Antinutrients in Foods: How to Reduce Them

Medically reviewed article based on trusted sources

With the marketing focus on the benefits of food, harmful antinutrients in our diet have been forgotten and should be reduced. Although plant-based foods are trending, most people don’t realize that many plants contain hidden chemicals that can do more harm than good.

Contents: Antinutrients | Foods | Reduce | Avoid | Conclusion | FAQ

These natural compounds are antinutrients that prevent our nutrient uptake and plant toxins that are bad for us.

Like all living things, plants do not like to be eaten. Antinutrients have the task of protecting plants, sometimes from predators, such as insects and humans.

In this article, you will learn everything about the most critical antinutrients, which foods contain, and how to reduce them.

What Are Antinutrients?

Antinutrients are plant compounds reducing the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. They lower the bioavailability of proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Some of them are also toxic to humans. Finally, toxins are predominantly plant-based.

An incredible 99.99% of the pesticides in our diet are chemicals that plants produce to protect themselves.

Yes, plants don’t like to be eaten, either. They defend themselves against bacteria, fungi, insects, and other predators like humans.

For us comparatively large creatures, some effects do not occur as quickly as they do for insects or microorganisms, but with increased consumption over the years, antinutrients can harm humans.

Researchers estimate that humans consume 5,000 to 10,000 natural pesticides daily, some of which have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Surprisingly, carcinogen levels in many plants are also thousands of times higher than in artificial pesticides (Ames et al. 19901).

In nature, antinutrients and plant toxins occur in various forms and plants. Most hide in seeds and hulls of cereals, legumes, and oilseeds.

Here are the most common types of antinutrients that may harm humans:

1. Lectins

Lectins are large proteins that plants use to defend themselves against predators. In particular, cereals, pseudocereals, legumes, cucurbits, and nightshades contain lectins.

Primarily, plant toxins serve to repel pests and microorganisms (Dolan et al. 20102).

Accordingly, these toxins are often exceptionally high in pest-resistant plant cultivars (Macedo et al. 20153).

It was once common to place tomato bushes in front of the pantry. The many lectins in their skins can keep insects away and sometimes even paralyze them.

These antinutrients hide primarily in seeds, grains, leaves, rinds, and skins.

Lectins are sticky proteins because they bind to carbohydrates in predators’ bodies, such as humans.

Accordingly, lectins bind to sialic acid in the nerve endings of the gut and brain, inhibiting communication and causing brain disorders.

These sugar molecules are found in body fluids and blood vessel linings. Therefore, lectins can cause inflammation and toxic reactions (Freed 19994).

Although we usually cannot digest these antinutrients, they can sneak into the bloodstream through the gut.

They bind viruses and bacteria, helping them to cross the intestinal wall and reach organs (Dalla Pellegrina et al. 20095).

In addition, lectins can bind to insulin and leptin receptors, ultimately leading to weight gain (Shechter 19836).

According to recent studies, lectins can induce the formation of antibodies against healthy cells. Thus, lectins can cause autoimmune diseases (Saeki et al. 20147).

In addition to genetic conditions, lectins and the damage they cause to the intestinal wall are essential triggers of autoimmune diseases (Ferroli et al. 20128).

For example, these include rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

Furthermore, lectins from the gut can enter the brain via the vagus nerve and cause Parkinson’s disease (Zheng et al. 20169).

Bread contains antinutrients such as gluten and lectins

2. Gluten

Gluten is a particular type of lectin with toxic properties for gut cells (Köttgen et al. 198310).

You’ll find it in large amounts in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten makes up about 80% of the proteins in wheat.

Gluten-containing foods comprise a large part of today’s Western diet, with an estimated intake of about 5-20 grams per day (Biesiekierski et al. 201711).

Gluten is highly elastic, so it is primarily used in baking to hold the dough together and give bread and cakes the desired structure.

Gluten proteins also resist protease enzymes, which digest and break down proteins.

What makes gluten so harmful is that it triggers a process in the intestinal wall’s cells that destroy the proteins that hold it together (Sturgeon et al. 201612).

The result is a permeable intestine: the so-called leaky gut syndrome. Once gluten has overcome the intestinal lining, it promotes inflammation and type 2 and type 1 diabetes (Haupt-Jorgensen et al. 201813).

