Phytic Acid in Nuts, Seeds, Cocoa, and Coconut

Other posts in this series: Introduction to Fermented Cereal Week,, Phytic Acid in Grains and Legumes , Is Fermenting Grains Traditional?

I have long soaked and dehydrated my nuts and seeds. My understanding from Nourishing Traditions was that this removed enzyme inhibitors and made them more digestible. I personally find that when I soak and dehydrate nuts and seeds that they are much more digestible and I won’t get a stomachache after consuming them.

However, the Weston Price Foundation recently updated some of the information about nuts and seeds in their recent article in the Wise Traditions journal and it brought more information in regard to the phytic acid content of nuts and seeds. I have found a wide gap in information in my own study (which has been frustrating!). I would have liked to find and research and double check a lot of this information myself, but have been unable to find very much on this topic. Because nuts and seeds are not a huge portion of most people’s diets, there has not been the same glut of studies and research on it. However, I thought that it would be helpful to at least share the information from the Wise Tradition’s article, Living with Phytic acid by Ramiel Nagel.

A book entitled Food Phytates discusses current research on the “positives” of phytic acid, as mentioned in my last post. I would have loved to purchase the book for my research but as it was over two hundred dollars it wasn’t quite in the budget! On wikipedia (I know, I know, not the most reliable source of information!),  a chart is listed, using this book as the source, for the percentage of phytic acid in food. Ramiel Nagel lists the exact same chart in the Wise Traditions article on Phytic acid, so I am assuming it’s correct. On it you can see that almonds and brazilnuts as well as sesame seeds list very high on the list, containing a much higher percentage of phytic acid then even whole wheat flour does.

Ramiel also gives another chart which he lists the sources for as “various”.

In milligrams per 100 grams of dry weight

Brazil nuts 1719
Cocoa powder 1684-1796
Brown rice 12509
Oat flakes 1174
Almond 1138 – 1400
Walnut 982
Peanut roasted 952
Peanut ungerminated 821
Lentils 779
Peanut germinated 610
Hazel nuts 648 – 1000
Wild rice flour 634 – 752.5
Yam meal 637
Refried beans 622
Corn tortillas 448
Coconut 357
Corn 367
Entire coconut meat 270
White flour 258
White flour tortillas 123
Polished rice 11.5 – 66
Strawberries 12

Nuts and Seeds

Here you also see that nuts, including brazil, almonds, walnuts are high on the list.

According to Ramiel, nuts have about the same amount of phytic acid or higher than grains. This means if you are on a grain free diet and have replaced all of your wheat products with almond flour products, you will still be getting the same amount of phytic acid or more as you would with unsoaked grains. (Though you will be getting a higher protein, less starchy “bread” product). Seeds, according to Ramiel are even higher in phytic acid. I love my soaked and dehydrated pumpkin seeds, but according to Ramiel, they are one example of a seed high in phytates!

Cocoa and Coconut

I also thought it very interesting that cocoa can be quite high in phytic acid! “Raw unfermented cocoa beans and normal cocoa powder are extremely high in phytates. Processed chocolates may also contain phytates. White chocolate and cocoa butter probably does not contain phytates.” Ramiel suggested consuming only fermented cocoa beans, and I also wondered if the traditional “roasting” that takes place in processing cocoa helps break down the phytic acid at all, though he does mention that “normal” cocoa powder is high. (Just in case you are wondering, this does not discourage me from drinking my hot cocoa or consuming my occasional chocolate treat!).

Finally, I have long wondered about coconut and whether it had a high amount of a phytic acid in it. I will sometimes make coconut flour baked goods, and wondered whether or not it was really low in phytic acid as most of us have been assuming. When you look at the second chart, you will see that “entire coconut meat ” is listed right above white flour (which is generally thought to be very low in phytic acid). So eating a whole coconut meat (which I believe would actually be traditionally steamed before eating) would have fairly low phytic acid. Then it lists “coconut”, which I am unsure of whether it’s referring to coconut flakes or dried coconut or what, as similar to corn in phytates. This makes me question whether or not coconut flour, having had the fat and other parts of the coconut meat removed, would be even higher in phytates. An interesting question that I am not able to find the answer too. However, one study did find that coconut is much lower in phytates compared to other nuts. (1)

One bit of research on iron absorption

The same study that found that coconut wasn’t as high in phytates as other nuts, also found that walnuts, peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts decreased the absorption rate of iron even more than bread meals! If you have any iron issues, you may want to consider not consuming many nuts. Coconut did not reduce iron absorption significantly, which I would assume was because it was so much lower in phytates. (1)

Reducing Phytic Content in Nuts and Seeds

The advice Ramiel offered (with the note that there is very little research to know for sure how to reduce phytic acid levels in nuts and seeds) was to soak nuts and seeds for 18 hour, and then dehydrate at very low temperatures and then roast or cook the nuts. He felt this would likely reduce a large portion of the phytic acid, and even soaking 7 hours was likely to reduce phytic acid levels.

