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Antinutrients - the Antithesis of True Paleo

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
March 11, 2015
Antinutrients - the Antithesis of True Paleo image

We all know what nutrients are. The three macronutrients, fat, protein and carbohydrates, along with vitamins, minerals and water are the six essential nutrients we need to thrive. Basically, nutrients are substances that provide nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life.1

Everything we eat and drink falls into one of those categories.

Unfortunately, the modern day diet also includes another category of substances that are often eaten even more than the nutritious type of food: antinutrients.

A naturally occurring substance, like saponins or phytates, found in plant-derived foods, antinutrients interfere with absorption or proper functioning of nutrients in the body.

Antinutrients are compounds that are produced by plants as part of their defense mechanism.2 These compounds that protect plants from pesticides and chemicals in the soil, have a damaging effect to our gut, since we are unable to digest them.

Imagine the lining of the intestines to be akin to a fine mesh barrier, which remains intact when we eat fresh vegetables and fruit, wild proteins and good fats. Microscopic tearing of the fine mesh over time leads to a condition called leaky gut. With that delicate lining perforated, the filtration functionality is compromised, and harmful particles like bacteria, virus, and waste, can begin escaping into the bloodstream.

Antinutrients are able to bind to nutrients. So the next time you’re springing for a piping hot gluten-free focaccia roll alongside your wild salmon, steamed broccoli drizzled with olive oil and freshly squeezed lime, take a step back and remember the antinutrients in the bread are targeting your gut.

You might not notice anything immediately like a stomachache or other GI distress, but the start of inflammation in the body has started and it doesn’t always stay in the gut. Symptoms can manifest throughout the body, ranging from headaches, mental fogginess, joint pain, onset or exacerbation of autoimmune conditions…just to list a handful of the maladies that can ensue.

If you continue to eat in this manner, it doesn’t stop at inflammation. Infection among other medical problems can develop, proving to be frustrating at best and debilitating at worst.

To make matters worse, many people may experience a scenario similar to what I did, during a lifelong ‘mysterious GI illness,’ during which I was (mis)diagnosed as having IBS, Crohn’s and colitis. The physicians, experts, and/or specialists seldom ask what we’re eating, but rather suggest the condition is naturally occurring, where diet doesn’t affect our long term health and wellness.

In fact, while I thought my diet was healthy with whole-grain bread for fiber, and beans as a good protein option, I was advised to avoid foods that were ‘hard to digest’ like vegetables and to increase ‘easy to digest foods’ like saltine crackers and dry toast. Sound familiar?

Between desperation, not wanting to be sick and in pain every day at age 24, and exhaustively researching the web, common sense convinced me food was the culprit. Going gluten-free was the first step, but not the end all be all.

The Paleo Pandora’s Box opened with Dr. Cordain's research and learnings. Manufacturers who touted their foods were oh-so-healthy-gluten-free, were actually oh-so-not. Their ingredient sources fell into the same category as wheat.

Paleo eating,” or mimicking the food groups our ancestors ate with foods we can easily source in our grocery stores, farmer’s markets or our own backyards, proved to be the cure-all: complete cessation of all GI issues, fat loss, improved sleep, improved mental focus, improved training and racing and reaching that healthy state of being I’d coveted for so long, in such a short amount of time.

Even though I may have seemed healthy– a triathlete, a personal fitness trainer and a very balanced eater- it wasn’t until I took away the foods loaded with those toxic antinutrients that I was able to truly be healthy, inside and out.

That was back in 2005. Ever since my passion and enthusiasm is unwavering when it comes to helping people understand how much they can empower themselves by learning how crucial it is to eat real food, and avoid the ‘food’ we cannot breakdown.

True Paleo living is not to be viewed as a pity party, or ‘woe is me, I can’t eat gluten.’ Rather, it’s a gift. We have the ability to choose what to put into our mouths, and directly impact how we feel.

Why make any other choice?!


[1] "Nutrients." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2015. Web. Feb. 2015.

[2] "Antinutrients." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2015. Web. Feb. 2015.

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