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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

What Is an Antinutrient?

By June 8, 2013

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Did you ever watch the cartoon Popeye? Popeye would pop open a can of spinach, fortifying his muscles so he could rescue Olive Oyl. Spinach contains iron, which you need to build red blood cells to oxygenate your tissues. The trouble is, spinach isn't a great dietary source of iron because it also contains oxalic acid, which inhibits iron absorption. The oxalic acid is an example of an antinutrient or compound that interferes with the absorption of vitamins, minerals or other nutrients.

Antinutrients, which may be natural or synthetic, occur in nearly all foods. Thus, the chemical composition of a food isn't always a good indicator of how much of a nutrient you'll actually get from eating it. Legumes contain lectins and trypsin inhibitors that interfere with digestion. Tannins in tea and other plants chelate and reduce absorption of iron and zinc. Phytic acid, an antinutrient found in many grains, chelates iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and other metals.

Antinutrients typically don't cause a problem in a person's diet unless he or she eats only a few different foods. Also, cooking food or other processes such as fermentation and malting may increase the nutritive content of foods by inactivating or reducing levels of antinutrients.

Food Chemistry Quiz | Kitchen Science Experiments


July 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm
(1) jana says:

and just as i was hoping the article would go into more detail… it ended.

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