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Ask Tufts Experts November 2016 Issue

Q. I read in your newsletter that plant sources of zinc such as whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds contain phytate, which blocks some of the mineral's absorption. Is there any way to increase the zinc availability from these foods?

A. Junaidah B. Barnett, PhD, a scientist in Tufts' HNRCA Nutritional Immunology Laboratory who has studied zinc, answers: "Phytate binds minerals such as zinc to form complexes that are not completely broken down during digestion, decreasing their bioavailability. The enzymes in these foods help release the minerals when they get wet, however. Thus, soaking, juicing, blending, fermenting, leavening with yeast and sprouting break down the phytate compounds in grains, beans, peas and lentils, releasing zinc and other minerals, leading to their increased absorption. Compounds in onions, garlic and other allium vegetables have also been shown to increase the availability of zinc from grains and legumes by as much as 50%, so consider adding them to grain and bean dishes."

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