A numbers of years ago, I was shopping at my favorite Minneapolis co-op when I picked up a package of sprouted wheat tortillas. While I did not know what “sprouted” meant at the time, I placed them in my cart because, well, my trusted grocery store was selling them. It was just recently that I came to understand that certain foods, largely grains and nuts, are sprouted in order to break down antinutrients.
When I first heard the word antinutrients, I pictured an evil army of tiny gremlins gobbling up all of my vitamin Bs and Ds while swooping up my calcium and iron. As it turns out, antinutrients are not all bad. As with most things, there is a yin and a yang to them. Here’s the scoop on antinutrients, to help you make more informed decisions about your diet.
So wait, what exactly are antinutrients?
In “10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life,” Dr. Axe defines antinutrients as “natural or synthetic compounds found in a variety of foods – especially grains, beans, legumes and nuts – that interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.” Antinutrients are not limited to these foods, though, as even spinach and chard contain antinutrients.
Are you now telling me NOT to spinach?!
(Are you fist-pumping right now? I think my niece is.) No, the research on antinutrients would not endorse skipping the spinach, or many other foods with antinutrients. The more I learn about nutrition, the more I find that it is so nuanced. As noted in the article “All About Antinutrients,” while antinutrients can prevent the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals — in addition to contributing to inflammation in the body – they can also have health benefits such as neutralizing free radical formation, supporting our immune systems and fighting off cancer cell formation.
Okay, so now what?
The blog Paleohacks emphasizes that if you are dealing with leaky gut, antinutrients will be more of a threat to your health, but by eating a diet rich in whole foods, you have much less to fear by way of antinutrients. If you are experiencing regular migraines, joint pain, irritable bowels, or asthma, it may be useful to do an elimination diet in order to find out if there is a food that your body is finding particularly offensive. In some cases, there are foods with antinutrients that some of us fair better without for good.
Now here is where that sprouting comes back in. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting are also ways to break down the barriers of antinutrients, thus reaping more of the benefits of the foods. Experience Life’s article “Smart Soaking and Sprouting” has a useful guide that will help you navigate this approach. I must mention that one of the best things I have ever offered my tastebuds is the Cinnamon Red Maca Sprouted Almond Butter from Farm to People.
While I might not have known about the reason at the time, it was actually a wise decision to purchase those sprouted wheat tortillas at my local co-op. So, this is the short of it. If you would like to read further on antinutrients, I also suggest a post from The Paleo Mom. Here, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne offers more about the science of antinutrients and grains.
Since becoming more informed about antinutrients, I have made some changes to my diet. I regularly eat kimchi, a spicy Korean dish of fermented cabbage, and I drink kombucha. I have done an elimination diet to clean out my gut and to do some detective work about how certain foods were making me feel. After finding that my systems function better without many grains, I largely abstain from foods with gluten, one of the more difficult for many people to digest. If I am going to eat grains, such as quinoa, I follow the guide noted above and soak the quinoa for at least two hours before cooking it. Some of these changes takes a bit more planning and prep, but, for my health, it’s worth it!