Plant foods like seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes contain plenty of the nutrient phosphorus, but a great deal of it is locked up as phytic acid, which humans can't digest. In order to release usable phosphorus from plant foods, you need an enzyme that can break it down. That enzyme is phytase, and it's included in the VeggieShake formula for this very reason. Find out how it works, where it comes from, and why phytase activity and accessible phosphorus are so important for your health.
What Is Phytase?
A phytase is a type of enzyme with the ability to hydrolyze (break down) phytic acid, which is an organic form of phosphorus that is indigestible to humans and animals. When phytase breaks down phytic acid (which is found in oil seeds, grains like wheat bran, legumes, nuts, and some tubers and root vegetables), it releases a useable inorganic phosphorus that we can then absorb.
There are bacterial phytases like Escherichia coli phytase (E. coli) that upon review have proven to be more effective than fungal phytases like Aspergillus niger phytase (A. niger), but regardless of the phytase production origins it's true that when microbial phytase is added to a diet, whether in human food or as an animal feed additive, it increases the breakdown of phytate and the release of usable plant phosphorus. How does this matter to your health? Read on to learn about the importance of phosphorus.
The Health Benefits and Plant Sources of Phosphorus
Phytase is widely used as a feed enzyme in animal science for the diets of poultry (broilers raised for meat production) and pigs to help control phosphorus pollution from animal waste and increase phosphorus nutrient uptake in the animals.
Phytase is also included in our VeggieShake blends for about the same reason: phytase can improve the digestibility of plant foods and increase the mineral absorption and availability of phosphorus, amino acids (like histidine), and calcium in human nutrition too. Which plant foods contain phosphate groups and why is phytase enzyme activity so important for phosphorus utilization? We have the answers.
The Importance of Phosphorus
After calcium, phosphorus is the most plentiful mineral circulating in your body. It's necessary for filtering waste through your digestive tract, and it's needed for cell and tissue repair.
In the modern world, people are more likely to have too much phosphorus in their bodies than a phosphorus deficiency, which is closely related to calcium levels (insufficient calcium can lead to excessive amounts of phosphorus). Too-low levels of phosphorus can be caused by alcoholism, diabetes, or taking medications like antacids. Both of these situations are detrimental to human health, contributing to fatigue, joint pain, and heart disease.
Phosphorus helps us move our muscles, maintain strong bones and teeth, support kidney filtration, and keeps our hearts beating regularly, among so many other health benefits.
Phosphorus Plant Foods
Humans are monogastric animals with just one gastrointestinal tract, the same as birds and dogs. The total phosphorus we receive is dependent on our digestive health. In animal nutrition that means either soybean meals or phytate-phosphorus supplementation, but for us it means eating enough foods that contain phosphorus. Outside of animal foods like chicken, turkey, seafood, and organ meats, the plant sources of phosphorus include the following.
- Pumpkin and sunflower seeds: Full of inositol phosphates that under normal circumstances we cannot digest, these seeds consumed alongside phytase can cause useful phytate degradation and release phosphorus for absorption.
- Nuts: Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, and pine nuts (among others) are active sites of phosphorus concentration, and much like seeds these nuts store their phosphorus in phytic acid that is indigestible to humans without an enzyme like phytase.
- Whole grains: Rice, oats, wheat, and other whole grain foods cannot release phosphorus for human absorption without special treatment like soaking or germination, which employs the catalytic properties of acid phosphatases to help break down the storage form of phosphorus for human absorption.
- Quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth: These ancient pseudocereals are gluten-free sources of protein, important for those on a plant-based diet. They contain myo-inositol hexakisphosphate phosphohydrolases which, like sodium phytates, need to be broken down before humans can effectively absorb their nutrient content.
- Beans, lentils, and soy: Heart healthy and full of important protein, these legumes must be sprouted, soaked, or fermented to access their rich phosphorus reserves.
Foods with Added Phosphates
Because phosphorus is so hard to absorb from natural sources, digestible phosphates are added into foods and drinks like:
- Colas: Soft drinks often have synthetic phosphoric acid included.
- Fast foods: Whether from fast food chains or convenience store frozen foods, phosphates are added in.
- Toaster pastries and baked goods: From biscuit and pancake mixes to frozen pastries, phosphate additives are included for leavening.
We all need some amount of phosphorus in our diets, from infants who only need 100 milligrams per day, to developing children who need as much as 1,250 milligrams each day, to grown adults who need a basic maintenance of at least 700 milligrams daily. While phosphorus is plentiful in our food, it needs to be broken down to make it accessible to us, and that is where an enzyme like phytase shines.
Food Chem 101: Phytase Edition
Most people get the proper amount of phosphorus from the foods they eat, but for vegetarians and vegans especially, it's important to change organic non-digestible phosphorus into inorganic phosphate that can be absorbed by humans. Enzymatic phytase is the key to releasing these plant sources of phosphorus, which is why it's a part of the VeggieShake formula to optimize dephosphorylation for the benefit of human nutrition and health.