Are antinutrients really harmful? Separating fact from fiction

In the world of nutrition, the term “antinutrients” has garnered both attention and apprehension. 

With a growing emphasis on health-conscious eating, conflicting information surrounding these compounds has led to confusion among consumers and health enthusiasts alike. 

Are antinutrients truly harmful, or do they possess hidden benefits that have been overlooked?

In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the world of antinutrients, aiming to separate fact from fiction and provide a science-based understanding of their role in our diets.

What are the types of anti-nutrients in food?

Antinutrients are natural compounds present in various plant-based foods that may interfere with nutrient absorption or utilization [1]. 

While the term “antinutrient” might evoke concerns about health implications, it’s essential to recognize that these compounds serve essential functions in plants’ defense mechanisms.

 Phytic acid (Phytates)

Found in grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, phytic acid binds to minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, forming phytate complexes that hinder their absorption.

While phytic acid can limit mineral bioavailability, it also exhibits antioxidant properties and may have potential health benefits when consumed in moderation.


Lectins are proteins present in beans, grains, nightshade vegetables, and some fruits. They have the ability to bind to carbohydrates, potentially interfering with the absorption of certain nutrients and causing digestive discomfort.

However, some lectins may also have immune-modulating properties and offer health benefits when consumed appropriately.


Oxalate (Oxalic acid)

Oxalates are found in leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and certain vegetables, such as spinach, rhubarb, and beets. 

They can combine with calcium to form calcium oxalate crystals, leading to the formation of kidney stones in susceptible individuals.


Tannins are polyphenolic compounds found in tea, coffee, wine, and certain fruits. They can inhibit the absorption of iron and proteins and might cause digestive discomfort in some individuals.

On the other hand, tannins also possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial when consumed in moderation.

Protease inhibitors

Protease inhibitors are present in legumes and some grains, and they can hinder the activity of digestive enzymes that break down proteins.

While protease inhibitors might reduce protein digestion, they may also exhibit anticancer and antiviral properties.

Are antinutrients really that bad for you?

The term “antinutrients” might initially suggest that these compounds are universally harmful to the body’s health. 

However, the reality is more nuanced, and their effects depend on various factors, including the amount consumed, individual health status, and overall dietary choices. 

The dual nature of antinutrients

Antinutrients exhibit a dual nature, with both pros and cons. While they can bind to certain minerals and inhibit their absorption, they may also offer health benefits when consumed in moderation. 

For instance, despite reducing mineral bioavailability, phytic acid demonstrates antioxidant properties that can protect cells from oxidative damage [2].

Antinutrients and gut health

The effects of antinutrients on gut health vary among individuals. Some people may experience digestive discomfort when consuming foods rich in certain antinutrients, such as lectins or oxalates. 

However, others may tolerate these compounds well, and their presence might even contribute to a healthier gut microbiome.

Antinutrients and nutrient bioavailability

While antinutrients can bind to minerals and reduce their absorption, they do not eliminate nutrient intake entirely. 

A well-rounded diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods can compensate for any potential reduction in mineral absorption caused by antinutrients.

Balancing antinutrient consumption

Consuming foods rich in antinutrients can be a part of a healthy diet when balanced with other nutrient-rich foods. 

Many traditional food preparation methods, such as soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and cooking, can help reduce antinutrient levels and improve nutrient bioavailability.

Individual sensitivities

People’s responses to antinutrients can vary widely. Some individuals may be more sensitive to certain antinutrients and experience adverse effects, while others may not notice any negative impacts.

What is the truth about antinutrients?

As the topic of antinutrients gains attention in the world of nutrition, several myths and misconceptions have emerged, leading to confusion and misinformation. 

Let’s debunk some of the most common myths and shed light on the facts surrounding antinutrients:

Myth 1: Antinutrients are toxic and harmful to health

Fact: While antinutrients can interfere with nutrient absorption, they are not toxic when consumed in moderation. 

Many antinutrient-rich foods are part of healthy diets worldwide and offer valuable nutrients and health benefits.

Myth 2: Antinutrients always lead to nutrient deficiencies

Fact: The impact of antinutrients on nutrient absorption varies among individuals and depends on overall dietary choices. 

A well-rounded diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods can compensate for any potential reduction in nutrient absorption caused by antinutrients.

Myth 3: Antinutrients cause chronic diseases

Fact: Antinutrients are not causative factors for chronic diseases on their own. Chronic diseases are multifactorial, and their development depends on various lifestyle factors, genetics, and overall dietary patterns.

Myth 4: Antinutrients should be eliminated from a vegan or vegetarian diet

Fact: Vegan and vegetarian diets can provide adequate nutrition, even antinutrients. 

By incorporating a diverse range of plant-based foods and employing food preparation methods that reduce antinutrient levels, these diets can be nutritionally complete.

Myth 5: Antinutrients are present only in unhealthy foods

Fact: Antinutrients are found in various plant-based foods, including nutrient-rich options like whole grains, nuts, and seeds. 

These foods offer valuable nutrients and health benefits, making them essential components of a balanced diet.

What does each antinutrient do to the body?

Antinutrients are naturally occurring compounds found in various everyday foods, including some nutrient-rich options. 

