10 Antinutrients to avoid
Due to the high potential for contributing to deficiencies and causing digestive distress for a high percentage of people, here are 10 antinutrients to try and eliminate from your diet as much as possible:
1. Phytic Acid (Also Called Phytate)
This is probably the most well-known antinutrient that’s found in grains and legumes and interferes with the absorption of minerals. Phytic acid can unfortunately lock up high percentages of phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc. Some research shows that up 80 percent of phosphorous found in high-phosphorus foods like pumpkin or sunflower seeds, along with 80 percent of zinc found in high-zinc foods like cashews and chickpeas, might be blocked by phytate. The same can be said for about 40 percent of magnesium-rich foods.
At the same time, it interferes with calcium and iron absorption, which raises the risk for problems like anemia (which emanates from an iron deficiency) and bone loss. On the other hand, eating foods rich in vitamin C, like leafy green vegetables or citrus fruits, can counteract phytate and increase iron absorption. And foods rich in vitamin A like sweet potatoes or berries can also help improve iron absorption.
Another very problematic component to phytic acid is that it inhibits certain essential digestive enzymes called amylase, trypsin and pepsin. Amaylase breaks down starch, while both pepsin and trypsin are needed to break down protein.
Known to be one of the most difficult-to-digest plant proteins, gluten is an enzyme inhibitor that has become notorious for causing gastrointestinal distress. Not only can gluten cause digestive problems, but it can contribute to leaky gut syndrome or autoimmune disease, allergic reactions, and cognitive problems as well. Gluten sensitivity is classified as a group of symptoms related to negative reactions to the gluten protein found in all wheat, rye and barley plants.
The severe form of gluten sensitivity, a true allergy to gluten, is celiac’s disease — but gluten can also cause other less severe symptoms in a much larger percentage of people, including joint pain, headaches, fatigue and poor memory.
Tannins are a type of enzyme inhibitor that prevent adequate digestion and can cause protein deficiency and gastrointestinal problems. Because we need enzymes to properly metabolize food and usher nutrients to our cells, molecules that inhibit enzymes can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation and other GI issues.
Similar to tannins, oxalates are found in the highest quantities in sesame seeds, soybeans, and black and brown varieties of millet. The presence of these antinutrients makes plant (especially legumes) proteins of “poor quality,” according to research done on absorbability of plant amino acids.
Lectins are found in high quantities in beans and wheat, which as mentioned earlier reduce nutrient absorption and can cause indigestion, bloating and gas for many people. One of the most nutritionally important features of plant lectins is their ability to survive digestion by the gastrointestinal tract, which means they can penetrate cells lining the digestive tract and cause a loss of gut epithelial cells, damage the membranes of the epithelium lining, interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption, stimulate shifts in the bacterial flora, and trigger autoimmune reactions.
Lectins can cause GI upset similar to classical food poisoning and immune responses like joint pain and rashes. Improperly prepared raw grains, dairy and legumes like peanuts, and soybeans have especially high lectin levels.
Similar to lectins, saponins affect the gastrointestinal lining, contributing to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disorders. They’re particularly resistant to digestion by humans and have the ability to enter the bloodstream and trigger immune responses.
7. Trypsin Inhibitors
Trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors are found in most grain-containing products, including cereals, porridge, breads and even baby foods. They seem to be degraded well by heat processing and cooking but can still cause problems like mineral deficiencies for young infants, children and anyone with reduced pancreatic function.
These are a type of polyphenolic antinutrient found in highest levels in soybeans that might cause hormonal changes and contribute to digestive issues. In smaller does and when beans have been properly prepared, this can also be beneficial, but it’s usually recommended to avoid soybeans because isoflavones are capable of exerting estrogen-like effects. For this reason, they’re classified as phytoestrogens and considered endocrine disruptors — plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity that might result in harmful changes in hormone levels.
Found in nightshade vegetables like eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, this is actually a beneficial antinutrient in most cases. But in high levels and in those sensitive to eating nightshades, it can cause “poisoning” and symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, headaches and dizziness.
Found in corn and plants of the Solanaceae family, including potatoes, for many people it’s capable of causing digestive issues, especially when uncooked and eaten in high amounts. It can be toxic to humans.
How can we avoid these dangerous compounds in our diets?
The best way possible to avoid any antinutrient is to simply cut out the foods and beverages that contain them. This is one of the biggest benefits to a paleo diet, it cuts out most of the worst antinutrient containing foods, namely grains. Check out our paleo recipe book, to uncover dozens of recipes that help you cut out dangerous antinutrients and get your health on track!