the fiber is removed, the amount of phytic acid is quite low (3). Since the specific type of phytic acid in coconut is different than what is found in nuts, seeds and wheat, it won’t deplete minerals so we don’t have to worry about giving up coconut (4). While we cannot remove all phytic acid by eating sprouted versions of these foods, it is reduced greatly by soaking and sprouting, it’s impossible to remove one-hundred percent of phytic acid completely from our diets and some is good because it fights against cancer.

What I plan to do is purchase spouted grains, spouted nuts, sprouted nut butters, and sprouted oats when my current supply runs out. When I want a chocolate snack, I’ll use  carob powder instead of cocoa. I plan to eat chocolate only on occasion, and limit grains overall, and add more vegetables like yams, sweet potatoes, and various squashes so I get my healthy carbs to fuel my muscles and give me energy. I’m also going to buy a big bag of oranges and eat one a day to boost iron stores. I’ll probably look for a probiotic supplement that contains phytase, which is an enzyme that enhances nutrient absorption. Staying healthy is so much harder because of the way food is produced today.

*If you have high iron stores, you don’t need to be concerned about phytic acid.

P.S. For more information about nutrition, check out my book at

  1. Blum Ms, RD, CDN, CNS; Esther. Cave Women Don’t Get Fat. Gallery Books. 2013. Print. Pg. 21-22.
  2. Rheaume-Bleue, Dr. Kate. Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox. How a Little-Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life. Wiley. 2012. Print. Pg. 230-233.

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