The term “antinutrients” has become popularized in recent times and refers to a unique set of synthetic and/or natural compounds in foods. These can include a large variety of nuts, grains, legumes, and beans.
While not a problem for most people, they can cause health effects for those who base their diets almost exclusively on cereals and pulses or on periods characterized by poor nutrition. When consumed, these can start to negatively impact one’s ability to absorb or digest nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
In fact, these are also known to act as barriers in front of important digestive enzymes and further debilitate absorption. Depending on the food, these can also be found in vegetables, fruits, leaves, and plant roots but that is not as common as some of the others mentioned before.
What is the reason for these compounds being present in natural food? It has to do with the food protecting itself as it is growing (i.e., predators, bugs, pests) and these compounds keep them safe as they blossom.
Most Common Antinutrients Found in Food
This is one of the common ones and is often associated with specific diets. When consumed, these can be troublesome and difficult to digest since gluten is noted as an enzyme inhibitor. Once it enters the system, it might become difficult to avoid issues such involving the gastrointestinal system.
Gluten is also renowned for leading to long-term issues such as autoimmune disease and/or leaky gut syndrome depending on the person.
This has a lot to do with a person’s sensitivity to gluten and how their body responds to specific foods such as barley, wheat, and rye. Individuals with the harshest reaction to gluten are diagnosed with celiac’s disease, but it’s important to note this is relatively rare. Most individuals will only notice a small uptick in headaches, memory loss, and fatigue.
2) Phytic Acid/Phytate
Another antinutrient would be phytic acid and it is the most commonly known variation. It can be found in a variety of organic sources including major legumes and/or grains. These are impactful since they impact the absorption of minerals and can start to chip away at the copper, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Studies have shown over 4/5ths of all zinc and phosphorus in these foods are blocked off because of the phytic acid. These foods can include items such as sunflower seeds, cashews, chickpeas, and pumpkin to name a few. The same applies to foods rich in magnesium.
Phytic acid can also have an issue with how it starts to get in the way of important digestive enzymes. It makes it hard to manage the consumption of key nutrients on a daily basis. Individuals dealing with continuous consumption of phytic acid will often notice a rise in bone loss as it has a direct impact on their iron levels.
This is a specific antinutrient found in foods and can start to make a negative impact on the human body. This can include issues such as bloating, constipation, gastrointestinal problems, and more.
Anything that gets in the way of the body’s metabolism has a negative impact, which is why tannins are a problem in certain foods. Although tannins can affect the digestibility of proteins, their absorption may not be affected to any great extent
Lectins are complex proteins which are noted for being resilient and this includes pushing through the human body without losing shape. This means as soon as the lectin goes through the digestive tract, it is able to maintain its shape and start to leak into the cell’s lining.
This leads to additional issues as the membranes of the lining are damaged. People will start to notice a change in their digestive capabilities including natural nutrient digestion. Many people talk about dealing with autoimmune diseases because of lectins. These can be found in various food sources including wheat and beans (peanuts, raw grains, dairy, soybeans).
These can be classed in the same group as tannins but are generally rarer in terms of where they are found. These are found in soybeans, sesame seeds, and millet.
Tips For Reducing Intake of Antinutrients
For those looking to get rid of antinutrients, it’s important to understand how this will be done and what the right way to go is. This is going to be some of the most important nutritional information one will want to keep in mind before building out a full-fledged diet plan as soon as possible.
The first idea is to start sprouting as this is going to have a big role to play in the quality of the food. In general, sprouting refers to the specific time when plants start to pop out from the seed and/or germinate.
This is the process where the highest amount of nutrients are available in legumes, grains, and seeds. Of course, it is not going to be a slow process and ends up taking 48 hours or more.
To do this the right way, it is important to follow instructions and make sure things don’t fall apart.
Begin by grabbing the seeds and starting to clean them up as much as possible (i.e. dirt, soil, and any related debris). You want to get rid of the muck as it will only make things harder. Once this has been done, you will be able to grab a small bowl and let the seeds soak for at least 10-12 hours in cool water.
After this, you will look to rinse the seeds in clean water and start to drain out the water using a filter.
At this point, you are going to take out the all-important sprouter and place it away from the sun. This is going to include rinsing and draining for an additional 3-4 times. Please note, you will want to continue to do this twice a day. Over time, you are going to start to notice a simple change in how the seeds look and that will indicate a reduction of major antinutrients.
The beauty of sprouting has a lot to do with how effective it is on the phytic acid. It can cut the number in half when done right and the same applies to lectins.
The next option would be to look into the idea of soaking these foods.
You are going to take out the legumes and/or beans before putting them in a small bowl with cool water. You are going to let the food soak in this water overnight as that will add value to its nutritional profile.
The reason this is done has more to do with the way food is as most of the phytic acid and lectins are easy to dissolve when soaked. This is going to dramatically start to cut into the number of tannins and lectins.
This can do wonders as a person will notice at least a 9-10% reduction in phytic acid.
Of course, you have to realize the reduction is going to depend on what you are soaking and how you are doing it. Certain beans are going to do better with this method while others are going to take longer. For example, you are not going to get quick results with leafy vegetables but it will work over time.
3) Boil Food
Another tip to avoid these pesky antinutrients is to be smart boiling the food. This is going to eat into the number of lectins and/or tannins. You will want to use a small pan, place the foods inside, and then start boiling them on high heat. This is going to start to chip away at the lectin in a hurry. You will also notice a change in the number of tannins and calcium oxalate.
However, you are going to need other methods to start to work away at the phytic acid as it is a tad more resilient.
This is why it is always best to pay attention to how the solution reacts and the value it has to offer in the long-term.
The final option would be to go ahead and use fermentation as it is ideal in many situations while preserving food. You will want to make use of this natural solution to easily digest food again. The idea is to make sure this is done patiently and with the right approach.
It’s all about building out a diet and making the most of key foods by using some of the tips mentioned above. This is how the foods will be kept in good shape so they don’t start to break down and cause issues in the long-term.
In best case scenarios, it is always smart to start combining methods (i.e., soaking and boiling) to get more out of the process! This is why you are going to want to learn the method before moving forward.
The reality is that trying not to eat these foods that contain anti-nutrients poses a health risk. Since antinutrients are present in almost all whole foods is not a good idea to entirely avoid their consumption. These are the same disease-preventive foods with high amounts of fiber, minerals, enzymes, and phytonutrients that can contribute to your overall health.
Even if these compounds may restrict the body’s ability to absorb or use some of the minerals and other helpful compounds to some degree, this effect is limited. In order for these foods to affect your nutritional health, you’d have to eat huge amounts of these antinutrient foods on a daily basis.
With the exception of certain cases where the elimination of these compounds may be recommended, such as oxalates, which may cause kidney stones in people with kidney problems, if you do not suffer from these conditions, the main recommendation is not to worry about them
A balanced and varied diet, even if rich in anti-nutrients, is unlikely to have any negative effects. On the other hand, it is advisable to plan meals wisely so that iron absorption can be optimized in case of deficiency (or risk of other nutrient deficiency).
However, there is no reason to give up foods rich in anti-nutrients such as whole grains, legumes, nuts or seeds. If you are experiencing a nutrient deficiency or malnutrition problem, you should consult a registered dietitian (RD) to ensure the best possible nutrition.