In combination with wheat germ agglutinin, a lectin found especially in whole grains, gluten can be particularly harmful.

Wheat germ agglutinin is a tiny protein that easily slips through holes in the intestinal wall that gluten causes. This way, bacteria and viruses, such as influenza, can reach organs (Dalla Pellegrina et al. 200914).

3. Phytates

Phytic acid prevents the absorption of iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and proteins (Sarkhel et al. 202215).

In nature, this antinutrient occurs in the form of phytate. Phytate is the salt of phytic acid, which serves plants as a storage form of phosphorus.

All edible seeds, grains, legumes, and nuts contain phytic acid. Roots and tubers can also contain significant amounts of phytic acid (Gibson et al. 201016).

Too much phytic acid from food can cause digestive and concentration problems and even bone loss.

However, the main disadvantage of foods containing phytic acid is decreased mineral and protein bioavailability from meals (Sarkhel et al. 202217).

For example, in a German study of vegan women, 42% of participants were iron deficient. The deficiency occurred even though they consumed more than the recommended daily iron requirement from fruits, vegetables, and grain products (Waldmann et al. 200418).

Phytic acid is the most significant factor for this reduced bioavailability (Hunt et al. 200319).

4. Oxalates

Oxalic acid is an antinutrient that can insolubly bind minerals and metals. It is found primarily in grains, legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables (Mitchell et al. 201920).

When oxalic acid is bound to sodium, potassium, and calcium ions, it is called oxalate. In the form of oxalates, oxalic acid is most commonly found in foods.

Calcium oxalate is a poorly soluble salt that can only be excreted slowly.

Excessive consumption of high oxalate foods leads to calcium oxalate stones forming in the urinary tract (Noonan et al. 199921).

When the kidneys can no longer excrete the amounts of calcium oxalate, the crystals begin to be deposited in various organ systems. Possible consequences are recurrent kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and chronic kidney disease (Shah et al. 202222).

Due to their toxic effect, 4 to 15 grams of oxalates can even be fatal (Noonan et al. 199923).

5. Saponins

Saponins are bitter-tasting antinutrients that occur naturally in plants. The Latin word sapo means soap. It is the namesake of saponins because they cause the lather when you soak kidney beans, for example.

You’ll find saponins in various plants’ flowers, leaves, stems, barks, seeds, and fruits. Most saponins hide in legumes, grains, and roots (Oleszek et al. 201924).

Because saponins are toxic in high concentrations, they are considered natural pesticides (Ames et al. 199025).

While they can kill insects by destroying their guts, they only cause nausea and diarrhea in humans (Cui et al. 201926Wen et al. 201527).

These antinutrients share another commonality with lectins: saponins can damage the gastrointestinal mucosa, contributing to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases (Johnson et a. 198628).

Because saponins can bind iron, zinc, proteins, and fats, they can limit nutrient absorption (Schoenlechner et al. 200829).

Due to this property, they can increase blood cholesterol levels (Ikewuchi et al. 201230).

6. Protease Inhibitors

Protease inhibitors inhibit enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract that break down proteins into amino acids. They inhibit the activity of trypsin, chymotrypsin, and other proteases (Adeyemo et al. 201331).

Trypsin inhibitors and chymotrypsin inhibitors are the most common protease inhibitors.

Protease inhibitors are among the most widely used antinutrients in the. You’ll find them in large amounts in legumes, such as chickpeas, soybeans, red kidney beans, and mung beans.

Cereals and cereal products also contain these enzyme inhibitors, but not in such high doses (Nikmaram et al. 201732).

Protease inhibitors lead to poor nutrient absorption, resulting in reduced growth. In addition, they cause digestive disorders resulting in enlargement of the pancreas and metabolic disturbances of sulfur and amino acid utilization (Adeyemo et al. 201333).

Lentils and chickpeas contain antinutrients such as protease inhibitors and oligosaccharides

7. Oligosaccharides

Oligosaccharides from the raffinose family (RFO) are soluble carbohydrates most abundant in plants after sucrose (table sugar), from which they are also synthesized.

You’ll find high amounts in soy, lentils, and chickpeas. Moreover, roots and tubers also contain RFOs.

Raffinose oligosaccharides have a probiotic effect that may benefit the intestinal microflora (Elango et al. 202234).

