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How to Reduce Antinutrients in Foods 

Once you’ve learned what antinutrients are, the next step is to learn how to reduce antinutrients in your food

Some of the healthiest foods have antinutrients. But we can make them friendlier to our bodies by using the right cooking techniques

Interestingly enough, a lot of these preparation methods have been done for centuries in traditional cultures. (I’ve always wondered what the correlation is between quitting these ancient preparation techniques and food sensitivities.)

fermented cabbage and carrots

In my early 20s, I was really ill and had six autoimmune diseases. I had chronic pain, chronic fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, high blood sugar, hypothyroidism, and more. I was so miserable, but I was hesitant to trust conventional medicine after some severe medical trauma.  

I was trying to address my health problems naturally because I was scared to go on immunosuppressants. Because my case was so severe, my doctor didn’t want to do an elimination diet. Instead, we did food sensitivity testing, and it showed that I had over 50

50 food sensitivities!

I knew that I didn’t want to have my diet that limited forever

Initially, I tried to reintroduce some of the foods after six months without success, and then again after a year. 

About five years later, I did some allergy treatments and the practitioner told me that the best way to keep my immune system from reacting to foods was to not only buy the least inflammatory forms like organic and without gut-irritating additives, but to also use cooking methods to reduce the antinutrients in foods.

I realized that the key to unlocking my more diverse diet would be using the proper preparation and cooking techniques. 

Many of these antinutrients serve good purposes for the plants. Many are defense mechanisms against pesky insects, fungi, or even diseases.

However, if foods are not prepared correctly or are ingested in large amounts, the mild hormesis (challenge to our bodies) like antioxidants and other plant compounds, can turn harmful.

Why to Reduce Antinutrients in Your Food 

The main reason why I suggest you try some of these ways to reduce antinutrients in your food is so that you can enjoy a wonderful variety without issues

By using the cooking methods I describe next, we can increase the digestibility of our foods and decrease the harm caused by them

Remember, we want to consider how we can get the biggest variety of food into our diets with the least amount of inflammation.

With my family, I encourage them to eat the rainbow and play plant point games. 

spinach

So what’s the best way to get all of these phytonutrients? We want to make the array of vitamins and minerals in foods as available as possible for our bodies to absorb.

In my own health journey, learning how to reduce antinutrients in food helped me tolerate more diversity more quickly.

However, not all antinutrients need to be avoided or reduced.

For example, in isolated studies, tannins may block iron absorption but overall they are an important and valuable antioxidant. They are rich in polyphenols. So let’s be careful to not take a broad sweeping brush against all antinutrients. We just want to mitigate the most harmful ones or the specific ones that might be causing your symptoms. 

So let’s look at how to reduce antinutrients in foods

How to Reduce Antinutrients in Foods

The good news is that many antinutrients can be reduced with the proper preparation and cooking techniques

However, not all cooking methods are the same. Some studies show that microwave cooking is not enough to reduce antinutrients like lectins.

Similarly,  roasting nuts and legumes like peanuts and cashews (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) does not reduce oxalates. (Here’s Katie’s recipe for soaked and roasted crispy nuts.)

Let’s look at some of the effective techniques and which antinutrients they may help reduce.

 

crispy nuts

1. Soaking

Presoaking your food can help reduce multiple antinutrients.

You might remember from last month’s post that phytates, an antinutrient in many grains and seeds, can block your body from absorbing calcium, zinc, iron, and other important minerals. 

RELATED: Learn how to soak your grains here.

But soaking changes the phytates into phytic acid and makes it more likely that you’ll get the proper iron absorption. This is important for me because I’ve struggled with anemia (iron deficiency) on and off. 

Similarly, soaking foods like beans can help reduce lectins. Your own body uses lectins for cell communications. However, too many lectins can damage your gut wall and cause inflammation especially, when they leak into your bloodstream (aka Leaky Gut). 

I’ve made it part of my nightly kitchen routine after dinner to soak food overnight. This way they soak for at least 12 hours. 

I need visual cues to help me remember to do stuff like this so I will leave a bowl or two next to our AquaTru water filter.

Sometimes on the weekends, I’ll set out the next couple of days’ worth of beans and grains in their packages as a visual cue to help me remember to soak them. (If you don’t like the clutter on your counter, you could also set an alert on your phone to go off.)

Then, in the morning, I will strain the beans and cook them in an Instant Pot so they’re ready when we’re done with work. Just make sure your keep warm function is on. 

