What Are Antinutrients?
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
When I first came across Dr. Gundry’s The Plant Paradox book, I was so fascinated and shocked at the same time. I’m going to explain why in a bit. But if antinutrients are compounds found in foods that interfere with the absorption of beneficial nutrients and minerals. Why don’t we talk about them more often?
What Do Antinutrients Do?
Antinutrients prevent the body from efficiently getting what it needs from food. Doctor Gundry’s believes humans, animals, and plants have evolved tremendously in order to survive. Plants in particular have developed the capacity to fight back and produce nutrient-destroying phytochemicals (compounds produced by plants) to protect themselves from being eaten and from extinction.
As Dave Asprey puts it: “This state-of-the-art defense system taught animals that overconsumption resulted in sickness and sometimes death. Animals either evolved to digest the antinutrient-rich plants, or they stopped eating them.”
Where Are Antinutrients Found?
Antinutrients are found in their highest concentrations in grains, beans, legumes and nuts, but can also be found in leaves, roots and fruits of certain varieties of plants.
Are All Antinutrients Bad ?
It’s impossible to avoid all antinutrients in plants, and trust me you won’t feel good if you cut out every single one from your diet. What you can do instead, is to avoid the ones that cause big holes in your gut or the ones that trigger an intolerance or sensitivity. Only by eliminating a food from your diet and reintroducing it later on you can determine whether a food is causing problems for you or not.
The 4 Main Antinutrients:
The famous gluten is a protein found in wheat, oats, barley and rye that can cause intestinal permeability (i.e. leaky gut). “The problem with gluten is that no human can digest it. It’s impossible to digest the gluten proteins that are in wheat, barley and rye,” certified chiropractic nutritionist Tom O’Bryan, author of “The Autoimmune Fix.” explained on a Bulletproof Radio podcast episode.
Gluten And Inflammation
Most of the population do not have celiac disease however they react negatively to gluten consumption and experience indigestion even if they are not aware of it. As a result indigestible substances that are moving freely in the digestive tract can be spotted as invaders and cause an immune response. The immune reaction can take the form of inflammation which is without a doubt the culprit behind our brain fog, digestive discomfort and compromised nutrient absorption.
Gluten-containing grains break down in the gut into opioid compounds called gluteomorphins that trigger the same brain receptors as opiate drugs like heroin. Gluten is hidden in places beyond the obvious sources; products like soy sauce, beer and even processed meats contain gluten that may be impacting your gut health negatively and compromise your performance.
Tips on How to Avoid Gluten
Substitute cassava flour for any wheat-based flours you may be using to avoid gluten
If you must drink alcohol, skip beer and reach for vodka or gin
Lectins are proteins that cause trouble in your digestive system by sticking to your intestinal wall and creating intestinal permeability. They adhere to the walls of your gut, preventing repair. The damage caused by lectins creates low-level inflammation in your GI tract. When you eat a lot of lectins, your gut wall develops holes, and its contents enter your bloodstream, causing leaky gut syndrome.
Where are Lectins Found?
There are thousands of varieties of lectins. They exist in most plant species but not all of them are toxic or cause intestinal damage. The most common sources of lectins include grains, legumes, and nightshades (vegetables like potatos, peppers and eggplants belong to this group). These plants contain drastically more lectins than other food sources do. The more you eat them, the more damage you cause to your body. Instead, concentrate on getting most of your nutrients from foods that come with low risk.
That said, lectin sensitivity varies widely person to person. You might be able to eat lectins morning, noon, and night, and never have a problem, while your friend can’t touch the stuff. You’ll know you have a problem with lectins if you experience inflammation, brain fog, migraines, stomach issues, acne or joint pain after eating a lectin-rich meal.
What Can Be Done About Lectin Antinutirents?
The lectins in nightshades, in particular, are a common autoimmune trigger and can cause sensitivities in a lot of people. To test yourself, fill up on a nightshade-heavy lunch made from tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Then monitor yourself and see how you feel afterward.
For the most part, you can kill or reduce the number of lectins in your food by cooking it first. In his new cookbook for busy families who want easy meals without the negative effects of lectins, Dr. Gundry a well known heart surgeon explains how different preparation methods can reduce lectin content, which minimizes the unwelcome effects of antinutrients.
It’s a good idea to experiment with different foods and preparations to see how your individual biology reacts.