Because we lack appropriate enzymes, humans cannot digest RFOs. Researchers have linked the consumption of legumes to the likelihood of intestinal symptoms. The main symptoms of this are belching, abdominal pain, and flatulence (Reddy et al. 198435).

Daily consumption of raffinose oligosaccharides can impair the digestion of nutrients (Martínez-Villaluenga et al. 200836).

RFOs can reduce the usability of proteins and energy in general in the context of metabolism (Leske et al. 199537).

Studies have shown that removing raffinose oligosaccharides improves the digestion of all amino acids, thereby increasing the bioavailability of nutrients in lupin meal (Glencross et al. 200338).

8. Glycoalkaloids

Glycoalkaloids are neurotoxins, enzyme inhibitors, and cell membrane disruptors. They are also among the natural pesticides.

Solanine is the best-known glycoalkaloid in solanaceous plants such as potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers. You’ll also find it in other plants like apples, cherries, and sugar beets.

Potatoes are particularly rich in glycoalkaloids solanine and chaconine. Their shoots, skin, and eyes on the outside contain the highest concentrations.

Exceptionally high amounts of solanine are produced when potatoes are exposed to sunlight. Green potatoes contain up to seven times as much solanine (Dolan et al. 201039).

The green color results from the chlorophyll formation induced by sunlight exposure.

Even those concentrations of glycoalkaloids typically consumed when potatoes are eaten can promote intestinal inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, and leaky gut syndrome (Patel et al. 200240).

Tomatoes have a proprietary glycoalkaloid called tomatine that protects them from fungal attacks (Dolan et al. 201041).

Solanine, chaconine, and tomatine exert a saponin-like effect that injures cells, membranes-particularly in the intestine.

Since the glycoalkaloids in potatoes also directly affect the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain and, thus, the nervous system, they are toxic to humans.

Acute poisoning symptoms in humans include sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, drowsiness, apathy, confusion, weakness, visual disturbances, and fever.

In severe cases, paralysis, respiratory failure, heart failure, coma, and death may occur. Potato glycoalkaloids are considered lethal at doses of 3-6 mg per kg body weight and above (Schrenk et al. 202042).

9. Cyanoglycosides

Cyanogenic glycosides are plant toxins found in thousands of species of plants. Cassava, bamboo roots, sorghum millet, stone fruit, almonds, and flaxseed contain high concentrations.

The evolutionary reason plants developed them is their effectiveness against predators.

When you bite into a cherry, the glycosides in the cherry mix with an activating enzyme and form cyanides. These are toxic salts of prussic acid. Our bodies can detoxify small amounts of hydrogen cyanide, but higher doses can be fatal (Gleadow et al. 201443).

Consumption of cyanoglycosides can lead to acute poisoning characterized by growth retardation and neurological symptoms due to tissue damage in the central nervous system (Bolarinwa et al. 201644).

In tropical developing countries where cassava is a staple food, poisoning and neurological diseases such as specific paralysis symptoms are common.

Like bamboo, cassava root must be appropriately processed before it can be eaten. Otherwise, both foods can be toxic because of their cyanogenic glycosides.

10. Glucosinolates

Glucosinolates are goitrogens that can cause enlargement of the thyroid gland.

They are also called mustard oil glycosides and show us that even the supposedly healthiest plants in the world have chemicals to defend themselves against predators.

The pungent taste of foods such as horseradish, wasabi, and mustard is caused by various glucosinolates (Holland et al. 202145).

In addition, glucosinolates are found predominantly in the cruciferous family. These sulfur-containing foods include kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red cabbage, and cauliflower.

Glucosinolates are antinutrients that can interfere with the absorption of trace minerals.

However, their main disadvantage is that they can limit the absorption of iodine in such a way that this affects the synthesis of hormones in the thyroid gland.

According to studies, excessive consumption of kale and Brussels sprouts can interfere with the formation of thyroid hormones (Felker et al. 201646).

Consumption of cruciferous vegetables affects triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) levels, which can cause hypothyroidism (Abdul-Azziz et al. 201546).

Animals fed high glucosinolate have been found to have reduced growth, gastrointestinal irritation, goiter formation, anemia, and liver and kidney damage (Bischoff 201647).

In addition, recent studies suggest that higher intakes of glucosinolates are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes (Ma et al. 201848).

