What is an anti-nutrient and why are they dangerous for us to eat?
I have been on a paleo diet for more than 10 years due to me suffering with several irritations to my body including bloating and rosacea. I had tried many different things, but nothing worked until I changed my food.
Anti-nutrients inhibit nutrient absorption and are found in some of the healthiest foods. The reason they are so harmful is that we need nutrients for a healthier body but if we are eating them but not absorbing them then this becomes futile. The result is that we will suffer with malnutrition and be more susceptible to chronic disease.
Due to the potential for contributing to deficiencies and causing digestive distress for a high percentage of people, here are 10 anti nutrients to try to eliminate from your diet as much as possible.
Top 10 Foods To Avoid
1. Phytic Acid (Also Called Phytate)
This is probably the most well-known anti nutrient that is found in grains and legumes and interferes with the absorption of minerals. Phytic acid can unfortunately lock up high percentages of phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Some research shows that up 80 percent of phosphorous found in high-phosphorus foods like pumpkin or sunflower seeds, along with 80 percent of zinc found in high-zinc foods like cashews and chickpeas, might be blocked by phytate. The same can be said for about 40 percent of magnesium-rich foods.
At the same time, it interferes with calcium and iron absorption, which raises the risk for problems like anemia (which emanates from an iron deficiency) and bone loss. On the other hand, eating foods rich in vitamin C, like leafy green vegetables or citrus fruits, can counteract phytate and increase iron absorption. Foods rich in vitamin A like sweet potatoes or berries can also help improve iron absorption.
Another very problematic component to phytic acid is that it inhibits certain essential digestive enzymes called amylase, trypsin, and pepsin. Amylase breaks down starch, while both pepsin and trypsin are needed to break down protein.
Known to be one of the most difficult-to-digest plant proteins, gluten is an enzyme inhibitor that has become notorious for causing gastrointestinal distress. Not only can gluten cause digestive problems, but it can contribute to leaky gut syndrome or autoimmune disease, allergic reactions, and cognitive problems as well. Gluten sensitivity is classified as a group of symptoms related to negative reactions to the gluten protein found in all wheat, rye, and barley plants.
The severe form of gluten sensitivity, a true allergy to gluten, is ceoliac’s disease — but gluten can also cause other less severe symptoms in a much larger percentage of people, including joint pain, headaches, fatigue, and poor memory.
Tannins are a type of enzyme inhibitor that prevent adequate digestion and can cause protein deficiency and gastrointestinal problems. Because we need enzymes to properly metabolize food and usher nutrients to our cells, molecules that inhibit enzymes can cause bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, and other GI issues.
Like tannins, oxalates are found in the highest quantities in sesame seeds, soybeans, and black and brown varieties of millet. The presence of these anti nutrients makes plant (especially legumes) proteins of “poor quality,” according to research done on absorbability of plant amino acids.
Lectins are found in high quantities in beans and wheat, which as mentioned earlier reduce nutrient absorption and can cause indigestion, bloating and gas for many people. One of the most nutritionally important features of plant lectins is their ability to survive digestion by the gastrointestinal tract, which means they can penetrate cells lining the digestive tract and cause a loss of gut epithelial cells, damage the membranes of the epithelium lining, interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption, stimulate shifts in the bacterial flora, and trigger autoimmune reactions.
Lectins can cause GI upset like classical food poisoning and immune responses like joint pain and rashes. Improperly prepared raw grains, dairy and legumes like peanuts, and soybeans have especially high lectin levels.
Just like lectins, saponins affect the gastrointestinal lining, contributing to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disorders. They are particularly resistant to digestion by humans and have the ability to enter the bloodstream and trigger immune responses.
7. Trypsin Inhibitors
Trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors are found in most grain-containing products, including cereals, porridge, breads and even baby foods. They seem to be degraded well by heat processing and cooking but can still cause problems like mineral deficiencies for young infants, children, and anyone with reduced pancreatic function.
Are a type of polyphenolic anti nutrient found in the highest levels in soybeans that might cause hormonal changes and contribute to digestive issues. In smaller does and when beans have been properly prepared, this can also be beneficial, but it is usually recommended avoiding soybeans because isoflavones are capable of exerting estrogenic-like effects. For this reason, they are classified as phytoestrogens and considered endocrine disruptors — plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity that might result in harmful changes in hormone levels.
Found in nightshade vegetables like eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, this is a beneficial anti nutrient in most cases. But in high levels and in those sensitive to eating nightshades, it can cause “poisoning” and symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, headaches, and dizziness.
Found in corn and plants of the Solanaceae family, including potatoes, this compound is beneficial when eaten in small doses because it has antifungal properties, but in some people it’s capable of causing digestive issues, especially when uncooked and eaten in high amounts.
Whilst anti nutrients are bad for us some of them can help support our immune system, act as an antioxidant, support oral health and much more.
There are certain ways that we can prepare these foods that will enable us to only take the goodness from them and reduce the harm.
Anti-nutrients such as Tannins, Oxalates, Saponins and Lectins can be effectively reduced through boiling and heat.
Many anti nutrients are water soluble so a good over night soak can drastically reduce the harmful levels especially on the skin of beans, and vegetables.
Helps to reduce the anti-nutrients of phytates, lectins and tannins in your food. The more the seeds of the plant germinate and put out shoots the greater their nutrient density becomes.
This process has been around for thousands of years and during fermentation the microorganisms digest the carbohydrates in food and degrade. This can be the same for phytates and lectins.
It is so important that you choose the right foods for you so that you get all the health benefits that you need.
I would never have thought that the issues that I was suffering was due to my food choices and it was not until I changed that my life became more bearable and my energy increased.
Sometimes making the smallest adjustments can give the biggest results.
Please let me know if you have any questions below.
I must say that I was very surprised when I read your post on anti nutrients, I was thinking that you were going to be talking about junk food! I was surprised to find natural foods and how this affects the body. I think I should take a look at my phytic acid intake since I have been struggling with an iron deficiency this year and it has been causing some major health problems. I’ve been on iron supplements for 4 months already!
Oh wow Lynne, I am so pleased that I have been able to help as iron deficiency can be treated and hopefully with a few changed to your diet you we feel that you have more energy.
Thank you for sharing
Very nice article, Imelda! I am a vegan and whenever I am on a diet or nutrient-rich food these are the things I eat. I eat legumes, pulses (a lot of pulses!), and veggies. After reading your article I can somewhat relate because I face digestion issues while on diet. I am glad that you included remedied for this as well as being a vegan there are not many alternatives for me. I used to boil things but never tried sprouting. I guess that should show me some good results.
Thank you Vinayak,
I can appreciate how difficult it is for you bein a vegan as pulses and grains are a staple diet for you. There are alternatives and I will do an article that can help you further.
Nice one Imelda, anti nutrient as the name is, is anything against nutrient, it is amazing ti see some natural food as anti nutrients, when i saw the article all my mind was towards junks and some alcohol, i never knew that even some natural food can be anti nutrient, i think i have to look into what i generally take into my body to avoid anti nutrient like solanine because i love pepper, eggplant, tomatoes and other vegetables…Thanks for sharing
Thank you for your comments and I am so pleased that I have given you a little more information to make the right food choices surrounding nutirents.
Wow, a very nice article, very informative. I didn’t know all of that. Is there any food to avoid for arthritis? Or let me rephrase that…what would you suggest to take for that? I like the secret tips of how to prepare anti-nutrients so help support our immune system! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much for your comments.
Foods to avoid for arthritis are processed and sugar foods. Vitamin C and Oily fish are good to eat for arthritis.
I hope that helps.