What’s the deal with ‘anti-nutrients’?

Posted by Charlotte Miller on

One of our pet peeves is the hysteria promoted online and in some wellness communities around ‘anti-nutrients’. What are these scary sounding, party-pooping compounds and how can we avoid them!? Read on! (spoiler – you actually don’t need to avoid them).

Lectins, phytates and oxalates are naturally occurring compounds found in a variety of plant foods. They’ve been dubbed ‘anti-nutrients’ because of their ability to bind to other nutrients and reduce their absorbance in our gut. Basically, these guys can reduce the bioavailability of some nutrients in plant foods (or meals containing them).

For example, the phytates in nuts and seeds can mean the iron in these foods is harder to absorb than that found in animal based high iron foods. Another example is spinach – high in oxalates and calcium – meaning less available calcium for absorption. The scaremongers out there would have you think lectins in lentils and beans stick to the lining of our gut and cause all manner of problems down there. But there is VERY LITTLE scientific evidence to back up this claim.

What does our resident dietitian at We Feed You think?

Calm the farm and keep eating those veggies – as much colour and variety as possible

Lectins, phytates and oxalates may reduce your absorption of some nutrients, but this effect is unlikely to be significant – and they can also play a protective, antioxidant-like role in our bodies

Let’s get real here: If these ‘anti-nutrients’ are so dangerous, then how do we explain the overwhelming positive and protective effect shown in the literature by plant high plant based diets?!

The benefits of eating vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes far outweigh any small issues with nutrient binding.


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