Nutrients nourish plants and animals to grow and live; anti-nutrients can block the absorption of nutrients. Anti-nutritional factors such as trypsin inhibitors, phytic acid, and cyanogen are as important as any edible plant part’s nutritional content. They are generated in natural food substances by the normal metabolism of species.
Anti-nutrients are substances found in certain foods that can interfere with absorbing essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Some common anti-nutrients include phytates, lectins, and tannins.
Phytates, which are found in whole grains, legumes, and nuts, can bind to minerals such as iron, zinc, and calcium, making them less available for absorption by the body.
Lectins, found in some plant-based foods such as beans, lentils, and whole grains, can interfere with the absorption of carbohydrates and proteins and cause digestive discomfort.
Tannins, found in tea, wine, and some fruits, can bind to proteins and minerals, making them less available for absorption by the body.
While anti-nutrients can negatively affect nutrient absorption, it’s important to note that they also have beneficial properties. For example, phytates have antioxidant properties and may help protect against cancer and other diseases. Similarly, lectins have anti-inflammatory properties and may help regulate the immune system.
Therefore, it’s important to have a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, including those that contain anti-nutrients, to obtain all the necessary nutrients. Cooking and processing can also help reduce anti-nutrients levels in certain foods.
Glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)—can prevent iodine absorption, which may interfere with thyroid function and cause goiter.
Lectins in legumes (beans, peanuts, soybeans), and whole grains can interfere with calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc absorption.
Phytates (phytic acid) in whole grains, seeds, legumes, and nuts can decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
Saponins in legumes and whole grains—can interfere with normal nutrient absorption.
Tannins in tea and coffee legumes—can decrease iron absorption.
Anti-nutrients may also exert health benefits. Phytates, for example, have been found to lower cholesterol, slow digestion, and prevent sharp blood sugar increases. Many anti-nutrients have antioxidant and anticancer actions, so avoiding them entirely is not recommended.
It’s important to note that while some anti-nutrients have been found to have health benefits in laboratory and animal studies, further research is needed to determine their effects in humans. Additionally, anti-nutrients can negatively affect nutrient absorption and cause digestive discomfort, so it’s important to have a balanced diet and consume them in moderation.
Overall, the role of the anti-nutrients in human health is complex, and more research is needed to understand their effects fully. A balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods is recommended to ensure adequate nutrient intake and overall health.
Additional reading on nutrition and its impact on health:
Nutrition Facts – a guide to good health
Natural Solutions for Diabetes