What are Anti-Nutrients? Nutritionist Amita Gadre Explains

Many foods, especially plant-based ones, include naturally occurring chemicals known as anti-nutrients. Moderate consumption of these substances is not necessarily dangerous, despite their name; nonetheless, they may prevent the body from properly absorbing and using certain nutrients. As a defense strategy against herbivores and pathogens, these chemicals have evolved in plants. It's crucial to learn about anti-nutrients because an excessive quantity of them might create health problems, but no one knows how much for real.  

In her Instagram post, nutritionist Amita Gadre explains that these anti-nutrients impact nutrient loss or inhibit nutrient absorption from our diets because the action of anti-nutrients for each person is very unique and unpredictable. She recommends the following  

Soak pulses overnight before cooking - Soaking pulses overnight before cooking is a practical strategy to reduce anti-nutrients. This process helps break down compounds like phytates and lectins, which can inhibit nutrient absorption. Soaking also promotes easier digestion and enhances the availability of essential nutrients, making legumes a more nutritious and digestible part of your diet. 

Don't eat more than one cup of raw vegetables in a meal - Limiting raw vegetable intake to one cup per meal can help mitigate the effects of anti-nutrients like oxalates and goitrogens. Cooking or blanching vegetables can further reduce these compounds, improving nutrient absorption and promoting overall digestive health while maintaining a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients. 

Do not Juice any vegetable or fruit - Avoiding juicing vegetables and fruits is advisable to minimize the impact of anti-nutrients. Juicing can concentrate these compounds, potentially interfering with nutrient absorption and digestion. Whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables provide a more balanced intake of nutrients and fewer concerns related to anti-nutrient concentration. 

Stop having tea or coffee with your food - Eliminating tea or coffee consumption during meals is a wise approach to reduce the effects of anti-nutrients like tannins. These compounds can inhibit the absorption of essential minerals like iron. Opting for water or herbal teas instead of caffeinated beverages with meals can enhance nutrient utilization and overall health. 

The best part is cooking methods like roasting, soaking, grinding or steaming to reduce the anti-nutrients.  

Here are some common types of anti-nutrients and their effects:

Phytates (Phytic Acid): Found in grains, seeds, and legumes, phytates can bind to minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium, reducing their bioavailability. Soaking, fermenting, or cooking these foods can help reduce phytate levels. 

Oxalates (Oxalic Acid): Present in foods like spinach, rhubarb, and beet greens, oxalates can bind with calcium, forming insoluble crystals. This can contribute to kidney stones in susceptible individuals. 

Tannins: Found in tea, coffee, and certain fruits like apples and grapes, tannins can interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals.  

Lectins: Present in legumes and grains, lectins can affect the gut lining and nutrient absorption. Cooking and soaking can reduce lectin levels. 

Saponins: Found in beans and legumes, saponins can interfere with nutrient absorption and may cause digestive discomfort. 

Goitrogens: Present in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, goitrogens can inhibit the thyroid's ability to absorb iodine, potentially impacting thyroid function. 

Polyphenols: While generally beneficial for health, some polyphenols, like those in tea and red wine, can bind to non-heme iron, reducing its absorption. 

It's essential to note that anti-nutrients are not universally harmful and often come with health benefits. For instance, some polyphenols and antioxidants in foods like fruits and vegetables have anti-inflammatory and protective properties.