Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/asian-bag-brown-buy-color-2752/
Anti-nutrients are natural compounds that are commonly found in plant-based foods. Plants synthesize these metabolites for their defense against harmful pests and pathogens. These compounds are popularly known for their adverse effects such as interfering in the absorption of essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, in humans. Thus, they decrease the actual amount of nutritional benefit of the food ingested.
Most people may cringe at the thought of having “anti-nutrient” food. So, the most important question that needs clarification is – are all anti-nutrients bad? Researchers have explained that consumption of a balanced and varied diet mitigates the negative effects of anti-nutrients. More recently, scientists have started evaluating the health benefits of these compounds.
Consumption of a very high amount of anti-nutrients causes various health hazards. However, consumption in moderate amounts can lead to multiple health benefits. Recently, many anti-nutrients have been regarded as functional foods and health-promoting nutraceuticals owing to their numerous benefits. The following compounds are commonly consumed anti-nutrients that may have beneficial effects on health.
- Tannins: Tannins are polyphenolic biomolecules that are commonly present in many foods and beverages such as legumes, tea, wine, coffee, chocolates, nuts, etc. When taken in excess, they can reduce iron absorption. However, these biomolecules can easily bind with other proteins and minerals. They contain antioxidant properties. Researchers have also reported the medicinal attributes of this compound, i.e., it accelerates blood clotting, reduces blood cholesterol, and modulates immune responses. It also possesses anti-microbial properties.
- Saponins: These bioactive compounds are mostly present in legumes and are reported to inhibit normal absorption of nutrients in humans. However, owing to their hypoglycemic properties, they help to maintain the blood sugar levels within the normal range and prevent a spike in insulin. Saponins extracted from ginger also lower cholesterol. This phytoconstituent also reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease and chronic kidney disease.
- Lectins: This is a diverse family of carbohydrate-binding proteins found in most plants and animals. They are found in legumes, peanuts, and cereal grains. Lectins interfere with the absorption of zinc, iron, phosphorous and calcium. However, they are also associated with the lowering of risks of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. Lectins have also shown a positive effect in the treatment of various types of cancer.
- Phytase: This is a type of phosphatase enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of phytic acid. All seeds, wheat, rice, barley, legumes, and corn contain varying quantities of phytase. This compound inhibits the absorption of magnesium, zinc, calcium, and iron. However, they also promote immune response, and reduce the growth and spread of cancerous cells. They also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Scientists also believe that phytase may reduce the risks of colon cancer.
- Glucosinates: These are sulfur-containing compounds that are present in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc. This compound interferes with the absorption of iodine which may prevent proper functioning of the thyroid and, thereby, cause goiter. This compound also plays a prominent role in the inhibition of the growth of tumor cells. It also has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains containing these compounds should be included in the daily diet. A large number of anti-nutrients are naturally removed by the process of soaking, boiling, high-heat processing, etc.