All foods contain nutrients that are important to maintain good health and well-being but there are also some food compounds that can affect the absorption of useful nutrients—they are called anti-nutrients. Here’s what you need to know about anti-nutrients and their effects on your health.
What are Anti-nutrients?
Anti-nutrients are compounds found in food mainly certain plants and legumes that we consume. Their presence in plants is due to a defense mechanism that prevents predators such as insects or animals from eating them. They inhibit the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and protein and even cause digestive discomfort. This alone might make the plant less appealing to predators. Humans, however, have ways of cooking and preparing plant-based food which reduces these side effects to some extent. Some of the most common anti-nutrients found in foods and their effects are:
- Oxalates (oxalic acid) are present in cocoa, some nuts and seeds and leafy greens such as spinach or broccoli. They essentially bind to calcium and make it harder for the body to absorb.
- Phytates (phytic acid) is commonly found in legumes and grains. They make it harder for the body absorb minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron.
- Lectins are present in all plant foods and inhibit the absorption of phosphorus, zinc, calcium and iron.
- Tannins can affect the absorption of iron, affect digestive enzymes, and the digestion of protein. They’re found in tea, coffee, cocoa, and brewed beverages such as beer and wine.
- Glucosinolates are mainly found in broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables. They prevent proper absorption of iodine, zinc, and iron.
Should Anti-nutrients be avoided?
Plants and veggies all have positive effects on health. Even though they might contain anti-nutrients, they also contain compounds that are recommended for a healthy diet such as fiber, and antioxidants as well as various vitamins, minerals, and plant proteins. Certain anti-nutrients can affect persons with chronic disease or sensitivities that may lead to or aggravate health conditions. For example, oxalate-rich diets may increase the risk of kidney stones and glucosinolates can negatively impact persons who have heart or thyroid issues. For the majority though, anti-nutrients aren’t a red flag.
How to reduce the impact of anti-nutrients?
If you ever experience intolerance to certain foods because of anti-nutrients, just reduce your intake or change the way you cook them. Try to prepare foods by soaking beans and legumes overnight before cooking, try fermentation, or boiling, and sprouting. This can actually reduce the unfavorable effects of antinutrients.
Another method is to avoid eating too much of one thing and include a variety of plants and vegetables in your diet. You can also look into food pairing which can help you to optimize nutrient absorption from the foods you eat.
Anti-nutrients in foods should not deter you from consuming them. The benefits of plant based foods far outweigh the negatives and are essential for good health. Many anti-nutrients can be dissolved through proper preparation and cooking methods which reduce their presence significantly and lets you enjoy the benefits of healthy food! enjoy the benefits of healthy food!