However, it must be mentioned that consumption of these sulfur-containing phytochemicals is associated with a reduced risk of various cancers (Wiseman et al. 200549).

11. Isoflavones

Isoflavones are polyphenols found in legumes, such as soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, and other fruits and nuts (Thrane et al. 201750).

Polyphenols are bioactive, mostly antioxidant, plant compounds. Isoflavones also constitute phytoestrogens because their structure is similar to the hormone estrogen.

Soybeans and soy products have the highest amounts of isoflavones (Bacciottini et al. 200751).

In addition, herbs such as red clover and alfalfa also contain high amounts.

Due to their structure, phytoestrogens can bind to the same receptors as estrogen (Desmawati et al. 201952).

Therefore, they are endocrine disruptors. However, they do not exert the same potent effects as estradiol, produced by the body.

At high estrogen levels, they exert an antiestrogenic effect. At low estrogen levels, they act as weak estrogen (Poluzzi et al. 201453).

Phytoestrogens may therefore have a beneficial effect on both estrogen-deficient and estrogen-dominant women.

Although many men are concerned about their fertility, a meta-analysis of 15 clinical trials concluded that isoflavones do not significantly affect testosterone levels in men (Hamilton-Reeves et al. 200954).

In contrary studies conducted in rats, it is questionable whether men could absorb the same concentrations of isoflavones from food (Bae et al. 201255).

Phytoestrogen supplements often contain soy isoflavones

More concerning is the goitrogenic effect of genistein, the essential soy isoflavone, found in newborns with iodine deficiency fed exclusively soy.

Soy isoflavones may also exacerbate hypothyroidism in iodine-deficient adults (Mendeley 200756).

Studies also show that soy protein diets promote the growth of estrogen-dependent tumors due to genistein (Allred et al. 200157).

Accordingly, a meta-analysis of breast cancer studies casts doubt on the safety of soy-based supplements (Enderlin et al. 200958).

Phytoestrogens need not be inherently unhealthy. However, most phytoestrogen supplements use only soy isoflavones, which can be harmful in several ways.

12. Tannins

Tannins are naturally occurring polyphenols that can combine with proteins and minerals.

They are found in seeds, bark, wood, leaves, and fruit peels. Tannins are primarily antinutrients because they inhibit the absorption of iron.

They are the bitter substances in red wine, tea, coffee, and chocolate. Tannins are responsible for the dry, scratchy feeling on the palate when drinking red wine.

In agriculture, some attempts have been made to reduce the tannin content of grains and legumes to improve iron absorption by consumers.

The tannin content of plants has been linked to resistance to insects, animals, and molds. Researchers believe these defense mechanisms could also lead to protective effects against cancer and cardiovascular disease derived from the antioxidant properties of tannin-rich foods.

Therefore, a dichotomy exists between tannins’ health benefits and drawbacks (Delimont et al. 201759).

However, not all tannins are equal, either. Some are thought by researchers to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, while others have adverse health effects.

Excessive consumption of tannins can affect digestion, leading to nausea in some people (Hussain et al. 201960).

13. Fiber

Yes, dietary fiber is also one of the antinutrients. Dietary fiber has an effect typical of antinutrients: it inhibits nutrient absorption.

Dietary fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates and can prevent some from being digested at all.

Thus, dietary fiber helps minimize increases in blood glucose and insulin (Chandalia et al. 200061).

For this reason, dietary fiber should not be mechanically separated from a plant, as in juicing.

However, this only applies to dietary fiber that occurs naturally in foods. Adding fiber to a highly processed protein bar will cause constipation at best.

Humans cannot digest dietary fiber and need to excrete them. Because it enormously increases stool volume, dietary fiber can cause and aggravate constipation (Ho et al. 201262Vanhauwaert et al. 201563).

One of the biggest nutrition myths is that we need this antinutrient for a healthy diet.

Natural fiber makes sense in natural whole foods because it prevents vast spikes in blood sugar. However, eating high amounts of fiber does not significantly benefit other foods consumed with them.

Instead, diets specifically high in fiber cause constipation and severe flatulence (Marthinsen et al. 198264).

Antinutrients Food List

Cereals, pseudocereals, legumes, oilseeds, and nightshade vegetables contain very high amounts of various antinutrients.

Nuts and tubers may also contain several antinutrients.

