Is a Plant-Based Diet Unhealthy: The Truth You Need to Know

Plant-based diets are becoming more popular with each passing year. Because people desire to become healthier, they try to veer away from meat and other potentially unhealthy food. This lifestyle, however, is criticized for many reasons. One of the most common criticisms is how the lifestyle prevents people from receiving sufficient nutrition. Critics also added that a plant-based diet lets people absorb more of the anti-nutrient elements, which can harm their health.

If you want to know more about this concern and its truth, this article will enlighten you about the topic.

What Are Anti-Nutrients?

Anti-nutrients is the general term used to describe the naturally present substances in plant and animal foods. These compounds are what plants produce to protect themselves against predators. When humans eat these plants, the compounds can also travel inside their bodies and bring adverse effects. 

These compounds got the name “anti-nutrients” because of how they function once inside the human body. Substances like oxalates, lectins, and tannins are some of its examples. These compounds block other nutrients or interfere with how the body absorbs the nutrients that are supposed to go to the bloodstream. 

The three mentioned anti-nutrients are commonly found in the following food sources: legumes, seeds, nuts, fruits, cereal grains, vegetables, sweet potatoes, beetroot, beet greens, and more.

While there is a bit of truth to the claim, it is not entirely correct. Indeed, the anti-nutrients mentioned above are found in plant-based foods, but they are not the sole reason for the possibility of insufficient nutrition. In fact, there is a way to prevent it from happening. In short, if you are a healthy person, it is not a huge issue to get worried about.

What You Need to Know About Anti-Nutrients

In 2020, Dr. Deanna Minich, nutrition and functional medicine expert, studied anti-nutrients and how they can pose a danger to human health. According to her study, the amount of nutrition one can get from plants can outweigh the slight threat of absorbing said harmful compounds. 

The study also reveals that anti-nutrients like phytates, lectins, and oxalates only bring danger if consumed in high quantities. But in reality, people will not consume too much of these anti-nutrients from one meal alone. 

Knowing the danger of not having other nutrients in the body, people on a plant-based diet always strive to have a balanced meal daily. That means they consume many beneficial compounds that are enough to keep them protected against the adverse effects of anti-nutrients. 

Effects of Anti-Nutrients for People With Existing Conditions

While people in good health have nothing to worry about anti-nutrients, the case is different for those with disease or health conditions. People who have an iron deficiency, calcium deficiency, thyroid disease, and other health conditions must be careful with what they eat. As much as possible, they must avoid food that contains anti-nutrients as it can potentially worsen their conditions. 

If not possible to completely avoid these foods, some cooking and prepping methods would help reduce the risk of the food compound. Here is your guide: 

  • Food with Lectins (Peanuts, Wheat, Beans, Cereals, etc.)

Best Preparation Method: Soak, boil, or ferment

  • Food with Phytates (Legumes, Rice, Quinoa, Nuts, Seeds, etc.)
  • Best Preparation Method: Soak, boil, germinate, ferment
  • Food with Oxalates (Spinach, Swiss Chard, Sweet Potatoes, Tea, etc.)
  • Best Preparation Method: Steam, boil, soak, pair with foods rich in calcium
  • Food with Glucosinates or Goitrogens (Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Cassava, etc.)
  • Best Preparation Method: Steam or boil (might also reduce the beneficial compounds)
  • Food with Phytoestrogens (Soy and Soy Products, Cereals, Flaxseeds, etc.)
  • Best Preparation Method: Cook or ferment

Conclusion

A plant-based diet is a healthier alternative to consume nutrients for the body. Even though vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and other plant products are generally considered healthy, it still contains compounds that can threaten people. But as revealed by the study, as long as you are a healthy individual, the anti-nutrients present in most plants are not something to worry about. You only need to ensure that you get a balanced diet each time. If you have health conditions, you need to cook your food well and talk to your doctor about your case.

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