Why eating clean may be aggravating your joint pain
You’re at a loss; you are doing gentle exercise, resting when you need to and taking an anti-inflammatory supplement. You’ve been following all the healthy eating advice, eating plenty of plant foods and reducing your intake of sugar, alcohol and caffeine, but your joints are still causing you issues - what is going on? You could be experiencing the effects of antinutrients.
Antinutrients are chemicals found in plant foods such as beans, legumes and grains, which protect the plant itself but interfere with the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals for us humans (1). Although many of the foods which contain antinutrients are very healthy and their consumption is encouraged for most people, some of us are more sensitive to the effects of antinutrients than others, particularly those with inflammatory or autoimmune conditions. If you are sensitive to their effects, high intake over a prolonged period may increase levels of inflammation in the gut (2), which in turn can aggravate joint pain (to read more about how our gut health influences inflammation, click here). Let’s take a look at some of the common antinutrients and their sources...
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Oxalate, or oxalic acid, is a chemical found primarily in leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, cocoa, nuts and seeds. It binds to minerals, specifically iron and calcium, which then become unavailable for absorption and are instead excreted by the body (3).
Lectins are found in all plant foods, but raw legumes (such as beans, lentils, peas, soybeans and peanuts) and whole grains like wheat contain the highest amounts. As with oxalate, lectins bind to minerals, especially calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc; they also bind to cells of the digestive tract, which can affect nutrient absorption and interfere with the gut flora (4).
Saponins are found in high amounts in quinoa, Soy beans, chick peas and oats. They inhibit enzymes which help to digest and absorb nutrients, as well as binding to minerals. (5).
Luckily, antinutrients can easily be reduced or almost completely eliminated through the way a plant food is processed (6). Here are my top tips for reducing antinutrients:
Try to eat the majority of your plant foods cooked if possible. The process of cooking breaks down antinutrients. For nuts and seeds, roast them before consuming, rather than eating in their raw form.
If using dried beans or legumes, ensure you soak them properly before use - many antinutrients are found in the skin and are water-soluble so soaking them can reduce the amount present in the final product.
Swap to tinned beans and pulses, which contain lower levels of antinutrients as they have already been soaked and cooked - they are also perfect for fast food prep!
Try sprouting; foods like lentils and peas can be sprouted, a process which begins to ‘digest’ the food and degrade the antinutrients, making essential nutrients more available for absorption and thus they become more tolerable for those sensitive to antinutrients.
Fermentation works in a similar way to sprouting, breaking down antinutrients and allowing essential nutrients to become more available for absorption. Try swapping your usual bread for good quality sourdough, or have a go at lacto-fermenting your oats!
Finally, ensure you are including plenty of healthy, anti-inflammatory fats in your diet to soothe your gut and reduce oxidative damage; olive oil, salmon, walnuts, sardines, avocado, eggs, chia and flaxseeds are all good sources of healthy fats.
Not yet including an anti-inflammatory supplement to ease your joint pain? DEFLAME is a plant-based liquid supplement containing omega-3, curcumin, ginger and frankincense designed to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. To read more about DEFLAME, click here.
Gibson R.S. et al. 2018. Nutr. Rev. ;76:793–804. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuy028.
Petroski, W. et al. 2020. Nutrients; 12(10):2929. doi: 10.3390/nu12102929
The Synchro Life. 2021. Oxalates, Phytates and Saponins: The Secret Anti-Nutrients (Antinutrients) In "Healthy" Foods. Available at: https://besynchro.com/blogs/blog/13531957-oxalates-phytates-and-saponins-the-secret-anti-nutrients-antinutrients-in-healthy-foods (Accessed: 11th February 2021)
Harvard T.H.Chan. 2021. Lectins. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/lectins/ (Accessed: 11th February 2021)
Taylor, J.R.N. et al. 2008. Technology of Functional Cereal Products; 281-335. doi: 10.1533/9781845693886.2.281
Popova, A. et al. 2019. The Open Biotechnology Journal; 13:68-76 doi: 10.2174/1874070701913010068