This list of antinutrient-rich foods includes foods that contain a variety of antinutrients or highly high concentrations, such as spinach (Petroski et al. 202065).

Because of their antinutrients, reducing the consumption of the following foods is advisable.

1. Cereals

Cereal products provide high amounts of antinutrients. For example, the supposedly healthy proteins often turn out to be gluten.

However, few people realize that whole-grain products have the highest amounts of antinutrients.

This fact is a crucial reason why the Japanese eat only polished white rice, are slim, and have the highest life expectancy in the world (Ikeda et al. 201166).

Polished white rice has the husk, bran, and germ removed. And that is where most of the antinutrients are found.

However, this does not mean that polished rice does not contain antinutrient factors, such as lectins, but the extents are usually lower in contrast to the following Western grain products:

  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt
  • Barley
  • Barley grass
  • Oats
  • Kamut
  • Corn
  • Popcorn
  • Rye
  • Wheat
  • Wheatgrass
  • Einkorn wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Bread
  • Flour
  • Pretzels
  • Beer
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Whole grain products
Cereals and pseudocereals are foods that contain antinutrients

2. Pseudocereals

Pseudocereals are grains not from the Poaceae family but are still used similarly. Actual grains are grasses.

These exotic seeds are best known to us as superfoods. Unfortunately, these foods are not as super as their marketing, as high amounts of antinutrients counter their potential benefits.

Cultures where pseudocereals are native, know how to reduce the antinutrients in them. Incas, for example, soak quinoa, ferment it, and cook it before eating it.

Without proper preparation, the following pseudocereals do more harm than good:

3. Legumes

Besides grains, legumes are the primary sources of antinutrients in our diet.

Soy is the food that contains the most different antinutrients. Soy contains lectins, phytates, oxalates, saponins, protease inhibitors, oligosaccharides, cyanogenic glycosides, isoflavones, tannins, and fiber.

We can also learn from the Japanese in this regard. They traditionally eat soy fermented, e.g., tempeh or miso, to reduce the health disadvantages (Morito et al. 201067).

In addition to the following foods, it is crucial to avoid vegan protein powders and other vegan supplements, which often combine the antinutrients of grains, pseudocereals, oilseeds, and legumes:

  • All beans and sprouts
  • Green beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Hummus
  • Peanuts
  • Edamame
  • Peas
  • Pea protein
  • Sweet peas
  • Soy
  • Soy protein
  • Structured vegetable protein

4. Fruits and Vegetables

Especially the fruits of the nightshade family are full of antinutrients. First and foremost are potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants, due to their potent lectins and glycoalkaloids. In addition, cucurbits and some other vegetables contain high amounts of antinutrients:

  • Eggplants
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Chili
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Goji berries
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Pumpkins

5. Seeds and Nuts

Seeds are that part of a plant that must ensure the species’ survival. Therefore, in addition to nutrients to thrive, they contain numerous antinutrients that protect them from predators on the one hand and from being digested on the other.

Here are the main kernels, seeds, and nuts with high amounts of plant toxins:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Linseed
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pine nuts
  • Cashew kernels
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
Seeds and nuts are foods rich in antinutrients

6. Seed Oils

Refined seed oils are full of antinutrients. Ultimately, they are the concentrated essence of the antinutrient-rich seed.

In addition to extreme lectin concentrations, industrial seed oils also contain high amounts of fragile omega-6 fatty acids, which oxidize during manufacturing due to high temperatures. Hence, they are not suitable for cooking.

For example, canola oil is heated, refined, bleached, and deodorized during production (Saleem et al. 201868).

Because of the increased risk of inflammation, diabetes, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disease, it is vital to steer clear of the following fats (Patterson et al. 201269):

  • Safflower oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Corn oil
  • Canola oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Grape seed oil
  • Partially hydrogenated oils
  • Margarine
  • Vegan butter

How to Reduce Antinutrients in Foods

Peeling, coring, soaking, sprouting, fermenting, boiling, and steaming can reduce antinutrients in foods.

Reducing plant toxins in foods is ingrained in many indigenous and Asian cultures. It may not always be evident in the Western world, but we have always had methods of making foods more digestible.

Traditional bread in southern Europe was once fermented for days to remove the bran and thus high levels of antinutrients. Whole grain products are much more a modern invention and a marketing coup, as they yield more with less effort.

