Are nuts driving your tooth decay?

The phytic acid in nuts and seeds can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Get your activation cheatsheet to reduce the risk.

Nuts, tofu, brown rice and oats are just some of the 'health' foods that can cause toothache, cavities or gum disease.

Cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds all contain phytic acid which is implicated in both tooth decay and gum recession. People who are genetically or otherwise vulnerable to dental caries and gingivitis should avoid or only consume limited amounts of these foods with careful preparation and accompanied by other nutrients that will aid digestion.

What's wrong with grains, beans, nuts and seeds?

Human bodies are not designed to digest grains, beans, nuts and seeds raw. These kinds of food contain plant toxins (e.g. tannins and saponins)  and anti-nutrients including phytic acid. Phytic acid contains enzyme inhibitors which limit our ability to digest food, particularly breaking down proteins and turning starch into sugar in our stomachs. 

Phytic acid contains the mineral phosphorus in a form that we cannot digest (phytate). Phosphorus is a crucial mineral for tooth remineralisation and gum health. However, phytic acid is not just holding back on the phosphorus we need.

The phytic acid molecule also binds with other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc and makes them unavailable.  All these minerals are essential for teeth and gum health.

When we consume phytic acid it blocks our uptake of these vital minerals from the rest of our diet causing tooth decay and gum disease. Even just a little phytic acid in your diet can actually cause your body to lose calcium and not absorb phosphorus. Without phytic acid 'we will absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent magnesium from our food' (Nagel).

Whole grains contain phytic acid which stops our body from digesting the minerals in our food, that we need for strong healthy teeth and gums.

Minimise the effects of phytic acid

Avoid

If you are suffering from active toothache, cavities or gum disease then it's generally advisable to avoid eating phytic acid foods as much as possible until you have at least stabilised your dental health.  Sometimes just removing most phytic acid foods from your diet can reduce the pain of a nagging toothache within days.

In particular avoid tofu and soy milk, raw nuts, nut butters, nut milks and nut flours, whole grain cereals, muesli, granola, snack bars and baking, rice cakes and rice milk.  

If you are not in a dental emergency, or unable to get protein except from legumes and nuts, then there are a number of ways to minimise the potential harm of phytic acid in the diet. 

Eat with vitamins A, C and D

Eating with whole foods with vitamin C, Activator X and fat-soluble vitamins A and D  has been show to reduce the severity of phytic acid's impact.  Vitamin C can be had from fresh vegetables and fruits and raw milk. Fat soluble vitamins A and D and Activator X are most concentrated in cod liver oil, liver, grass fed butter and raw dairy.  (See my earlier blog post for more information about liver and fat soluble vitamins).

Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut can also help the gut to digest phytic-foods more efficiently. 

Remove the bran

Phytic acid concentrates in the bran- along with many of the nutrients in grains such as wheat and rice. Removing the bran, to make brown rice into white rice for example, removes most of the phytic acid, but also most of the other minerals. However those other minerals are not available for us to digest because of the presence of the phytic acid.  It is possible to process whole grains to neutralise the phytic acid so that the nutrients in the bran are available. 

Soak, sprout, sour

Soaking, sprouting, souring, and then cooking  will reduce the phytic acid in most grains, nuts, beans and seeds. However, because there are such different levels of phytic acid in different types they require a variety of methods, all are time consuming and some are very complex. 

Stone ground, sifted wheat or rye flour made into slow fermented sourdough bread is low in phytic acid.

To remove most of the phytic acid from brown rice soak for 24 hours at room temperature, drain and reserve 10% of the liquid for next time. Cooking rice after this first soaking will reduce the phytic acid by about 50%. Next time, add the reserved liquid to the soaking water and soak 24 hours before cooking. By the 4th cycle of soaking/reserving liquid the phytic acid in cooked rice will be reduced by about 96%.

To remove most of the phytic acid form oats sprout oats for five days at 52 degrees F and then soak for 17 hours at 120 degrees F. 

To remove most of the phytic acid from quinoa soak for 12-14 hours, germinate for 30 hours, lacto-ferment for16-18 hours, and then finally cook at 212 degrees F for 25 minutes. Not exactly fast food! (link)

No simple solution

Levels of phytic acid not only vary greatly between different types of food, but also can be influenced by the growing conditions, harvesting methods, how long it has been stored and how it is processed.  

Organic food may be lower in phytic acid than food grown with high-phosphate fertilizers- another vote in favor of eating organic!

If you want to learn more about how to process phytic acid foods to minimise their teeth and gum harming effects I recommend Cure Tooth Decay and Cure Gum Disease Naturally, both by Ramiel Nagel, and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. 

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