Don’t Eat Your Anti-nutrients

Don’t Eat Your Anti-nutrients

It can really be frustrating. You try to eat healthy, add more plant-based choices, exercise and just try to enjoy life. Then comes along pesky science telling us there’s a problem with just about everything. However, rather than get frustrated, think of the progress. The more we know the better we become.

There are some underlying concerns when it comes to nutritional health. Research keeps finding adverse chemical compounds in food it was never able to detect before. Five such compounds are now considered anti-nutrients and knowing what they are can be a big advantage to your cellular health. Once you are familiar with anti-nutrients and the foods that contain them, you’ll be able to easily prepare and eat them safely.

The 5 Thieves

There are many foods considered to be anti-nutrients. To understand which foods contain which anti-nutrients and how they might affect your health, these are the five most studied according to a report by Healthline:

  • Phytate (phytic acid): Mainly found in seeds, grains and legumes, phytate reduces the absorption of minerals from a meal. These include iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium
  • Tannins: A class of antioxidant polyphenols that may impair the digestion of various nutrients
  • Lectins: Found in all food plants, especially in seeds, legumes and grains. Some lectins may be harmful in high amounts, and interfere with the absorption of nutrients
  • Protease inhibitors: Widely distributed among plants, especially in seeds, grains and legumes. They interfere with protein digestion by inhibiting digestive enzymes.
  • Calcium oxalate: The primary form of calcium in many vegetables, such as spinach. The calcium bound to oxalate is poorly absorbed.

Quick List

Here is a fast reference chart of anti-nutrient foods provided by Healthline:

  • Legumes, such as [red] beans, lentils, peas, soybeans, and peanuts
  • Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes and eggplant
  • Dairy products, including milk
  • Grains, such as barley, quinoa, and rice

Yes, it all reads like no food is good food, at least in the seed, grain, legume (beans) category. Thankfully you can still enjoy these foods by practicing proper preparation. However, if you eat them without doing so you’ll be fine but you may notice some subtle bodily changes, particularly in digestion.

Anti-nutrient Preparation

There are three recommended ways to prepare anti-nutrient foods:

  • Soaking – Soak anti-nutrient foods like beans for 12-24 hours before cooking to eat. 
  • Sprouting – This process takes some time and preparation. Some people purchase pre-sprouted seeds to consume. 
  • Boiling – High heat boiling can reduce just about any anti -nutrient compromise
  • Fermentation – Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha are nutrient safe. 

Below is a list of anti-nutrients and the best way to prepare each according to Healthline:

  • Phytate (phytic acid): Soaking, sprouting, fermentation.
  • Lectins: Soaking, boiling, heating, fermentation.
  • Tannins: Soaking, boiling.
  • Protease inhibitors: Soaking, sprouting, boiling.
  • Calcium oxalate: Soaking, boiling

There aren’t many studies on anti-nutrients or ways to prepare them. This concept is still on the fringes of mainstream food consumption but the more science that backs it up, the more people will take notice. Anti-nutrients are not a recent discovery regardless of the new medical technology that has been able to detect them more efficiently. 

An archival study in Food Chemistry titled ‘Effect of domestic processing and cooking on the anti-nutrients of black gram [a type of bean]’ describes some anti-nutrient preparation, 

“Domestic processing and cooking methods including soaking, ordinary and pressure cooking of soaked and un-soaked seeds, and sprouting significantly lowered phytic acid, saponin and polyphenol contents of black gram seeds. Soaking for 18 h removed 28% of the phytic acid; extents of removal were higher with longer periods of soaking. Saporins and polyphenols were relatively less affected. Loss of the anti-nutrients was greater when soaked instead of un-soaked seeds were cooked. Pressure cooking had a greater effect than ordinary cooking. Anti-nutrient concentrations declined following sprouting; the longer the period of germination the greater was the reduction. Phytic acid was reduced to a greater extent than polyphenols or saponins.”

Pressure Cooking

It turns out that using a pressure cooker when you prepare anti nutrient foods may have the same impact as soaking, fermentation, boiling, or sprouting. Try using a pressure cooker which (as mentioned in the Food Chemistry study) has a great effect on food. It does this by forcing the food to squeeze out embedded natural toxic compounds leaving you with the essential nutrition you need.

Eating with knowledge can increase your quality of life on many levels. It may seem discouraging at first but once you feel the benefits of avoiding anti-nutrients you may welcome such knowledge.