Last week I had an informed reader ask me about naturally occurring substances in vegetables, whole grains and legumes commonly referred to as "anti-nutrients". This reader wanted to know if soaking and/or sprouting grains and legumes was helpful in decreasing said substances. (Common anti-nutrients include tannins, phytates or phytic acid, and oxalates or oxalic acid - although many more exist.) The name "anti-nutrient" is given because these compounds bind with minerals in food - particularly iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium - and thereby lower mineral absorption to some degree.
So I did my research (did I ever!) and here's what I've found. While vegetables, whole grains and legumes do contain these compounds that can lower mineral absorption, they also have powerful antioxidant properties that have proven to lower blood glucose levels in diabetics, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and perhaps most surprisingly: have been found to play a powerful role in preventing cancer cell proliferation. To read a review of studies on that last point, read more here.
Not only that, but when foods containing such "anti-nutrients" are consumed regularly, mineral deficiencies are extremely rare. Case in point: black tea contains high amounts of tannins, yet myriad studies show post-menopausal women who drink tea regularly are less likely to lose bone density than those who do not drink tea. Since zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium are especially play an especially important role in bone density, the results are surprising. (see Am J Clin Nutr 2000 Apr;71(4):1003-7.)
Foods made with soy have received ridiculous amounts of bad press (from bad sources) in regards to anti-nutrients - yet people who consume the most soy, from fermented sources or not, are the least likely to develop mineral deficiencies, as well as chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Due to all their benefits, many researchers are starting to call "anti-nutrients" just plain "nutrients". I agree. So keep eating your vegetables, whole grains and legumes. If you choose to lower anti-nutrients (like phytic acid) through soaking, sprouting and fermenting your legumes and grains, that's fine, since you can't entirely eliminate all the anti-nutrients anyway. But if you don't take measures to reduce these compounds, you will derive great benefits too.
By the way, thank you everyone who has bought my book these past two weeks! I've heard some great feedback already! This week will be the last week to purchase it without shipping and tax charges. And of course, I will sign each one. Read it and buy it at http://www.fiber-girl.com!