What is an anti-nutrient? What sources of food are they found in? Are they something that can be a threat to our health? What can I do about it?
These are all great questions, and I am going to introduce to you the 5 most common anti-nutrients and give you the tools you need to disable them or avoid them. These compounds are sourced naturally as well as synthetically, and are found in a large array of common foods. They are most densely found in grains, seeds, legumes, nuts and beans. They are called anti-nutrients because they interfere with the the absorption of important vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In spite of all of that, not all anti-nutrients are bad and there is benefit to be found in some. Polyphenols and flavonoids are are a type of anti-nutrient, that are classified as micro-nutrients. These healthy micro-nutrients can be found in wine, tea, coffee, elderberries, cloves and more. Despite there essential benefits, even these healthy sources can interfere with absorption because of their anti-nutrient qualities, if consumed in excess.
Are anti-nutrients something we need to worry about? For the most part, if you are eating a well-balanced diet consisting of nutrient dense Whole Foods, then the answer is no. However, for those consuming the Standard American Diet, it is certainly cause for concern. Foods that are notoriously high in these anti-nutrients, I recommend taking a couple easy steps to counteract these effects or avoid them.
5 Most Common Anti-Nutrients
1. Phytic Acid
This anti-nutrient is one of the most well known inhibitors on my list. It is responsible for blocking a substantial amount of minerals from being absorbed and also interferes with digestive enzyme activity. Largely found in grains, seeds, nuts and legumes this compound can wreck havoc on your digestive tract. Digestion of starches and proteins are weakened and anemia and other mineral deficiencies are born. In addition to soaking and fermenting, which I will later explain, eating more foods rich in Vitamin C & A will increase the absorption of essential minerals.
Gluten is the most well-known, hard to digest plant proteins and is one of the most damaging to the body. It has an infamous reputation of causing GI issues. Because it can be inherently allergenic and acts like an antigen to the body, and can invoke an immune response. This reaction can trigger autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s, MS, fibromyalgia and arthritis, as well as Leaky Gut Syndrome. Sources are found in wheat, rye and barley plants. There is no way to reduce the amount of gluten in food. If gluten is a trigger or you suspect it may be, avoiding it is the only way to evade its related symptoms.
Foods rich in tannins are considered to be of low nutritional value. They are an enzyme inhibitor that can interfere with digestion. They are also known to cause protein deficiencies and GI issues. The US National Library of Medicine published an article, saying that more alarming than interfering with digestion was the decreased efficiency in converting the absorbed nutrients to new body substances. Incidences of certain cancers, such as esophageal cancer, have been reported to be related to consumption of tannins-rich foods such as nuts and herbal teas, suggesting that tannins might be carcinogenic. Due to the fact that tannins are naturally antimicrobial, they are frequently added to foods to increase shelf life and counteract flavors being “off” due to microorganisms found in the food.
Sources of tannins include but are not limited to: Tea, coffee, red wine, chocolate and berries
Similar to the negative effects of tannins, sources of these anti-nutrients are found in spinach, bran, beets, soybeans, sesame seeds and millet. Oxalates damage the kidneys and thyroid and are one of the most insoluble substances in the body. In addition to body tissue damage, oxalates cause bloating, diarrhea or constipation and a host of other GI issues.
One of the most unfortunate features of plant lectins is their ability to survive the digestion process. They can penetrate the lining of the digestive tract, and consequently the epithelial lining and cells are damaged. The interference with nutrient digestion and absorption, stimulates negative variations of gut flora as well as triggering autoimmune responses. In addition to symptoms similar to food poisoning, consuming high amounts of lectins can invoke immune responses such as joint pain, rashes and general inflammation. Lectins are found in their highest levels, but are not limited to, soybeans, peanuts and grains.
There are several methods to reduce or eliminate anti-nutrients . Soaking, sprouting and fermenting are proven to be effective at disabling these compounds. A combination of these methods can even degrade them almost entirely. Seeds, nuts, grains and beans can use any, or all of these germination techniques to allow the body to access the full nutritional profile of these foods. These methods increase the availability of nutrients, while decreasing the deleterious effects of the anti-nutrients. Boiling is another method that degrades some of these compounds. Below is a summary of the more common anti-nutrients and the most effective ways to eliminate them.
Phytic Acid: Soaking, Sprouting, Fermentation
Tannins: Soaking, Boiling
Oxalates: Soaking, Boiling
Lectins: Soaking, Fermentation, Boiling or Heating
Protease Inhibitors: Soaking, Sprouting, Boiling