Most likely, some methods to reduce antinutrients have fallen into oblivion as they are an extra step that takes time and reduces profit.

1. Peeling

Since the hull is the outermost protective layer of the seed, natural pesticides, such as lectins or glycoalkaloids, are found in it.

Indigenous peoples of the North American Southwest traditionally peel chilies, Croats skin peppers, and eggplants for ajvar, and Italians also peel tomatoes for tomato sauce.

Since these are nightshade plants, peeling is extremely useful. Their skins contain large amounts of lectins.

Peeling legumes can also be effective. Peeling faba beans can reduce oxalate content by up to 38%.

Tomatoes contain many lectins

2. Coring

The second obvious part containing numerous antinutrients is the seeds of the fruit. In most cases, these can also be removed quite easily.

Seed removal from peppers is as much a part of ajvar’s traditional preparation as it is of tomato sauce.

Like nightshade plants, cucurbits can also be peeled and seeded quite easily. In this way, they lose a significant part of their harmful lectins.

3. Soaking

Soaking can reduce antinutrients. However, in most cases, this method is only effective when combined with another, such as boiling, fermenting, and sprouting (Shi et al. 201870).

This way, you can reduce oxalate, phytate, and lectin content in legumes and grains (Noonan et al. 199971).

Soaking results vary widely and depend significantly on the crop. While protease inhibitors, tannins, and lectins in pigeon pea and cowpea can be significantly reduced by soaking, the method could hardly reduce the same antinutrients in kidney, soybean, and field bean (Onwuka 200672Dhurandhar et al. 199073Liu et al. 198774Sharma et al. 199275).

4. Sprouting

Germination means that the plant hatches from the seed. This natural process takes a few days. If you induce the process on purpose, it is called sprouting.

It can reduce antinutrients and increase the bioavailability of nutrients in seeds, grains, and legumes (Singh et al. 201576).

To induce germination, you must soak the cleaned seeds in cold water for 4-12 hours.

After that, you need to rinse the seeds and put them in a germination container (sprouter) that should not be in direct sunlight.

Sprouting works best if you wash and drain the seeds every 10 hours. Repeat the process three times. After that, germination is complete.

Soaking and sprouting can lower oxalic acid in soybeans (Noonan et al. 199977).

Also, sprouting reduced phytate content in beans, barley, and rye by 40-80% (Luo et al. 201278Centeno et al. 200179).

In addition, sprouting in soybeans seems to decrease the content of protease inhibitors and lectins slightly (Bau et al. 199980).

5. Fermentation

Fermentation is an ancient method that makes foods last longer. This natural process uses bacteria or yeast fungi to digest carbohydrates in food.

It is a natural process. that occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast begin to digest the carbohydrates in food.

Fermented foods include cheese, wine, coffee, cocoa, kimchi, miso, and soy sauce.

Organic acids produced during fermentation neutralize phytic acid. For example, prolonged sourdough fermentation can reduce phytates by up to 90% (Lopez et al. 200181).

The same method can reduce grains’ polyphenols, such as tannins (Singh et al. 201582).

Studies show that sourdough fermentation increases the bioavailability of magnesium, iron, and zinc compared to yeast fermentation in conventional bread (Lopez et al. 200383).

Similarly, fermentation of soaked whole beans leads to 88% phytic acid degradation after 48 hours (Gustaffson et al. 199584).

Traditional tempeh production from soybeans can reduce potentially toxic lectins by up to 95% through fermentation(Reddy et al. 199485).

Fermentation for more than 72 hours can even destroy most of the lectins in lentils (Cuadrado et al. 201086).

You can reduce antinutrients in soy through tempeh

6. Boiling

Boiling in water is a simple method to reduce antinutrients. Cooking in water works, although the effectiveness depends on the type of plant and antinutrient.

In general, longer boiling time results in a more significant reduction of antinutrients.

In lima beans, protease inhibitors, lectins, cyanogenic glycosides, and polyphenols have been successfully reduced by boiling (Egbe et al. 199087).

Boiling legumes, except for soybeans, can also significantly reduce their phytic acid content (Shi et al. 201888).

For other foods, boiling does not always reduce phytic acid as successfully (Schlemmer et al. 200989).

Combining it with other methods, such as soaking, is usually more effective.

