Even if you know a lot about nutrients, you may not be as familiar with anti-nutrients, which I mentioned briefly in my recent article on nuts. These molecular compounds are part of plants' natural defense system against disease.

They work to protect the plant by repelling invading fungi, bacteria, and pests, which they do by bonding to the cell walls of these intruders. Unfortunately, when us humans consume these "anti-nutrients," they instead bind to other nutrients and micro-nutrients that we eat, making it more difficult for us to absorb them.

One commonly demonized example of an anti-nutrient is lectin, which is found in all plant foods but at particularly high levels in improperly prepared raw grains, dairy, and legumes. It can interfere with our ability to absorb calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

Other anti-nutrients include oxalates, which are found in certain kinds of tea and green leafy vegetables and can prevent the absorption of calcium; glucosinolates, which are present in cruciferous vegetables and can prevent the absorption of iodine; phytates, which can be found in whole grains, seeds, and legumes and can decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium; and tannins, which are present in tea, coffee, and legumes and can decrease iron absorption.

Some extremists have latched onto anti-nutrients as a scapegoat for a variety of human ills, from autoimmune disorders and leaky gut syndrome to heart disease and diabetes. However, most health authorities find this viewpoint alarmist, and the drastic measures these extremists suggest we take runs contrary to a lot of other common nutritional advice.

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For example, zealous anti-anti-nutrient evangelists would have us limiting our vegetable and fruit consumption, peeling all the plant foods we do eat and throwing out the seeds, swapping our brown rice for white, and choosing sweet potatoes over plain.

In any case, since anti-nutrients are found in basically all plant foods, removing them from your diet completely would be practically impossible, or at least quite unhealthy!

Their name has also been pointed out as somewhat overly negative. After all, many anti-nutrients have been found to have cancer-fighting and antioxidant properties as well as mineral-blocking ones. It's usually a mistake to focus on one worrying component of an otherwise healthy food while ignoring all of its benefits; if we listened every time some health authority warned us off of some food or other, I wonder if any of us would ever eat at all!

The general consensus is that anti nutrients can be dangerous, but only under specific conditions: for example, if you're eating a diet that consists of a very limited variety of foods, if you are a vegan or vegetarian who eats mostly grains and legumes, if you're an athlete who routinely carb-loads, or if you have certain medical conditions that put you at a high risk for diseases related to mineral deficiencies. In these cases, anti-nutrients could do you some real harm. You also may want to avoid oxalates in particular if you've ever had a calcium-oxalate kidney stone.

To reduce your anti-nutrient intake, you can try staying away from nuts, grains, and legumes in particular, which seem to have the largest concentrations of them. You could also try cooking more of your plant foods, but since cooking can also reduce a food's normal nutrients, experts recommend that you eat about half of your plant food raw and half cooked to get the best of both worlds.

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Food preparation methods that get rid of the most anti-nutrients include fermentation, boiling, sprouting, or soaking. Approaches that combine these techniques may be even more effective, removing up to 100 percent of the anti-nutrients in some foods.

You should also make an effort to drink tea and coffee between your meals rather than with them, and to take any supplements at a different time than you eat foods high in anti-nutrients to lessen the potential for interference.

The 123Diet's guidelines of sticking to only one vegetable per meal might also help prevent the many healthy foods we suggest from interfering with each other's benefits. Still, don't forget to take a multivitamin to make up for any nutrients that do get blocked along the way!

Sensitive individuals have also reported gastrointestinal symptoms and altered energy levels after consuming certain anti-nutrients, so if you notice one that triggers you personally, feel free to avoid it. You know your body best!

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