ANTINUTRIENTS & OUR FOOD
- February 29, 2016
We know that the nutrients found in plant foods can do wonders for our health, in multiple ways.
However, some plants have compounds that come in the way.1
Here’s understanding what ‘antinutrients’ are, as well as how we can stop them from blocking out the nutrients in our foods!
Antinutrients and Our Body
The food we eat is made up of carbs, proteins and fats. These are called macronutrients because we need them in large amounts.
The nutrients we need in tiny amounts – called micronutrients – comprise of vitamins, minerals and other compounds.
Antinutrients mainly block micronutrients, and only protein from the macronutrients group. They do so in one of two ways:
A] They bind to and prevent these nutrients from being absorbed by the body.
B] They block certain enzymes that are needed for digestion, which makes the food less digestible and causes indigestion, bloating, and gas.
Antinutrients are produced in plants as part of their defence mechanism, to protect themselves from predators – including humans. But several centuries ago, humans, through a neat trick called cooking, found a way to rid the food of its antinutrients.2
Today, we have an even a better understanding of the methods that are the most effective at getting rid of antinutrients.
Here’s a look at some foods that have antinutrients, along with the best method to cook them.1
Getting Rid of Antinutrients
Antinutrients can be reduced from our foods through simple methods such as heating, boiling, soaking, sprouting and fermenting. A combination of these has been proven to be most effective, almost completely eliminating antinutrients in some cases!3-7
Here’s a look at the most common ones:
Looking at this information, it’s easy to see a pattern: seeds, grains and legumes can be soaked, and plant foods can be boiled.
Raw Food versus Cooked Food
It’s a mistake to now assume that one should only stick to eating cooked food.
Raw seeds and vegetables also have many nutrients, which could get lost as we cook them – vitamin C is a classic example.
The best solution? Eat a balanced diet, with a variety of cooked veggies, so that eating foods raw won’t cause any issues.
Whole Grains and Antinutrients
Many people try and avoid whole grains, using the antinutrients argument, and opt for refined grains instead.
But here’s why whole grains shouldn’t be completely avoided:
1] The fibre and phytonutrients (plant pigments) found in whole grains have several benefits on our cholesterol levels, and our gut health, which in turn affects a bunch of metabolic processes in our body.
2] Due to their unwanted effect on our blood glucose levels, refined grains have been linked with increasing the risk of all sorts of lifestyle diseases like diabetes.12
3] The health benefits of whole grains surpass the drawbacks, especially when soaking and cooking methods (which have inherently been a part of Indian cooking for generations) can get rid of some of the antinutrients.
After all, if we were to avoid all foods that contain antinutrients, there wouldn’t be much left to eat, considering all the food groups that have them!
As long as we keep the abovementioned cooking methods in mind, we can still get the benefit of all the nutrients in our foods, without completely cutting out certain foods.
Because when it comes to nutrition, balance, as always, is key.
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14. Henderson AJ, et al. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal 2012, 3(5): 643-653.