Plant anti-nutrients are compounds found in various plant foods that can interfere with the absorption or utilization of nutrients in the body. While plants are rich sources of essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they have evolved these anti-nutrients as a defense mechanism against predators, pests, and environmental threats. Some common plant anti-nutrients include:
Phytic acid (phytates): Found in seeds, nuts, and grains, phytic acid can bind to minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium, forming insoluble complexes that are difficult for the body to absorb. This can lead to mineral deficiencies if the diet is predominantly composed of foods high in phytic acid.
Oxalates: Present in foods like spinach, beets, and nuts, oxalates can bind to calcium and form crystals, contributing to the formation of kidney stones in susceptible individuals.
Tannins: Found in tea, coffee, and certain fruits, tannins can inhibit the absorption of iron and other minerals.
Protease inhibitors: Commonly found in legumes like soybeans, these compounds can interfere with protein digestion by inhibiting enzymes that break down proteins, potentially leading to reduced protein absorption.
Lectins: Found in many plants, lectins can interfere with the absorption of nutrients by binding to carbohydrates on the surface of cells in the digestive tract.
While plants contain these anti-nutrients as a natural defense mechanism, excessive consumption or improper preparation of certain plant foods can lead to negative effects on gut health. The main concerns related to plant anti-nutrients and gut health include:
Impaired nutrient absorption: Anti-nutrients can bind to essential minerals and reduce their absorption, potentially leading to deficiencies and related health issues.
Gastrointestinal irritation: Some anti-nutrients, particularly lectins, can cause irritation in the gastrointestinal tract and may contribute to inflammation.
Disruption of gut microbiota: Certain anti-nutrients may affect the balance of gut microbiota, influencing the composition and function of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.
What to do?
The best way to test how each plant affects your health is to begin with an elimination diet. Eat as clean of carnivore as possible for at least 2 weeks. Then re-introduce ONE food at a time. Some carnivore-ish foods you may need to test as well are eggs and dairy.