antinutrients, daily wisdom

Daily Wisdom: Don't Avoid Antinutrients

It's a myth that these compounds harm health-conscious eaters' diets.

Every athlete knows that education is a crucial part of performance. Sport and exercise research, insight from top trainers, science, and technology help you to better understand your body so you can craft a healthier lifestyle, workouts, and recovery plan.

In our daily news series, experts address some of the latest fitness research, nutrition, and health stories.

TODAY'S TOPIC: ANTINUTRIENTS AREN'T DANGEROUS

THE SCIENCE

Recently, antinutrients (substances found in foods that inhibit the absorption of carbs, proteins, and minerals) such as lectins have made waves in nutrition circles as something fit bodies should avoid. However, many experts disagree, saying they're important for a well-balanced diet and supporting athletic performance.

EXPERT INSIGHT

While there are dozens of antinutrients, some common ones are phytates (found in grains) and enzyme inhibitors (which show up in legumes), says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. Phytates reduce the absorption of proteins, carbs, and minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium. Similarly, enzyme inhibitors (like those aforementioned lectins) affect protein digestion. 

But if you like chickpeas, lentils, and whole grain toast, you don’t have to give them up. “Foods rich in antinutrients are loaded with minerals, antioxidants, protein, and fiber, so given the net effect you still come out on top,” says Samantha Heller, MS, RDN, a clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone in New York City. “It’s rare someone would eat a diet so high in a particular food that they’d become mineral deficient because of antinutrients,” says Heller. Thus, as long as you’re eating variety in your diet, you’re in the clear. “There is no scientific evidence that eating a more plant-based diet will create deficiencies,” she adds.

Nutrition experts are generally preaching to eat more plant-based foods including whole grains and legumes, not less, since these are consistently linked to a lower risk of diseases across the board, notes Palmer. These foods are also rich sources of fiber, a nutrient (which was once also considered an antinutrient) that’s linked to weight loss, and one that most people fall short on.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Continue to eat a wide range of plant-based foods including whole grains and legumes. Modern methods of processing these foods, including cooking, soaking, and sprouting decreases the content of antinutrients, Palmer points out, so you’re already eating less than you might think. Plants have thousands of compounds, many of which aren’t even identified, and it’s the total package that makes them so good for you—antinutrients and all.