Tips on How To Avoid Lectins:
Soak and pressure cook legumes changing the water multiple times to decrease lectins. (Please have in mind that this method may not be enough and effective for those with autoimmune problems or sensitive digestive tract.)
Choose white rice over brown rice, since the lectins are found in the hull
Try avoiding wheat, beans, quinoa, peas, peanuts, white potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants on a regular basis.
Sweet potatoes have drastically less lectin content than white potatoes
Swap in almond butter for peanut butter; the lectins in peanuts cause an inflammatory response in most people, and they’re not destroyed by heat.
3.Phytic Acid (Phytates)
Phytic acid, also known as phytates, blocks the absorption of important minerals like magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron, amongst others. Found in whole grains, nuts, soybeans, and seeds, phytic acid binds to these minerals, preventing their absorption, so you get little nutrition from the food.
How Do Phytates Affect The Body?
Phytate inhibits digestive enzymes pepsin, trypsin and amylase. Amylase is required for the breakdown of starch, while trypsin and pepsin are involved in the breakdown of protein. When those enzymes aren’t present in the right amounts, food doesn’t get processed properly, and your body misses out on key nutrients.
Your body can handle some amount of phytates, but it’s a good idea to eliminate the main sources so your minerals will be absorbed. Besides, removing them from your diet completely would be impossible.
To build muscle or burn fat, your body needs a certain amount of protein or carbohydrates. However, that amount largely depends on how healthy your gut is. That’s because an optimized digestive system requires less food to fuel the body properly.
Phytic acid is most concentrated in the bran of grains, which is why Dr. Gundry ranks white rice over brown rice. In legumes, phytic acid is found in the cotyledon inner layer, which is much harder to remove.
Cooking certain foods that are high in phytates and then draining the water or soaking them in an acid like lemon or vinegar reduces phytates. But many of the phytate containing grains and seeds are irritating to the gut even when cooked. Especially if you are dealing with an underlying gut problem or autoimmune disease.
Tips on How To Avoid Phytates:
Skip the canola or other seed oils; cook with avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), or butter
Avoid beans if they cause discomfort every time you eat them
Soak and pressure cook legumes and consume moderately
4.Oxalic Acid (Oxalates)
Dark leafy greens like Spinach and Kale may be causing more harm than good. Oxalic acid is an antinutrient compound in many plants, like raw cruciferous vegetables including kale, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, as well as chard, spinach, parsley, beets, black pepper, chocolate, nuts, berries and beans.
How Do Oxalates Affect The Body?
When oxalates bind to calcium in your blood, tiny, sharp oxalic acid crystals form. These crystals can be deposited anywhere in the body and cause muscle pain. When this happens in the kidneys, it causes kidney stones.
In sensitive people, even small amounts of oxalates cause burning in the eyes, ears, mouth, and throat. Consuming large amounts may cause abdominal pain, muscle weakness, nausea, and diarrhea. People who eat large quantities of raw vegetables may be particularly susceptible.
Just like phytates, you can reduce oxalates by cooking and draining the water. You can also by cooking in some kind of acid like lemon juice. Lastly if you add dietary magnesium and zinc to your diet, they bind to oxalic acid, and help with lowering oxalate absorption.
Tips on How To Avoid Oxalates:
Never add raw kale, spinach, or chard to salads or smoothies. Steam them first.
Add lemon juice and apple cider vinegar whenever you are consuming dark leafy greens
When seasoning meals, skip the black pepper to avoid oxalates.
If you’re already eating a diverse diet, you’re likely off the hook here. If you eat mostly or entirely plant foods, it’s easy to ensure that you’re not getting too many antinutrients. Sprouted or soaked grains, beans, nuts, and seeds can help reduce phytate content. You can buy these at the store, but it’s easy to sprout and soak at home too. Check out my article on the powerful benefits of sprouting.
For veggies with high antinutrient content, lightly steaming or sautéing can reduce antinutrient content, allowing for greater absorption. Cooking veggies can lower some nutrients, like vitamin C, so I recommends a 50/50 approach. Half of your veggies should be raw (if you can tolerate it), the other half cooked. Overall, if you’re eating a balanced, varied diet, you shouldn’t worry about antinutrients. Also check out this post on practical cooking and food preparation methods for better gut health.