If you’re in a situation where you want to try soaking for more than 12 hours, you’ll need to change out the water. I’ve ruined a few batches of beans by letting them soak for too long.

sprouting grains

2. Rinsing 

Some believe an important step after pre-soaking is to also give the food a good rinse before you cook it. While there is not as much data on this, I do it because it’s easy and likely helpful. 

For instance, after I soak rice overnight, I’ll give it a good rinse in my mesh strainer before I boil it. I do the same with our beans.

3. Sprouting

The germination process helps reduce lectins

After I soak my beans for about 12 hours, sometimes I sprout them. However, you have to rinse them repeatedly and it can be pretty time-consuming. I’ll do this for beans that aren’t available as sprouted in stores, like green and yellow split peas and garbanzo beans/chickpeas. 

I’ve tried doing this myself but the timing has to be exact or else you can end up with moldy seeds.

To be gentle with myself, for convenience’s sake I typically buy sprouted foods like:

  • Nuts and seeds
    • Pumpkin seeds
    • Cashews
    • Almonds (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!)
    • Walnuts (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!)
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa

I’ve even seen sprouted corn and spelt. 

My favorite source is to buy sprouted products from Thrive Market. You can check out Katie’s review of that here. 

Butternut Squash

4. Peeling

You can reduce the antinutrients you consume while still getting the benefits from a lot of foods if you peel them.

For example, while most apples are high in salicylates, you can peel the green golden delicious apples for a lower salicylate option. Peeling pears reduces salicylates as well. 

Similarly, lectins tend to be concentrated in the skins of foods. (And in some cases also the seeds, so be sure to also scoop those out.) 

If you’re trying to reduce your lectin intake, you can try peeling:

  • Cucumbers
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peaches

I like to peel some foods before I cook them, and other foods I’ll peel after cooking. Tomatoes peel a lot easier if you boil them for a couple of minutes first. For squash, I like to scoop the flesh out after pressure cooking them in lieu of peeling to remove the skin. 

Instant Pot on the counter

5. Pressure Cooking 

Pressure-cooking foods covered with water can help reduce oxalates and lectins

My Instant Pot is my favorite household appliance. It’s great for pressure cooking without the need to monitor and adjust the heat like with a traditional stovetop pressure cooker. It’s the only appliance that stays out on my counter all the time. 

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After pre-soaking and rinsing our beans and rice, I pressure cook them

I also will pressure cook a lot of the high oxalate vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes

One of the easiest ways to make a one-pot dish is to put a vegetable like carrots in the bottom of my Instant Pot covered with water and then use a metal trivet to set the meat on above. This way the water absorbs a lot of the oxalates and they don’t end up in the meat.

If you don’t have an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, you can still boil your foods to reduce the anti-nutrients

6. Boiling (and Discarding the Water) 

You can reduce the antinutrients in some of your foods by boiling them and then throwing out the water

For example, boiling carrots and then discarding the water reduces the amount of oxalates.

Remember, too many oxalates in your food may inhibit calcium absorption and can also lead to kidney stone formation. It may also lead to other issues like interstitial cystitis (bladder irritation). 

Steaming does reduce oxalates some, but boiling is more effective if you are struggling with an oxalate-related condition. 

In my own journey of reducing antinutrients, I began by buying dry beans instead of canned. Then, I’d soak and boil them, but I still got an upset stomach. But once I started using my Instant Pot, I didn’t have this issue anymore. I suspect I wasn’t boiling them for long enough.

 

My finished fermented vegetables - an experiment I will repeat for sure!

7. Fermenting 

Fermenting can help reduce these antinutrients:

  • Lectins 
  • Oxalates
  • Glutens 
  • Phytoestrogens 

For example, many fermented vegetables contain bacterial species like oxalobacter formigenes that essentially eat oxalates and process them in your digestive tract

Sourdough breads ferment wheat which makes it easier to digest for some. In the same way, many Asian cultures ferment soybeans before eating them. This helps reduce the phytoestrogens.

8. Pairing 

While this last one doesn’t necessarily reduce the antinutrients, it can help reduce their negative effects on your body

Some antinutrients aren’t as harmful if you pair them with the right foods. I find that I do a lot better with small amounts of oxalates if I have a big serving of dairy with it.

This is because oxalates bind with calcium. This decreases the sharpness of the oxalate compounds.

