December 29, 2020 2 min read
Anti-nutrients are natural or synthetic compounds found in certain foods that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. For the most part, the body’s ability to absorb and use essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals are believed to be compromised when anti-nutrients are consumed. This bears the potential for nutritional deficiencies a well as conditions related to gut health.
Phytic acid, also known as phytate, is perhaps the most well-known of all anti-nutrients and has raised the most debate. It is a substance found in many types of plant foods such as grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. In the case of whole grains, phytic acid is found predominantly in the bran while in seeds and legumes, it resides almost entirely in the endosperm. Phytic acid has the ability to bind various essential minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium in the digestive tract and inhibit their proper absorption by the body.
Saponins are found in a variety of plant sources ranging from legumes to nightshade vegetables and seeds like quinoa. They are characterized by their soap-like quality to create foam in water. Saponins contribute largely to the foam that rises to the top of the pot when beans and chickpeas are cooked. Ingestion of these anti-nutrients can lead to saponins binding with cholesterol causing a leaky gut or increased inflammation in the digestive tract
These anti-nutrients are found in grains and beans. Lectins are considered harmful as they can affect digestion by damaging the lining of the intestines causing leaky gut disorder. This condition allows for anti-nutrients to leak into the bloodstream giving rise to autoimmune disorders.
Others like phytoestrogens found in soy products can impact female fertility, hormonal imbalances, and thyroid function. Protease inhibitors are found in beans, grains, and nuts along with certain fruits and veggies and can interfere with protein breakdown. Despite their ability to affect mineral absorption, the content of most anti-nutrients can be minimized by different culinary processes such as cooking, soaking, germination, and fermentation of the foods which contain them. To learn more about how to soak to remove anti-nutrients, read our blog Why Soak Grains Before Cooking?
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