Are Anti-Nutrients Actually Bad?
By Dr. Victor Marchione
As a passionate advocate of living a healthy lifestyle, I always look for foods that are high in nutrients. Nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits are “go-to” foods for anyone wanting to stay on his/her feet as they age (although these things are important, regardless of age).
However, I continue to receive complaints from people about not digesting foods correctly, even though the foods they eat are nutrient-rich.
Because of this, I decided to put up a thorough explanation about how this discomfort is not always related to indigestion – there are actually some nutrients that work oppositely of their usual functionality and do not get digested properly. These are called the anti-nutrients.
What Are Anti-Nutrients?
“Will I die because of anti-nutrients?” Someone asked me this question and it sounded funny. But those who are at risk of malnutrition or consume legumes and grains as staples in their diet may find it a little tricky to not be severely affected by anti-nutrients (I don’t want to scare you though). Nevertheless, if you are a lover of a balanced diet and have a desire to change yourself for the better, you have nothing to worry about.
Here is a brief introduction to anti-nutrients:
Anti-nutrients are referred to as natural or synthetic compounds that simply hinder the role of digestive enzymes, which are vital for the absorption of minerals and vitamins, leading to improper food digestion. Apart from seed foods, they are also present in plant roots, leaves, vegetables and fruits.
Can Antinutrients Be Good For You?
Despite the criticism posed on anti-nutrients, you must be aware that not all of them are perilous to your health; some are good too – polyphenols and flavonoids for instance. Moreover, it’s in your hands to reduce the level of their content in your food through different methods like soaking, sprouting, boiling, etc. (However, I would suggest some readers not take my word in this case, because if you fall under sensitive bodies and consume even the “good anti-nutrients” in excessive quantities, your digestion of important nutrients including iron and vitamin B1 – besides proteins and starches – can be inhibited).
What Are The Top Anti-Nutrients To Avoid?
By now, I hope I have brought you to a balanced understanding of anti-nutrients concerning their pros and cons. Nonetheless, knowing that they have the potential to cause digestive distress and promote certain deficiencies, I feel it is extremely important for me to give you this list of 8 major anti-nutrients and the corresponding foods to avoid:
1. Phytate: It is known by 8 different names in the world of science, however, “phytic acid” is the most commonly known. Though it restricts the absorption of minerals, you may not be aware of its antioxidant (cancer fighting) and phytonutrient properties.
Foods to avoid: Grains, potatoes, beans, nuts
2. Tannin: This bitter tasting polyphenol is a type of enzyme inhibitor that constricts tissues and hinders apposite digestion, leading to various gastrointestinal problems.
Foods to avoid: Grapes, green tea, persimmons
3. Lectins: Lectins are found in huge quantities in plant foods, especially beans and wheat. Their favorite area of damage is the gastrointestinal tract. However, there was a 2005 post published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition that cited the anti-cancer potential of lectins.
Foods to avoid: Beans, pulses, grains, cereals, tomato, some citrus fruits
4. Protease Inhibitors: Their primary function is to hinder enzymes that are responsible for breaking down proteins, hence causing interference in protein digestion.
Foods to avoid: Green tea, seeds, most edible plants
5. Oxalates: k.a calcium oxalates. These are widely known to cause kidney stones. Their presence contributes to poor absorption of calcium and poor quality of plant proteins.
Foods to avoid: Sesame seeds, millet, soybeans, spinach
6. Saponins: These are more menacing than lectins as they not only harm the gastrointestinal lining, but can also invade the bloodstream and provoke immune responses.
Foods to avoid: Grains, pseudo-grains, beans, legumes, red wine
7. Trypsin Inhibitors: If you think you can degrade trypsin inhibitors through cooking and heat processing, you might not be aware that these anti-nutrients can still cause health problems, such as reduced pancreatic function and mineral deficiencies in children.
Foods to avoid: Breads, cereals, porridge, processed baby foods
8. Gluten: Gluten is hard to digest and causes digestive distress. People with celiacs disease cannot break it down at all. This can lead to nausea, constipation, diarrhea and stomach cramping.
Foods to avoid: wheat, barley, rye
9. Solanine: If you are sensitive to nightshade vegetables, you should be cautioned about solanine, because you could experience throat burn, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, dizziness, etc. even though it is a “beneficial” anti-nutrient.
Foods to avoid: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, bittersweet nightshades
10. Chaconine: In small portions, chaconine provides antifungal properties. In large amounts, however, it can lead to digestive discomfort.
Food to avoid: Corn and potatoes
What Are The Methods To Degrade Anti-Nutrients?
A balanced diet where you consume foods that separately provide the restricted nutrients is the best way to avoid the dangerous effects of antinutrients. There are also some tips that you can use to decrease anti-nutrients in your food:
- Soaking: This reduces anti-nutrients by boosting the food’s nutritional content.
- Sprouting: A.k.a germination – this is a natural method that boosts availability of nutrients in food.
- Fermentation: This is an age-old natural method of preserving foods where microorganisms digest the carbs. Cheese, wines and yogurts are commonly fermented.
- Boiling: This is a very effective degradation method for anti-nutrients like protease inhibitors and lectins; however, some of them (such as phytate) are resistant to heat.
- Combination: For substantial (or sometimes complete) reduction of antinutrients, combination of various methods is recommended.
Having mentioned these reliable methods, you cannot 100% count on me about these. As I informed you earlier, the key here is moderation. While not all anti-nutrients are technically bad for you, I encourage you to focus on consuming a balanced diet.
Respected Leader in the field of Smoking cessation and Pulmonary Medicine
at Bel Marra Health
Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and the NBC Today Show. As well as being on the Advisory Board for Bel Marra Health, he is also the editor of the Health E-Talk newsletter.
Dr. Victor Marchione received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and continued on to do his Medical Degree at theUniversity of Messina. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for more than 20 years.
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