We are becoming more and more aware of the importance of a healthy diet. So let’s take a closer look at antinutrients. These are substances that produce no positive effects, and can, in fact, be harmful to our health. As follows, we should find out what to avoid in our diet and how to counteract the negative influence of such foods.
What are antinutrients?
Antinutrients are compounds which occur in food and limit or prevent the absorption of nutrients in your body. Antinutrients include oxalates, glycosides, and saponins, which can be detrimental to health. Any product can have a different antinutrient content so you should know how to counteract it. Sometimes thermal processing or limiting consumption of a food is enough. Other times you need to completely eliminate a product from your diet. Antinutrients can occur in a product naturally or be caused by human interference. The latter usually stems from pollution and toxins in the environment where the crops are grown. Furthermore, antinutrients can also have the form of food additives used to enhance the taste or look of a product or extend its eat-by date. In this article, however, we focus on natural substances.
Oxalic acid is found in products such as dock, rhubarb, spinach, coffee, and tea. Its biggest flaw is that it inhibits the absorption of calcium and magnesium. Oxalates cause kidney stones, cardiovascular diseases, and arthritis. For these reasons, oxalates are not recommended for the elderly and people with joint problems. Keep in mind that eating oxalate foods sporadically is not dangerous. Dieticians recommend consuming no more than 40 mg oxalates per 24 hours.
When phytic acid enters the digestive system, it firmly binds certain elements. There, the acid limits the absorption of iron (even by half), copper, magnesium, calcium, and zinc. Legumes and grain are the main sources of phytates. The highest phytate content is found in the seed coat so whole grain products contain the most phytates. The safe maximum phytic acid consumption is 400 mg per 24 hours.
These compounds are found in cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, kohlrabi, savoy cabbage, brussels sprouts. Goitrogens disrupt the thyroid’s absorption of iodine and limit the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Goitrogens are volatile; they are destroyed by thermal processing and food preparation. In consequence, you can consume foods with these compounds. Still, people with thyroid disorders should be careful and cut down on this vegetable type.
I gave you but a few examples of antinutrients. There are many more of them. You should remember the following ones:
- Saponins – substances found in spinach, soy, beetroot, asparagus, and olives. They cause red blood cell breakdown and contribute to Vitamin D deficiencies. Saponin poisoning manifests as vomiting. Luckily, its content in food is low, and a balanced diet should be enough to prevent poisoning.
- Alkaloids – these compounds are found in the bulbs of sprouting potatoes. They can result in digestive disorders, such as stomachache, diarrhea, and vomiting.
- Trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors – their highest amounts are found in soy, pea, bean, and broad bean. These compound inhibit protein digestion and absorption. Moreover, their large quantities can trigger pancreas inflammation. These harmful substances stop being dangerous after thermal processing.
Reducing the effects of antinutrients
The mentioned compounds negatively affect our body but it is important to keep in mind that plants that contain them also contain other beneficial substances. As follows, we shouldn’t give up on the foods. However, you can take steps to lower their level of antinutrients. You should:
- soak legumes
- firstly, cook foods high in antinutrients
- peel vegetables and fruit
- avoid eating unripe foods
- eat a balanced and varied diet