What are anti-nutrients?

Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds found in foods that interfere with our ability to absorb or use essential nutrients. They can be found in their highest concentrations in grains, beans, legumes and nuts. Still, they can also be found in leaves, roots and fruits of certain varieties of plants. In living plants, the compounds act as a natural defence; their antinutrients help repel pests, bugs and other predators, so the seeds can live on and reproduce.

This article will find the most common antinutrients, the problems they can cause and possible solutions.

Let’s get started

1. Phytic Acid (Also Called Phytate)

Found in:
Seeds, nuts, legumes and grains (Phytic acid is most concentrated in the bran of grains)

The problem: Phytic acid can block the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium, among others, reducing the nutrition you get from food. Also, it inhibits some essential digestive enzymes (amylase, trypsin and pepsin), which affect the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Amylase breaks down starch, and pepsin and trypsin are needed to break down protein. 


Sprouting and soaking seeds can break down antinutrients.

Soaking them in acid like lemon or vinegar reduces phytates, cooking them and draining the water.

2. Lectins

Found in:
Lectins are a class of proteins found in almost everything, but the plants that contain more lectins include grains, legumes, and nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant)

The problem: They can cause indigestion, bloating and gas for many people. Lectins can cause gastrointestinal upset, like food poisoning, immune responses, and joint pain.


Lectins are most potent when raw: boiling, stewing or soaking in water for several hours can render most lectins inactive.

By cooking, sprouting or fermenting foods that are high in lectins, you can quickly reduce their lectin content to negligible amounts

3. Oxalates (oxalic acid)

Found in:
Oxalic acid is an organic compound in many plants, such as leafy greens, kale and spinach, fruits, cocoa, nuts and seeds. Your body can produce oxalate on its own or obtain it from food. 

The problem: High-oxalate diets have been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones and other health problems. Consuming them in large amounts can also cause abdominal pain, muscle weakness, nausea, and diarrhoea. Oxalate can bind to minerals in the gut and prevent some from being absorbed, particularly when combined with fibre.


Oxalates can be reduced by cooking and draining the water or soaking in acid.

4. Gluten

Found in:
Gluten is a family of storage proteins naturally found in certain cereal grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye.

The problem: Gluten can cause intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and contribute to allergic reactions and cognitive issues. It can also cause other less severe symptoms, including joint pain, headaches, fatigue and poor memory. Gluten intolerance can cause many symptoms, including digestive problems, skin rashes, weight loss, headaches, and bone loss. (Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which a person’s immune system attacks their small intestine cells when ingesting gluten).

Solution: Depending on your gluten sensitivity, you could reduce consumption and opt for gluten-free (rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff, polenta and oats (make sure they are level as gluten-free) or eliminate it from the diet. Be aware that gluten is often hidden in many foods, such as soya sauce and decaf coffee, so always read the food label.

Bottom line:

Regularly consuming high amounts of antinutrients can significantly impact your health. But, of course, some people are more sensitive to antinutrients than others; it all depends on someone’s different reaction. But following a vegan or vegetarian diet is incredibly challenging since eating many of these foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition in extreme cases.

The key is focusing on your body and your responses to different foods so you can adapt your diet correctly!

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