What They Are and What They Are Used For

Anti-nutrients: what are they?

The list of nutrients found on labels lists the vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates contained in a particular food. With them there are also anti-nutrients which, just like nutrients, are natural compounds which are mainly found in legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Some substances naturally present in many plant foods are defined as “anti-nutrients” – or anti-nutritional factors. They are produced by the plant, in which they perform various functions and are protective against mold, bacteria and predator attacks.

As the name suggests, from the prefix often understood as a negative connotation, anti-nutrients are exactly the opposite of nutrients. These are compounds that reduce absorption of the essential nutrients in the body and decrease the nutritional value of food.

Harmful or beneficial?

Anti-nutrients can prevent the absorption of calcium, iron and zinc, but are not of great concern to a healthy person. In fact, some anti-nutrients can be health benefits.

The adjective “antinutrients” has been attributed to them due to the fact that they can hinder the absorption of some nutrients, but in recent years, with the most recent scientific discoveries, this role has been significantly reduced. These substances are in fact not negative for health, but, on the contrary, they are beneficial and allow you to prevent and reduce the symptoms of many pathologies.


Fiber is anti-nutrient, contained in most plant foods. By performing the characterizing function of anti-nutrients, fiber reduces the assimilation of minerals and the appearance of intestinal problems linked to fermentation and gas formation.

Actually, Fiber is an essential component of the daily diet and should never be lacking in a healthy and balanced diet. The positive effects linked to fiber intake are multiple:


Tannins are antioxidant polyphenolic compounds commonly found in the tea, in wine and in some fruits such as pomegranate and berries. Although it is confirmed that they inhibit theabsorption of iron and zinc and also some vitamins, research published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition ha discovered that tannins have the potential to reduce the risk of some cancers and they can too strengthen the immune system.


Primarily found in whole grains, lectins can be toxic if consumed raw. But if cooked and processed correctly, they have therapeutic value such as supporting the immune system. It is a family of proteins found in almost all foods, especially in legumes and cereals. They bind to carbohydrates found in nature. All foods – both plant and animal – contain them. But overall, only 30% of the food we eat contains them in significant quantities.


Lignans are substances of natural origin that help maintain a healthy heart and strengthen the immune system. Contained in the woody tissues of plants, in cereals, especially rye, and in some vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries and berries), they are phenolic compounds formed by the union of phenylpropane molecules. Lignans are found mainly 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.


This anti-nutrient, found primarily in seeds, grains, beans and legumes, reduces the absorption of calcium, magnesium and zinc during digestion, thus decreasing its assimilation by the human organism.

There are recommendations on the use of vegetables containing phytates that allow this effect to be minimized (in particular the association with vitamin C), only in cases of actual iron deficiency. Even in these cases, it should still be considered that the human organism is able to increase the absorption of iron when necessary, without resorting to particular measures.

A simple solution to adopt to counteract the action of phytates on the body is soaking (which decreases the quantity of these anti-nutrients) whole grains and legumes and then cooking them with clean water for better digestibility.

I However, phytates also have many positive effects: they are antioxidants, anticancer, prevent theosteoporosisregulate i sugar levels in the blood, they prevent the formation of kidney stonesfacilitate the expulsion of potentially harmful heavy metals such as cadmium and lead.

Goitrogenic substances

Some vegetables contain goitrogenic substances, which interfere with the iodine metabolism decreasing thyroid function. These are mainly vegetables from the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family (including cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower). The substances responsible for this effect are called “isothiocyanates”.

However these vegetables are a real concentrate of health: in fact, isothiocyanates have an anti-tumor effect that is well documented in scientific literature.

Foods that contain anti-nutrients

Where are anti-nutrients found? In legumes, cereal grains, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts. To neutralize them it is essential to subject foods to a simple treatment. For example, legumes should be soaked in plenty of water after careful washing, for a period ranging from 8 to 24 hours. Finally, you need to rinse beans or lentils under running water and proceed with cooking. Finally, anti-nutrients can also be found in walnuts, almonds and peanuts.


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