I would add that if you were to try it, you will probably want to drain and rinse the nuts half way through the soaking period as even soaking nuts for 12 hours for me can result in a slightly funny smell in the soaking water. Here’s an outline of the process.

1. Cover nuts with water (most likely warm water would be the most helpful) and let “soak” in a warm place in your house for 18 hours. I would suggest that you drain, rinse and add new water half way through. Another researcher suggests that you chop nuts before soaking as it increases the outer surface of the nuts.

2. Dehydrate at a very low temperature either using an oven at a very low temperature, or a food dehydrator or even out in the hot sun if you are blessed to live where temperatures are hot.

3. Then roast in the oven or on the stove or cook.

But even just soaking and dehydrating is likely to reduce a percentage of the phytic acid (and just doing that certainly helps my tummy!). Or, simply roasting your nuts will also reduce some of the phytic acid. It’s just double the phytic acid removing powers if you do both.

Update: I thought that this update by Ramiel Nagel in the Summer 2010 Wise Traditions Journal helpful in regard to nuts.

“We still do not have adequate information on nut preparation to say with any certainty how much phytic acid is reduced by various preparation techniques. Soaking in salt water and then dehydrating to make “crispy nuts” makes the nuts more digestible and less likely to cause intestinal discomfort, but we don’t know whether this process significantly reduces phytic acid, although it is likely to reduce at least a portion of the phytic acid.

Roasting probably removes a significant portion of phytic acid. Roasting removes 32-68 percent of phytic acid in chick peas, and roasting grains removes about 40 percent of phytic acid. Germinated peanuts have 24 percent less phytic acid then ungerminated peanuts. Several indigenous groups cooked and or roasted their nuts or seeds. I notice that I like the taste and smell of roasted nuts.

The real problem with nuts comes when they are consumed in large amounts such as almond flour as a replacement for grains in the GAPS diet. For example, an almond flour muffins contains almost seven hundred milligrams of phytic acid, so consumption should be limited to one per day. Eating peanut butter every day would also be problematic.”

My Conclusion

Based on the information I have right now, I will continue to not consume raw nuts and seeds (they give me a stomachache anyway), but soak and dehydrate, and/or roast them. I won’t always worry about doing both, especially if I am only using a small handful of nuts or seeds. I will still have chocolate here and there without too many worries since it’s only a small amount.  Because nuts, seeds, chocolate and coconut flour does not make up a large portion of our diet, I am not too concerned about phytates from them. However, if you do consume a lot of these food items, then might want to  consider how to better break down the phytic acid, or not allow them to be a large portion of your diet, especially if you are dealing with any mineral deficiencies.

Photo Credit


Wise Traditions, Vol 11, Number 1, Spring 2010, Living with Phytic Acid by Ramiel Nagel

(1) Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Feb;47(2):270-4. Inhibitory effect of nuts on iron absorption. Department of Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Food Phytates

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Patricia Lavatai says

    Just a couple of comments. I live in Samoa and there are a couple of misconceptions. One, cocoa beans for cocoa are ALWAYS left to ferment on screens in our tropical sun, then roaweted and ground or pounded for what we cal Koko Samoa.. The only cocoa beans eaten raw are the baby yellow ones. The mature, hard ones used for cocoa can give you heart palpitations if not left to ferment. Coconut is never steamed. Young, green coconut is eaten straight from the shell after drinking the water…this is done daily at my house and most others. The water is never fermented as it is prone to the growth of a dangerous bacteria…The only items fermented here in Polynesia is coconut blossom sap (used to make palm sugar and the alcoholic toddy), poi, which, by the way, is only eaten in Hawaii…it was a traveling food, and breadfruit, which was buried in pits and made into “masi”, not very well liked and considered a famine food. Of course, cocoa, and in some places chili’s. Mature coconuts are cracked, scraped on a homemade scraper ( think a wooden plank with a jagged piece of metal, or sometimes an ax head on one end). This is usually the boy’s chore, although my daughter likes to do it too. The meat shreds into a large bowls and then is placed in a tangled mass of fiber called a tauaga, from the laufao plant. The meat is then squeezed over and over as the milk flows into another bowl. Water is never added…although I have been know to cheat by using my vitamix 🙂

  2. m j preston says

    I have always wondered if you could not just sprinkle phytase
    (which neutralises phytic acid) on your phytic acid containing food
    though I have yet to do so myself

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