Kate Weaver

Kate Weaver

Social media is a common source for information to spread quickly. The recent buzz has been the topic of antinutrients, with most of the posts claiming they should be avoided. So let’s talk about antinutrients: What are they and what do they do?

“Antinutrients” is commonly used as term to describe a variety of natural chemical compounds in plant-based foods, like lectins in beans, phytate in seeds and whole grain, and oxalate in spinach. What these compounds have in common is they will bind to certain nutrients in food or in the gut, making them more difficult for our bodies to absorb. An example of this is the oxalate in spinach binding to calcium, making it difficult to absorb.

This can make eating the foods that contain these compounds sound scary and almost toxic. It gives the impression that a person would be better off avoiding those foods because these compounds actively destroy or deplete nutrients stored in your body. This is actually not the case. These foods are still full of needed nutrients, and they do not completely prevent your body from absorbing other nutrients. The only time that someone needs to be genuinely concerned with antinutrients is if they are following a vegan or vegetarian diet. Even then, they just needs to be aware of certain combinations of foods.

Regardless of which diet a person is following, there are always ways to work around these antinutrients to promote the best possible absorption of other nutrients.

Consuming animal protein sources, including items such as cheese and eggs, will enhance zinc absorption from plant sources. Avoiding consuming high oxalate foods such as spinach, rhubarb, potatoes, beets or berries with calcium-rich foods can ensure that the body can absorb optimal amounts of calcium.

If you are worried about iron, a quick and easy way to increase absorption is to simply have a small glass of orange juice or other vitamin C-rich food with red meat, eggs, iron-fortified cereals or iron supplements.

The majority of the recent buzz surrounding antinutrients has triggered a common emotion we all experience: fear. However, there is no reason to fear the foods or even avoid them.

Put your mind at ease and continue to enjoy your favorite fruits and vegetables.

Kate Weaver is a clinical dietitian at DeTar Healthcare System.

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