The dark side of plant food

Before I get into details, which will undoubtably infuriate some, confuse others and bring out right denial in the rest of you, let me be clear

I am not saying ‘don’t eat your veggies’, I am simply trying to enlighten you to the fact that plant foods contain anti-nutrients which at the very least can disturb the absorption of other nutrients and worse case can create havoc in the gut leading to the onset of autoimmune disease.

What are Anti-nutrients

Well Wikipedia say’s ‘Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients’. Ok, so we’re eating foods that are potentially blocking the absorption of nutrients from other foods, such as vitamins and minerals, mmm that doesn’t sound good.

Not only that, but they are also the underlying cause of many gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut syndrome.
There is no exact science to actually figure out how many nutrients are lost as variables like the individuals gut health as well as how the food is prepared will affect the outcome.

You’re probably thinking why do plants do this? And the simple answer is ’they don’t want you to eat them’. These ‘nutrient-sapping phytochemicals’ essentially protect the plants from being ‘attacked’, from bacterial infections and from being eaten by bugs, even big bugs like humans. Since plants can’t ‘outrun’ their predators, anti-nutrients are essentially the plants’ only means of defence, it’s their way of fighting back.

Anti-nutrients are highest in grains, seeds, legumes, beans and nuts but are also in plant roots, stems, leaves and their fruits.

However not all plant foods are bad and we don’t need to eliminate every single one from our diets as that leads to very restrictive, even boring meals. Some of these plant anti-nutrients can actually be beneficial, acting as antioxidants or having anti-cancer effects so avoiding them completely is not necessarily the best recommendation, but it is important to be selective.

The least toxic plant foods

  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Cucumber
  • Squash family
  • Fruits especially those with high levels of mono-saccharides like dried fruits such as dates, fresh fruit such as apples, pears, melon, papaya, mango, kiwi, berries etc.

Our ancestors were aware of the challenges with plant foods hence the traditions for soaking, boiling and sprouting plant food before eating them, which not only removed or decreased the anti-nutrients, but also increased the bioavailability of the proteins, fats and sugars.

Test yourself

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms there’s a good chance that plant foods are the cause.

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Brain fog
  • IBS
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloating & gas

Remove as many plant foods as you possible for 14 – 28 days. How do you feel?

If your symptoms are less or removed you know plant foods are the cause.

Next try to re-introduce one plant food, one by one, once every week
Be aware of your symptoms and which plant foods trigger symptoms and which don’t. In this way you can establish your own particular plant food sensitivity program.

Continue to exclude the plant foods that create symptoms for 3-6 months then try to re-introduce maybe you will be able to tolerate smaller amounts as your gut heals.

Types of Anti-Nutrients

Here is a list of the various anti-nutrients, where they are found and which negative effects they can have:


Are carbohydrate-binding-proteins found in both plant and animal foods, where animal lectins play a supporting role for normal biological processes pant lectins disturb them and can even be toxic.

Plant lectins cannot be digested and can therefore bind to the gut wall where they can create inflammation, disturb digestion and absorption of nutrients and affect gut flora balance, etc.

Lectins are found in beans, soy beans and peanuts especially and other pulses, corn and nightshade family vegetables in general


Are organic acids, that bind to minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium, even copper, manganese and chromium and thereby prevent their absorption. Phytates are found in beans, nuts, seeds and corn.


Are a type of polyphenol (a group of antioxidants) though their molecules are often larger than the other polyphenols. They bring out the bitter taste and easily bind to other molecules, such as proteins and minerals. Are well known to prevent the absorption of iron and can create nausea. Tannins are found in teas, coffees, wine and chocolate.


Are organic molecules that bind to minerals in the gut, such as calcium and iron and thereby prevent their absorption. They are found in plant foods but are also produced in the body and can be responsible for the production of kidney stones. Oxalates are found in spinach and rhubarb especially and other greens.

Protease inhibitors

Are a type of protein that disturbs protein digestion by preventing the production of the enzyme protease, which is responsible for breaking down protein to its smaller peptide units and amino acids. Protease inhibitors are found in seeds, corn and pulses.


Is a protein complex found in corn, difficult for everyone to digest. Undigested parts of gluten can gain entry into the body where an immune response will be mounted. Gluten is associated with the autoimmune disease celiac, together with other autoimmune problems, such as the Thyroid diseases Hashimotos and Graves, even digestive problems and other health issues. Gluten is found in rye, barley, wheat especially but also in oats, spelt and Grahams flour and as an additive to thousands of processed foods.

Can anti-nutrients be deactivated?

The short answer is yes, they can. Processing plant foods is something our ancestors where very particular about. They knew that all plant foods (less in fruits) contained molecules that were not advantageous for the body, even toxic and therefore plant foods were in one way or another always processed, such as:

  • Soaking
  • Boiling
  • Fermenting / Pickling
  • Sprouting
  • Combinations of the above

Combining the various processes is the most effective way of reducing anti-nutrients especially combining soaking and boiling:

  • Phytates – soaking, sprouting, fermenting.
  • Lectins – soaking, boiling, heating, fermenting.
  • Tannins – soaking, boiling.
  • Protease inhibitors – soaking, sprouting, boiling.
  • Oxalates – soaking, boiling.

The science and informative links

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x

Sign up