Variety is one of the main keys to a healthy diet. The rationale behind this is simple enough: a varied approach makes for greater nutrient density. Meat, grains, fruits and vegetables all possess different nutrition profiles, but all are essential to good health. When it comes to food however, you are what you absorb. And the presence of anti-nutrients in your diet could very well hamper that.
No need to cry wolf
Well, maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. According to nutritionist Charlotte Mei, one shouldn’t need to worry too much about the presence of anti-nutrients. “They are present in the foods we eat but we’re still doing okay and not suffering from any detrimental nutrition deficiencies even after consuming them,” she says.
Furthermore, the so-called “danger” posed by anti-nutrients boils down to a matter of scale. For example, glucosinolate is a naturally-occurring compound found in cruciferous vegetables like kale. Aside from having a suppressive effect on the thyroid, it also affects its ability to process iodine into thyroid hormone. However, the fact is that glucosinolates are largely destroyed by the cooking process. Even if one were to consume kale raw, it would take a near-obscene amount of it (on a daily basis too) to pose a problem. And only if the person in question already suffering from an underlying thyroid disorder and iodine deficiency.
“I would say that it’s not necessary to think about anti-nutrients affecting our health status on a daily basis. It shouldn’t be a concern if one has a well-balanced diet including a variety of nutritious foods throughout the day. This way, one would have enough of these dietary minerals in their diet to offset any minor losses in nutrient absorption caused by anti-nutrients.”
“Anti” isn’t necessarily a bad thing
Scientifically speaking, the term “anti-nutrient” refers to any compound that reduces the body’s ability to absorb or use essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Some examples of anti-nutrients include: glucosinolates, lectins, oxalates, phytates, saponins and tannins. While the prospect of nutrient deprivation does sound scary, the truth is that there also health benefits associated with these anti-nutrients.
The same glucosinolates that interfere with iodine uptake are also responsible for giving kale its caner-fighting properties. Phytic acid, an ant-nutrient common in grains and legumes, may be helpful in lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It might be surprising to learn that these anti-nutrients are also known by another name – phytonutrients. These are the same highly celebrated health-boosting compounds that people associate with whole foods.
Being mindful is simple
Of course, that is not to say that we should pay no heed to anti-nutrients entirely. Certain groups of people would do well to minimise their intake of these compounds. “Populations who are at risk of diseases related to mineral deficiencies (anaemia with iron deficiency, osteoporosis, etc) may want to pay closer attention to their eating habits, or even consume more vitamin C-rich foods with meals that contain phytic acid to boost mineral absorption,” says Charlotte Mei.
Reducing the anti-nutrient count in your food is fairly easy. Steaming kale, broccoli and carrots can cut down on the level of glucosinloates and oxalic acid, while soaking brown rice has a similar effect in phytic acid levels. So as long as you’re not eating your food raw, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.