To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art. –Francois La Rochefoucauld
By this quote, I mean that, it is just not enough to understand the nutritional value of the food but it is also important to know the complete picture of a particular food so that we are able to reason with the special practices followed during food preparation.
Today, we are talking about anti-nutrients present in all grains and legumes that includes peas, beans, peanuts & lentils.
Hailing from India, I have always loved various Indian cuisines. No matter how far away I am from home and how much I indulge in different cuisines other than Indian, I find that nothing can beat the taste of Daal tadka & rice, Punjabi Chole, Rajma masala, or a simple green moong daal gravy. Moreover, in most Indian homes, a meal is not complete without a daal on the menu as we believe that lentils provide us the needed protein for vegetarians. But, little did we know that they are seeds (babies) of the plants and that they have natural toxins in them to protect their plant species from their predators i.e., birds, animals, and human beings. These toxins become anti-nutrients to our body when we try to consume them without taking proper preparatory measures.
What are the Anti-Nutrients produced by plants?
Many studies on legume consumption suggest that, the most important anti-nutrients are the Lectins and Phytic acid.
Lectins are proteins found in most grains and legumes. They are sticky in nature and bind the starches together. Phytic acid is a type of toxin that is found in whole grains. These anti-nutrients together protect the seeds by causing digestive issues to the predators that consume them.
What happens when we consume whole grains and legumes?
When it comes to nutritional science, there is a great sense of awareness among people and they have understood that eating refined flours do not carry any nutrients and so people have gradually moved towards consuming whole foods like whole grains, raw nuts, and seeds.
The phytic acid present in whole grains such as whole wheat, bran, brown rice, corn, etc., binds tightly with Phosphorus making it unavailable to the body during digestion. Apart from binding to the phosphorous, phytic acid also binds with zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron and blocks their absorption in the small intestine by forming phytates.
Lectins, present in lentils and beans are sticky molecules that irritate the gut lining (due to its tough sticky nature) making it undesirable for digestion . When we consume lectin rich foods in large amounts, it can deplete the gut flora leading to leaky gut and other gut disorders.
Now, you may ask.. I am a vegan/vegetarian, how do I get my proteins from plant source?
My answer is, yes, you can still have these foods if you can remove the anti-nutrients.
How to eliminate these anti-nutrients and get the most nutrition from these foods?
By following our ancestral best practices of soaking, sprouting and fermenting the whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes and lentils in regular tap water at room temperature for at least 24-48 hours or longer and slow cooking with fresh water will help remove these anti-nutrients to a large extent.
It is indeed important to mimic the nature’s way of grain preparation so that they be kind to you.
Other tips for maximum absorption of nutrition and good gut health:
- Do consume legumes and lentils along with grains to get the maximum protein absorption as lentils/legumes alone or grains alone do not have a complete amino acid profile.
- Legumes and rice (or any other grains) has to be cooked and consumed with good fats such ghee or butter to increase the absorption of minerals like calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins from the food needed for physical and brain health.
- Take a break from legumes and eat other food varieties like green/veggie salads and fruits to help the body heal from damages caused by foods cooked using poor cooking methods.
- Prefer whole legumes and not halved ones as the latter will not complete the germination process during soaking and sprouting.
- Try to stick to organic and non GMO foods.
I’m glad to share a little bit of what I’ve learned with the “Awesome Chef” community.
This article is written by our guest, Deepa Ravisanker. Deepa is a passionate cook, an avid lover of natural food with a deep understanding of nutrition and the ability to convert scientific terminology into layman language.