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What are anti-nutrients and do we really need them?

Published on:19 January 2021, 20:50pm IST
When it comes to food, we know all about nutrients like carbs, protein, and vitamins. But did you know anti-nutrients also exist? And they are good for you.
Shreya Gupta
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anti-nutrients
Let’s discover more about anti-nutrients. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Pick up any packaged food and you’re bound to come across a nutrient list that declares the vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, and carbs it has. But have you seen the term “anti-nutrients” there? Let us rephrase: have you ever heard of anti-nutrients before?

You see, just like nutrients, anti-nutrients are also natural compounds mostly found in legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables and whole grains.

While these foods are considered some of the healthiest meal options out there, the prefix ‘anti’ might be worrying you right? Does that mean these foods are bad for you because they have anti-nutrients? Let’s find out! 

What are anti-nutrients?

As the name suggests, anti-nutrients are exactly the opposite of nutrients. These are compounds that reduce the absorption of these essential nutrients in your body and decreases the nutritious value of the food. 

Does this mean they are bad for you? Well not really. While anti-nutrients can prevent the absorption of calcium, iron, and zinc–they aren’t of major concern for a healthy person. In fact, some anti-nutrients can be beneficial for your health. Here are some to begin with:

1. Fibre

Yes, you read that right! Fibre is an anti-nutrient. You already know that fibre is essential for a smooth bowel movement. Moreover, fibre also decreases the absorption of carbohydrates in your body that helps in reducing glucose levels in the blood, which can actually benefit diabetics.

anti-nutrients
Fibre-rich foods are a must! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
2. Tannins

Tannins are antioxidants that are commonly found in tea, wine and some fruits such as pomegranate, and berries. Research published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition found that tannins have the potential to reduce the risk of certain cancers, and can also boost your immune system.

3. Lectins

Mostly found in whole grains, lectins can be toxic if eaten raw. But when cooked and processed properly, they have therapeutic value. According to a 2015 study, published in the journal Oncotarget, lectins can combat tumour growth and cancer.

4. Lignans

Lignans are mostly found in nuts, seeds and grains and have antioxidant properties. This antioxidant effect may benefit your health by reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

5. Phytates

This anti-nutrient, mainly found in seeds, grains, beans, and legumes, reduces the absorption of calcium, magnesium and zinc. However, a study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that phytates can reduce your risk of kidney stones. It can further lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Shreya Gupta Shreya Gupta

Finding nirvana in good food, Shreya also loves reading books and is a die-hard Potterhead. Confident and motivated she's fun to be with. Plus food. Always.