Soaking soybeans for 24 hours and boiling 20 minutes can eliminate all protease inhibitors and reduce oligosaccharides (Liu et al. 198791).

Soaking for 12 hours and cooking for 80 minutes is most effective against antinutrients in pigeon peas and cowpeas.

This way, protease inhibitors, lectins, cyanogenic glycosides, alkaloids, and tannins were significantly reduced and, in some cases, eliminated (Onwuka 200692).

Prolonged cooking is generally the most effective method for reducing food oxalic acid. However, short blanching is less effective against oxalates than against tannins and phytic acid (Noonan et al. 199993).

The major disadvantage of boiling is that it removes water-soluble minerals from foods.

7. Pressure Cooking

Steam cooking in a pressure cooker is similarly effective against antinutrients as boiling in water, making it more effective than mere steaming or baking.

Many people like to use pressure cookers because it is the gentler cooking method. Nevertheless, minerals such as iron and calcium are also lost with this method.

In summary, steam pressure cooking effectively reduces protease inhibitors, phytic acid, tannins, and lectins in foods (Deol et al. 201094).

Foods Without Antinutrients

Animal products such as meat and fish do not contain antinutrients. Only dairy products and eggs may have antinutrient factors in some cases.

For eggs, this is limited to avidin as the only negligible factor. Avidin can exclusively bind vitamin B7 (biotin) and restrict its bioavailability (Poissonnier et al. 201495).

Northern European cows give milk containing A1 beta-casein instead of the protein A2 beta-casein. And this A1 beta-casein is converted into a lectin-like protein called beta-casomorphin during digestion.

The effects of beta-casomorphin are very similar to those of true lectins. Milk containing A1 beta-casein causes digestive problems, inflammation, and subtle cognitive impairment (Jianqin et al. 201696).

Fortunately, there are simple ways to avoid consuming A1 beta-casein. Dairy products from goats, sheep, or buffalos may not contain it.

Milk from southern European cows also does not contain A1 beta-casein. Unfortunately, we mainly use northern European cows for milk production, which have this genetic defect because they give more milk.

The solution is to reach for traditional dairy products from southern Italy, France, or Switzerland, such as Parmesan or Pecorino.

In summary, the most effective method against antinutrients is to avoid those foods that contain them in high quantities.

For this reason, the Carnivore Diet has gained enormous popularity in recent years.

It is the ultimate elimination diet that aims to avoid eating foods that contain antinutrients.

Because it prevents potentially harmful antinutrients and toxins from entering the body, people have successfully eliminated obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular, gut, and autoimmune diseases (Lennerz et al. 202197).

Moreover, offal, like the liver, contains the most nutrients. Because they have no antinutrients, we can also absorb more of the vitamins and minerals they contain than plant foods.

Conclusion

All plant foods contain antinutrients. This fact is a challenge to people who eat a predominantly plant-based diet, i.e., vegetarian or vegan.

Few people realize that the medially preached benefits of foods are often countered by antinutrient factors that nullify them or are even harmful. Ultimately, this knowledge is bad for business.

But like humans and other living things, plants have one primary goal: the continuation of their species.

That’s why they use toxins to protect themselves from predators such as fungi, insects, and humans.

The effects range from inflammation to hormonal disorders to severe autoimmune diseases that are not immediately obvious. They develop over the years.

Fortunately, it is easy to reduce the consumption of antinutrients.

Reduce your intake of grains, legumes, oilseeds, and nightshade vegetables, and bring more animal foods from pasture-raised sources into your diet.

If this is not possible for you for ethical reasons, there are still methods to reduce the antinutrient content in foods.

Soaking, sprouting, cooking, peeling, de-seeding, and fermenting can reduce antinutrients.

As demonstrated in Japan, fermentation has proven effective for foods with enormous antinutrient content, such as soy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What foods are high in antinutrients?

Grains, legumes, oilseed, and nightshades are high in various antinutrients.

What are examples of antinutrients?

Lectins, gluten, oxalates, and phytic acid are common antinutrients.

What are antinutrients in food?

Antinutrients are plant compounds inhibiting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

What are the effects of antinutrients in the body?

Most antinutrients inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Stephan is a writer and a true man of science, holding multiple diplomas and master's degrees in different research areas. His greatest passion is closing the gap between the conventional perception of health and the latest scientific evidence – always following the data.

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