What's The Deal With Anti-Nutrients?

I’ve been hearing a lot of interesting and perplexing conversation regarding plant foods lately. Many diets recommend avoiding certain vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes because of their “toxic” anti-nutrients and have stated that these foods can lead to disease. Say what?!

Let’s break it down: What are anti-nutrients? They are natural compounds found in plant foods such as tannins, protease inhibitors, calcium oxalate and lectins.

Why do plants contain these compounds? To protect themselves! They help the seed to deter pests, bugs and other predators (us ) so the seeds can survive and reproduce – neat!

Why do some people fear these compounds? They can weaken the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium. They also have many negative claims declared against them by advocates of certain diets. …. Before you get too worried about malnutrition and deficiencies from eating good ole' veggies, grains, nuts and legumes, rest assured that evidence-based nutrition has shown that these anti-nutrients are rarely a problem in a balanced diet, and they have also been proven to be beneficial to human health! They provide way more benefits than downfalls, do not fear.

The way we consume our plant foods will also make a big difference regarding absorption and digestion, which I will touch on soon.

Let’s take a closer look at lectins: Lectins have been quite controversial lately. Some say lectins are at the root of all disease, that they impair growth, harm skeletal muscle, damage the lining of the small intestine, the cause of obesity, auto-immunity and many other scary claims. Most of these claims have no actual scientific studies done on humans baking them up. Raw beans do contain the highest number of lectins; when eaten raw can cause vomiting, gas and bloating. The good news though, is that we cook our beans, and this removes most of the lectins. Studies show that having some lectins in your life isn’t a bad thing and that lectins may be necessary for normal digestion and absorption. I’d also like to point out that plant-foods have been eaten for centuries, they have been shown to be the primary diet of the Blue Zones (humans who live the longest) and they have incredible health benefits. Full of fibre, protein, phytonutrients, minerals, vitamins and nutrients!

Let’s take a closer look at phytic acid: Phytic acid or phytate is the storage form of phosphorous in the seeds of most plant foods. Humans do have a harder time digesting phytate on its own, which can lead to absorption issues, mineral deficiencies, gas and bloating. Humans can tolerate some amounts of phytate, and our gut bacteria even produces an enzyme that helps to break it down, therefore most of it is broken down by digestion. Contrary to what some may believe, phytic acid have been shows to have many health benefits such as preventing the formation of free radicals (it’s an antioxidants), prevent heavy metal build up and plays a role in cellular communication; you can even purchase it in supplement form. Just like lectin the amount of phytic acid will be significantly reduced depending on our preparation of the foods.

Now that you know that you don't need to fear plant foods, let me tell you how to best prepare them so you can get the most nutrition out of them! Please keep in mind, if you eat a well-balanced diet you can continue to eat beans, veggies, nuts and grains the way that feels best for you.

If you would like to maximize your nutrient absorption and availability of nuts, veggies, legumes and grains, you can try out the following: 🌾Soak – reduces percentage of phytic acid, lectins, tannins, protease inhibitors, calcium oxalate 🌱Sprout – reduces percentage of phytic acid and protease inhibitors 🌾Ferment – reduces percentage of phytic acid and lectins 🌱Boil – reduces percentage of lectins, tannins, protease inhibitors, calcium oxalate 🌾Heat - reduces percentage of lectins 🌱Consume Vitamin C rich foods with your leafy greens 🌾Steam veggies if you find them hard to tolerate 🌱Keep gut bacteria healthy with fermented foods or pre/probiotics

As always, we are all unique individuals. Some people may have certain conditions that do not allow them to eat certain plant foods and some may have a harder time digesting them, that is totally okay. If someone decides to cut them out completely that's also cool! Just know that It doesn’t make it wrong for all people, and these foods do not need to be feared or eliminated from ones diet to achieve great health (they actually add greatly - when tolerated ;))

To state that some plant foods are “unhealthy” because of their anti-nutrient content is not correct, especially when many of these foods’ potential negative effects may be offset by their health benefits.

Real-life info: 👉Farm Boy has sprouted beans, seeds and grains. 👉Many health food stores have these as well. 👉Purchase sprouted breads/wraps 👉You can quick soak - boil for 2-3 mins then let sit in water for an hour. 👉Dried beans are super cheap! Soak beans and grains overnight before you go to use them 👉 MOST IMPORTANT real life tip is to enjoy the food you consume and choose to nourish yourself with. Fear, stress and negativity towards food do not belong in a well balanced, healthy diet 🙃

 FREE Vegan Intuitive Eating Starter Guide 

Emily Manuel, B.A, RHN, CYT

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