The mineral content of legumes is generally high, but the bioavailability is poor due to the presence of phytate, which is a main inhibitor of Fe and Zn absorption. Some legumes also contain considerable amounts of Fe-binding polyphenols inhibiting Fe absorption. Furthermore, soya protein per se has an inhibiting effect on Fe absorption. Efficient removal of phytate, and probably also polyphenols, can be obtained by enzymatic degradation during food processing, either by increasing the activity of the naturally occurring plant phytases and polyphenol degrading enzymes, or by addition of enzyme preparations. Biological food processing techniques that increase the activity of the native enzymes are soaking, germination, hydrothermal treatment and fermentation. Food processing can be optimized towards highest phytate degradation provided that the optimal conditions for phytase activity in the plant is known. In contrast to cereals, some legumes have highest phytate degradation at neutral or alkaline pH. Addition of microbial enzyme preparations seems to be the most efficient for complete degradation during processing. Fe and Zn absorption have been shown to be low from legume-based diets. It has also been demonstrated that nutritional Fe deficiency reaches its greatest prevalence in populations subsisting on cereal- and legume-based diets. However, in a balanced diet containing animal protein a high intake of legumes is not considered a risk in terms of mineral supply. Furthermore, once phytate, and in certain legumes polyphenols, is degraded, legumes would become good sources of Fe and Zn as the content of these minerals is high.
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