Anti-Nutrients in Whole Grains – And how to neutralize them?

Anti-Nutrients in Whole Grains – And how to neutralize them?

Awareness is growing that processed and polished grains have been stripped of most of their nutrients and fiber. What is left is mostly starch. This starch is broken down by the body into simple carbohydrates which results in blood sugar spike. These blood sugar roller coaster rides have been linked to several lifestyle disorders like Diabetes and Obesity. People are hence shifting from polished white rice to whole grains like Brown Rice, Red Rice and Millets.

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Polished White Rice with the bran and germ missing. Brown rice with bran and germ.

 

The Anti-nutrient problem

Whole grains are basically seeds. In order to protect itself from pests and predators until it is ready to germinate, seeds have an in-built defense mechanism in the form of anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are natural compounds found in different foods, which interfere with the absorption of nutrients like vitamins and minerals. They can also inhibit digestive enzymes which are key to proper digestion.

The most commonly found anti-nutrient in whole grain cereals is Phytic acid. Phytic acid will bind with minerals found in food like iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper etc., making a large percentage of it useless for the body. Another problem of Phytic acid is that it neutralizes digestive enzymes that are essential for breaking down carbohydrates and proteins.

So in essence, consuming nutrient rich whole grains which contain Phytic acid is as good as consuming processed food with all its nutrients stripped. The body is not able to enjoy the benefits from the nutrients.

How to reduce/remove Anti-nutrients

Thankfully it is possible to reduce or remove the effects of anti-nutrients through traditional methods of cooking like roasting, soaking, sprouting and fermenting. Roasting results in least removal of anti-nutrients, while fermentation offers the maximum removal.

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Sprouted Finger Millet (Ragi) Grains

Dosas (Indian Pancake) is a great example where the anti-nutrient problem was addressed by traditional cooking technique of fermentation. Check here for a Millet Dosa Recipe

Finger Millet (Ragi) flour can be replaced with Sprouted Finger Millet (Ragi) flour to further reduce anti-nutrients. Instead of using flour, whole grains like millets and rice can be soaked and ground into batter as well.

In addition to reducing the effects of anti-nutrients, sprouting and fermenting adds a host of other benefits either in the form of increased and simplified nutrients that are easy for the body to use, or by introducing probiotics which are very beneficial for gut health.