If you suspect that you are sensitive to dairy and oxalates, I’d highly recommend doing NAET allergy treatments. They helped me reverse my casein intolerance, which is a reaction to the protein in milk. (The lactose-free dairy products never worked for me.)

Note: If you have calcium oxalate kidney stones or another oxalate-related condition, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about calcium, potassium, and magnesium supplementation because they’ve been shown to decrease the risk of kidney stones

Because we get beets in our CSA box, I boil them and then always serve them with butter.

In the same way, pairing phytates with foods high in vitamin C may help reduce mineral deficiencies associated with phytic acid. So go ahead and put a generous serving of fruit on top of your cereal or toast.

If you are struggling with salicylate intolerance, you may find it helpful to slowly increase your sulfur intake with cruciferous vegetables like

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts

You may even try pairing lower salicylate food with a higher sulfur food to mitigate the negative effects. 

heads of broccoli on a white plank table

9. Replacing not Eliminating

For antinutrients that don’t reduce from cooking methods, consider what swaps you can make instead of just cutting foods from your diet. I have to give credit for this idea to functional naturopath Beth O’Hara. Watch Katie interview her here. 

For example, after I went low oxalate, instead of cutting out most green leafy vegetables, I had to be intentional about replacing high oxalate spinach with a lower oxalate of arugula or butter lettuce. 

This mindset shift helped me to not feel deprived. 

Summary of How to Reduce Antinutrients

Here are some of the most effective ways to reduce common antinutrients

  • Lectins –  soaking, sprouting, pressure cooking, boiling, fermenting 
  • Oxalates – pressure cooking, boiling, fermenting, pairing
  • Phytates  – soaking, sprouting, germinating, fermenting, pairing
  • Salicylates – peeling 

For those with salicylates, it tends to be a more severe food intolerance. You’ll need to work with a practitioner to navigate what’s best for you. 

Overall, If you’re struggling with a chronic health condition that you believe is related to your food intake, talk to your practitioner about which antinutrients might be affecting you. If they medically gaslight you and say that food doesn’t impact you, I highly suggest finding a functional medicine practitioner who may be better equipped to address food-related conditions. 

Then pick out one baby step to start with. Maybe you’ll start soaking your beans overnight or you’ll begin peeling some of your vegetables. Keep track to see if you notice any difference in how you feel afterward. 

Have you tried reducing your antinutrients? Has it helped you? Share your experience in the comments below! 

Sources 

Adeparusi E. O. (2001). Effect of processing on the nutrients and anti-nutrients of lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) flour. Die Nahrung, 45(2), 94–96. https://doi.org/10.1002/1521-3803(20010401)45:2<94::AID-FOOD94>3.0.CO;2-E 

 Chai W., Liebman M. Oxalate content of legumes, nuts, and grain-based flours. J. Food Compos. Anal. 2005;18:723–729. https://doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.jfca.2004.07.001 

Cuadrado C., Hajos G., Burbano C., Pedrosa M.M., Ayet G., Muzquiz M., Pusztai A., Gelencser E. Effect of Natural Fermentation on the Lectin of Lentils Measured by Immunological Methods. Food Agric. Immunol. 2002;14:41–49. https://doi.org/10.1080%2F09540100220137655 

Hallberg L., Brune M., Rossander L. Iron absorption in man: Ascorbic acid and dose-dependent inhibition by phytate. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1989;49:140–144. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/49.1.140. https://doi.org/10.1093%2Fajcn%2F49.1.140 

Hernández-Infante, M., Sousa, V., Montalvo, I., & Tena, E. (1998). Impact of microwave heating on hemagglutinins, trypsin inhibitors and protein quality of selected legume seeds. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 52(3), 199. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1008033610737  

 Liu M., Nazzal L. Enteric hyperoxaluria. Curr. Opin. Nephrol. Hypertens. 2019;28:352–359. doi: 10.1097/MNH.0000000000000518. https://doi.org/10.1097%2FMNH.0000000000000518 

Petroski, W., & Minich, D. M. (2020). Is There Such a Thing as “Anti-Nutrients”? A Narrative Review of Perceived Problematic Plant Compounds. Nutrients, 12(10), 2929. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12102929

Paterson, J., Baxter, G., Lawrence, J., & Duthie, G. (2006). Is there a role for dietary salicylates in health?. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 65(1), 93–96. https://doi.org/10.1079/pns2005477 

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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