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We’ve likely all heard of the terms nutrients, anti-oxidants, or superfoods, but a term many people may not be familiar with is anti-nutrients. It might be surprising to hear, given that we’re taught about how nutrients are supposed to be nourishing and beneficial for our health, but not all nutrients are created equal.
Anti-nutrients are compounds found in foods that can block the absorption of other nutrients. Examples of these include:
Glucosinolates and goitrogens: can decrease iodine absorption (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts)
Phytates: can decrease iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium absorption (grains, seeds, legumes)
Oxalates: can decrease calcium absorption (green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, beets)
Lectins: can decrease calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc absorption (legumes, soybeans, grains)
Tannins: can decrease iron absorption (wine, coffee, legumes, tea)
Saponins: can decrease overall nutrient absorption (legumes, grains)
Anti-nutrients are present in many foods that are still considered to be part of a healthy diet, and therefore should not be excluded altogether. Instead, there are some methods you can use to minimize the effects and get the most out of your food. For things like glucosinolates, phytates, and lectins, soaking or boiling foods in their preparation and cooking can remove many of the anti-nutrients present. For other foods in which anti-nutrients cannot be removed or deactivated, being mindful of which foods you pair together in one meal can help minimize the amount of nutrient absorption blocked. If, for example, you are eating a salad containing green leafy vegetables, chopped beets, and topped with mixed nuts (all high in lectins), then save your food items high in calcium for another meal to ensure you’re absorbing as much as you can. Ultimately, it’s important to include a variety of nutrient-rich, whole foods in your diet, to cover the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals and optimize your health.