The word “anti-nutrients” can be intimidating, but what you need to know is that they really are nothing to be afraid of because they often come in foods beneficial to skin health. You also need to know that with a few exceptions, you don’t need to stop eating a particular food because it contains an anti-nutrient.
The word “anti-nutrient” isn’t referring to something that’s completely devoid of nutrition, like a candy bar or sugary, fatty pastry. It just means that even the nutritional superstars like spinach, which is one of the most beneficial foods for skin, can also have a dark side.
Anti-nutrients are compounds found in a variety of foods that can interfere with proper absorption. They can either be natural and found in grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and vegetables or they can also be synthetic, a result of processing.
The natural anti-nutrients are usually seen at much lower levels and those foods have benefits that outweigh the harmful effects. They’re usually foods packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other properties that are all beneficial to skin.
What you also need to consider is your own body and how you react to the food.
NO! These are often foods that boost skin health and you can easily remove the anti-nutrients with simple procedures, such as soaking, or with food preparation such as sprouting or fermenting.
We cannot emphasize this enough: what you eat reflects in your skin. You may not think you see it if you are eating a healthy diet but still experience occasional skin issues. But you certainly would notice a decrease in your skin's vitality if or when you stop eating the good-for-you skin foods.
And we understand that this can be confusing territory, where it seems like you are always having to wade through conflicting information to tweak your diet for optimum results.
For example, both milk and green tea improve metabolism and oxidize fat, but some people believe that they work most efficiently by themselves. According to them, milk reduces the effect of the powerful green tea antioxidant, the catechin.
Yet, the National Institutes for Health (NIH) shows no scientific proof of that.
Green tea is one of the most beneficial skin ingredients around. Some people find the simple beverage a little bitter, and if they prefer milk in their tea, they can rest assured that the milk has not “cancelled out” the benefits of the green tea!
This is an example of an anti-nutrient we’d probably all be better off without. Gluten is the cereal grain found in wheat, barley, and rye. It acts as a kind of glue to hold baked goods together, and it’s what creates the chewiness of any baked bread of other item.
Gluten is one of the most inflammatory substances around and it’s often listed as one of the top 7 known sources of allergies.
Gluten is a difficult-to-digest plant food that’s found in a lot of our foods (including soy sauce), as well as some pet foods (used as a filler). If you have a gluten sensitivity, you’ll bloat when you eat it, have some digestive problems, and maybe even gain weight. For those with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease marked by severe gastrointestinal problems, it can be life-threatening.
It’s important to know that not all grains contain gluten, some gluten-free ones include: sorghum, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, quinoa, corn (polenta) and teff. Oats are gluten-free, but there can be cross-contamination during processing, says Live Science.
NOTE: A gluten-free food can become glutenous if there is cross-contamination in the processing. While this doesn’t pose a problem for most of us, it certainly does if you’re celiac, so you must always read labels for information regarding factory/processing.
This is probably the most well-known, especially if you eat a lot of brown rice. You’ll often be told to rinse the rice before cooking to remove the phytic acid. Now lot of brands say “pre-washed,” but to be on the safe side, rinse it again.
Also eat more vitamin C-containing foods such as dark, leafy greens or oranges, lemons, or some other citrus fruit. The ascorbic acid in vitamin C can inhibit the effects of phytic acid, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Foods like pumpkin, sunflower seeds, cashews, or chickpeas have both magnesium (which aids both acne-prone oily skin and dry skin) and copper. Copper peptides are an anti-aging star that helps develop collagen and elastin and heal wounds. So eat the foods that contain these minerals, but be sure to balance them out with some extra vitamin C.
Nutritionists love to debate this one! Oxalates, or oxalic acid, is a plant chemical found in some leafy greens (such as spinach and Swiss chard), nuts, seeds, most berries, certain fruits, soy and soy products, meat, and dairy products.
The main debate is whether or not it is responsible for the formation of kidney stones, a controversy that may have been started many years ago with the popularity of a fad spinach diet.
Oxalic acid binds with other minerals such as calcium which form a salt known as an oxalate. Oxalic acid interferes with the absorption of calcium in foods by binding with the mineral, making it unusable by your body.
Usually, it’s passed out of the body through the urine, but in susceptible people they can crystallize, forming larger stones - not to mention unbearable pain.
Without oxalic acid, foods such as spinach and kale would have a much higher, bio-available calcium content than they do. As it is, for those who are prone to kidney stones, it would be wise to avoid foods high in oxalate. Instead of spinach, choose kale, which is high in calcium and iron but does not contain oxalate.
Tannins are a type of plant polyphenol (acidic and astringent) that gives tea that bitter taste and chocolate and coffee the dry taste. It’s also found in unripe fruit, grapes, pomegranates, berries, sorghum, barley, nuts, chocolate, rhubarb, squash and legumes, such as chickpeas and beans.
For some people, tannins do cause digestive problems. If that is you, be aware of how you prepare foods. For instance, tannins do tend to concentrate on the fruit skin, so peel apples and other fruits. White beans contain fewer tannins than red; milk chocolate has fewer than dark.
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins, and they are in about 30% of our food. They’re most present in wheat and beans, some nightshade vegetables, and even some berries, nuts, seeds, and meats.
If you eat a lot of lectin-containing foods, or if you don’t have the enzymes needed to digest them, they can enter the bloodstream and create gastrointestinal problems, nutritional deficiencies, and indigestion - and might even damage the walls of the intestines, changing the gut lining and interfering with nutrient digestion and absorption, shift the bacterial flora, and trigger autoimmune reactions.
How to counteract it: a lot of health experts say not to consume lectins, but it’s pretty hard to avoid something that’s present in so many foods. Make sure you properly soak and cook foods; sprouting or fermenting also lowers lectin levels.
Fermentation is the process of breaking down yeast, bacteria, and other substances into smaller components, sometimes producing alcohols along the way. This makes our food easier to digest and in simple terms, it turns these foods into probiotics.
We have about 100 trillion bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract. They include both the good and bad bacteria and when they are not in balance, toxins develop, enter the bloodstream, and create inflammation, which causes a lot of health problems, including skin diseases and aging.
So though fermentation is one of the best ways to deactivate most of the anti-nutrient lectins, there is a caution on these foods for those with allergies or asthma. You’ll need to be wary of fermentation as some fermented foods can be high in histamines.
If you are even slightly histamine-intolerant (even being prone to hives can apply), fermented foods might may not be right for you. Ingesting fermented foods if you have this sensitivity could show up on your skin as red, itchy, irritated blotches.
This is yet another example of a good-guy/bad-guy food, because we will often tout the cleansing benefits of saponins in skin care. In the nutrition world, saponins are present in quinoa (one of the healthiest foods on the planet), soybeans, oats, and chickpeas.
But saponins have also been linked to damaging red blood cells, and inhibiting thyroid function. There really isn’t any way to remove saponins from any food that contains it, and so if you have thyroid issues you may just wish to cut down on them, but it really depends upon what your body will tolerate.
In most cases you won’t, or shouldn’t, avoid the foods mentioned here. Just be mindful of how preparation can help mitigate the anti-nutrients and pay close attention to how your body reacts to each food and adjust accordingly.