While these compounds may impact nutrient absorption and digestion, many of these foods also offer valuable health benefits. Let’s explore some everyday foods that contain antinutrients:


• Antinutrient: Phytic acid (phytates)

• Examples: Whole grains like wheat, rice, oats, and barley contain phytic acid in their bran layer. Phytic acid’s presence in grains is essential for the plant’s reproductive processes and acts as a natural defense mechanism.



• Antinutrients: Phytic acid (phytates), lectins, protease inhibitors

• Examples: Beans (e.g., kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas), lentils, and peanuts contain varying antinutrients. Soaking, sprouting, or cooking legumes can help reduce their antinutrient content.

Nuts and seeds

• Antinutrient: Phytic acid (phytates)

• Examples: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds contain phytic acid in their protective outer layers. Roasting or soaking nuts and seeds can help reduce phytic acid levels.

Leafy greens and vegetables

• Antinutrient: Oxalates (oxalic acid)

• Examples: Spinach, kale, beet greens, and rhubarb are rich in oxalates. Cooking or pairing these vegetables with calcium-rich foods can mitigate their effects on calcium absorption.

Tea and coffee

• Antinutrient: Tannins

• Examples: Tea leaves and coffee beans contain tannins, which can reduce iron absorption. Consuming tea or coffee with meals may affect iron absorption from plant-based foods.

Nightshade and vegetables

• Antinutrient: Lectins

• Examples: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes belong to the nightshade family and contain lectins. Cooking and peeling can reduce lectin levels in these vegetables.

Wholegrains and dairy

• Antinutrient: Protease Inhibitors [3]

• Examples: Some whole grains and certain dairy products contain protease inhibitors, which can hinder protein digestion. Cooking or fermenting these foods can help reduce protease inhibitor levels.

How do you deal with antinutrients?

While antinutrients are naturally present in many foods, there are practical strategies to minimize their impact and optimize nutrient absorption. 

By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you can make the most of the nutritional benefits offered by various foods. 

Here are some practical tips for dealing with antinutrients:

Diversify your diet

Consume a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods to ensure you get a range of essential nutrients. 

A diverse diet can help compensate for any potential nutrient absorption interference caused by antinutrients.

Food preparation method

Soak, sprout, ferment, or cook foods that contain antinutrients. These techniques can help reduce antinutrient levels and improve nutrient bioavailability.

Pair foods smartly

Combine foods containing antinutrients with those rich in nutrients that enhance absorption. 

For example, pairing foods high in vitamin C with iron-rich foods can enhance iron absorption.

Cooking with calcium

Cooking oxalate-rich vegetables with calcium-containing sources, such as dairy products or calcium-fortified foods, can help reduce the impact of oxalates on calcium absorption.

Choose plant-based foods wisely

If following a diet restricting certain antinutrient-rich foods, choose alternative nutrient sources to maintain a balanced diet. 

For instance, if avoiding grains, ensure adequate intake of other carbohydrate sources like fruits, vegetables, and tubers.

How does an athlete’s nutrition affect their performance?

For athletes, nutrition plays a critical role in supporting training, performance, and recovery [4]. 

The presence of antinutrients in certain foods has led to questions about their impact on athletic performance. 

Here’s an exploration of how antinutrients may influence athletes’ performance:

Mineral absorption

Concern: Antinutrients like phytic acid in grains and legumes can bind to minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, potentially reducing their absorption.

Consideration: Adequate mineral intake is crucial for athletes to support energy production, oxygen transport, muscle function, and bone health.

Protein digestion

Concern: Protease inhibitors in some whole grains and certain dairy products may hinder protein digestion.

Consideration: Protein is vital for muscle repair and growth, and athletes need sufficient protein to support their training demands. 

Gut health

Concern: Some athletes may be sensitive to antinutrients like lectins or oxalates, which can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Consideration: Ensuring gut health is essential for athletes to maximize nutrient absorption and support immune function

Carbohydrate intake

Consideration: Antinutrients are generally not a concern for carbohydrate-rich foods like fruits and starchy vegetables. 

Carbohydrates are essential for providing energy during exercise and replenishing glycogen stores after intense training.

Final takeaways

In the journey of exploring antinutrients, we have uncovered the multifaceted nature of these compounds and their impact on our diets and health. 

While antinutrients can hinder nutrient absorption and cause digestive concerns, it is essential to approach them with a balanced perspective. 

Antinutrients are a natural part of many plant-based foods and serve crucial roles in plants’ defense mechanisms. 

Understanding their presence and effects allows us to make informed dietary choices that align with our health and wellness goals.


What are antinutrients?

Antinutrients are naturally occurring compounds found in various plant-based foods, such as grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and certain vegetables.

Should I avoid foods with antinutrients?

Avoiding all foods with antinutrients is unnecessary and can lead to a restrictive diet. Many of these foods are nutrient-rich and provide valuable health benefits.

Is it safe to eat raw foods with antinutrients?

While some antinutrients are reduced by cooking, raw foods can still be safe and nutritious. However, individuals with specific sensitivities may prefer cooked or properly prepared versions of antinutrient-rich foods.


The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.