Foods like brown rice, grains, legumes and nuts have compounds called anti-nutrients. These anti-nutrients can inhibit nutrient absorption, damage your digestive lining, and cause an overall decrease in your health if consumed regularly.
Lectins are "binders". They are sticky molecules that bind to things in your digestive tract. For us this is an undesirable consequence. This stickiness allows lectins to bind to the villi (those millions of finger like things that line our intestines designed for nutrient absorption) in your small intestines.
This binding process causes intestinal damage, reduced absorption of micronutrients and proteins, but the biggest issue is the potential to lead to a leaky gut.
Your gut is designed to let certain proteins, vitamins, minerals, etc. pass through it's lining but also act as a gate keeper for other molecules like toxins or undesirable/undigested foods. A leaky gut means just like it sounds. Instead of protecting you from certain toxins, etc., your gut let's these substances leak through your intestinal lining and enter your blood stream...not good!
The body will then attack these unwanted molecules, substances, and everything that goes with it leading to the potential onset of autoimmune disorders.
So how do we avoid lectins?
Lectins are found in most foods but to largely varying degrees. For example grains, legumes, and nuts have increased levels of lectins whereas vegetables, fruits, and animals have lower levels of lectins present.
More specifically for grains lectins are found in the husk or "outer shell" if you will. This is one of the main reasons that white rice is healthier than brown rice. White rice has this husk removed and with it all of it's anti-nutrients.
The good news is that you can reduce the effect lectins have on your digestive system by soaking, sprouting, fermenting grains, legumes, and nuts. These processes assist in deactivating the harmful properties associated with lectins.
Phytic Acid (Phytates)
Similar to lectins, phytates are found in the husk of grains, but also found in legumes,nuts, tubers, and plants. However grains, legumes, and nuts are your worst offenders.
Phytates inhibit your bodies ability to absorb certain minerals. Specifically phosphorous, calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, copper.
Consuming 5-10mg of phyctic acid can reduce your iron absorption by 50%...yikes. Especially considering the fact that wheat contains 390mg-1100mg per 100g serving, wild rice contains 2200mg per 100g serving, and brazil nuts contain 290mg-6340mg per 100g serving!
Phytic acid will simply bind to these minerals in your digestive tract and you will excrete them instead of absorbing them.
This binding process of phytic acid to various minerals may prevent the formation of free radicals. Or another way of putting it, phytates may become an anti-oxidant.
Phytic acid may therefore help reduce ones chances of developing cancer, diabetes, cardio vascular disease by protecting your cells from free radical damage.
Probably seems a little tricky right? On one hand phytates are bad because they can reduce your ability to absorb minerals but on the other hand phytates can become an antioxidant of sorts and potentially help prevent degenerative disease.
Soaking, fermenting, sprouting, and cooking can reduce the negative effects of phytic acid while still allowing your body to receive the antioxidant benefits of the stuff. The problem however is that most of us (including the food industry) are simply to lazy to go through this process. I know I am!
You might have picked up on a few things while reading this? These anti-nutrients are present in large quantities in nuts. If grains and legumes are not necessarily healthy due to the anti-nutrients then what about nuts?
Yes that is absolutely true. But first you need to think quantity. Grains and legumes are fairly large staples in the North American diet. You might be eating 5-10 servings per day.
Nuts on the other hand are consumed in smaller quantities. You might have a small handful each day or perhaps only a few times each week? Thus lowering your exposure to some of these anti-nutrients.
The other thing to consider is pros vs. cons. Lets take wheat vs almonds for a moment. Wheat and almonds both contain lectins and phytates. They are also very common foods in the North American diet.
Does this mean that you should avoid both?...Not really.
Wheat does not have many benefits from a nutritional standpoint. It induces a large insulin response, contains lectin, phytates, oh and gluten, and while it does contain some micronutrients, it is in very small quantities.
Almonds on the other hand are a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, contain a little protein, is a great source of vitamin E, and although almonds contain lectins and phytates that "good" seems to outweigh the "bad"
So should you stop eating wheat...probably. Should you stop eating almonds...probably not.
Let's wrap this all up!
- Lectins are not good.
- Phytates can be bad and good (especially if prepared properly).
- Grains, legumes, and nuts are your worst offenders for these anti-nutrients.
- You need to consider if the pros to eating a certain food outweigh the anti-nutrient cons. If so then keep it in your diet, and if not consider removing it.
Live Your Best Life!