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Wow, a new word for me! Antinutrients. I might have thought to make up such a word, but I would have been too late: it's been around a long time already. I just hadn't heard that particular word (or maybe just not noticed!), even though I know the names of some in the group, like oxalic acid and phytic acid.
Antinutrients are compounds (natural or synthetic) that interfere with our body's ability to absorb nutrients. A few posts back I mentioned changing some of my food habits, and said that I should soak legumes, grains and flour overnight for a short fermentation. That's because these foods contain phytic acid, usually found in the bran and husk.
Phytic acid is an organic acid to which phosphorus is bound. If it is untreated (not soaked/fermented), phytic acid combines with calcium, magnesium and zinc in our intestines thus blocking their absorption. It also binds a few other minerals like copper and iron, but I'm aiming at the major ones for building or maintaining bones and muscles here.
If I take calcium supplements daily, and eat beans or bread (other than long-fermented homemade sourdough), I have done nothing to provide calcium to my old, thinning bones. If I take magnesium for leg cramps, the regular bread and/or beans I have eaten keeps it from reaching my muscles.
Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, points out whole grains and legumes also contain other antinutrients including enzyme inhibitors which stress the pancreas; complex sugars the body cannot break down, and proteins like gluten which may cause distress and digestive problems in some people.
As a gardener, I understand perfectly her description of why seeds have antinutrients. They protect the seed from sprouting... until conditions are right with warmth, moisture and slight acidity.
So if we imitate those conditions by overnight soaking in warm, acidulated water for beans, pancakes or cooked cereal, or the long, slow sourdough ferment for bread, we neutralize the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Vitamin content increases, esp. the B vitamin's, and tannins, complex sugars, gluten and other difficult to digest substances are partially broken down and easier to digest. We then absorb the minerals in them when eaten, too.
Ms. Fallon also reminds us that fat-soluble Vitamins A and D found in animal fats like butter, cheese and cream help us absorb calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, and other minerals and nutrients found in grains. So, put cream on your cooked cereal, and butter or whipped cream on your fresh bread and pancakes!