What are ‘antinutrients’ and how should they be consumed?

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While certain nutrients are a must-have in your diet, there are some that are called ‘antinutrients’ that can be counter-productive towards your health goals. What are these?

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According to nutritionist Bhakti Kapoor, antinutrients are essentially compounds found in food that “impair the digestion and absorption of protein, vitamins, and minerals”.

She took to Instagram to explain that while all foods contain nutrients, certain plant foods like grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes “contain compounds that act as a form of defense mechanism and help to protect the plant from infections or consumption by animals and insects”.

Examples of such foods

Kapoor wrote that there are three types of antinutrients, which are: lectins, oxalate and phytate.

* Lectins bind themselves to minerals and prevent their absorption. They can damage the gut wall as well. Examples include wheat, soybeans, beans, peanuts and tomatoes.

* Oxalates also bind themselves to minerals and prevent their absorption. They are likely responsible for the formation of kidney stones. Examples include spinach, rice, bran, rhubarb, almonds and wheat.

* Phytates bind themselves to minerals, too, and prevent their absorption. They, however, have many health benefits. Examples include, almonds, beans, nuts, corn, lentils and wheat.

So, does this mean one should not consume these foods?

Kapoor explained that although most plant foods contain antinutrients, “when properly prepared, they are safe to consume”. “In fact, some antinutrients have actually been shown to provide health benefits; phytates have been found to lower cholesterol, slow digestion, and prevent sharp rises in blood sugar,” she wrote.

The expert said that a food like spinach, which is consumed in many households, contains calcium and also oxalate, which “does not allow your body to absorb the calcium”. But, it is recommended to eat spinach after it is cooked, as opposed to having it raw, since the “cooking process breaks down up to 50 per cent of the oxalate”.

When it comes to lectins (gluten being a type), the nutritionist wrote that they can “play a big role in leaky gut and autoimmune disease”, and that lectins found in wheat are one of the biggest triggers for rheumatoid arthritis.

She also explained that tolerance for antinutrients varies from one person to another, and that while someone may “benefit tremendously from removing oxalate entirely from their diet, another individual might feel good [by] simply preparing oxalate foods properly”.

She concluded by saying that most antinutrients can be “removed” or “deactivated” by “soaking, sprouting, or boiling” them before consumption, and by also following some traditional methods of preparation like fermenting, which can increase their nutritional value, too.

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