If you’re like most people, you think that drinking a veggie smoothie is the healthiest thing you can do. You think that you’d have to be crazy to not eat vegetables.
Well I’m here to tell you that you’ve been lied to. Not only are vegetables not the healthiest food in the world. They may be bad for you.
Yes. You read that correctly. Some vegetables are goitrogenic. No, goitrogenic doesn’t mean overpriced and bland.
It means they may be bad for your thyroid.
And it means that they can cause
Yes this is shocking. But you should be thrilled. Face it. You’ve never liked vegetables since the first time your mom put microwaved broccoli in front of you.
You’ve been brainwashed into joining the church of superfoods. But it’s come at a high price…and it’s not just the taste of kale.
In this post I’m going to tell you what goitrogens are, what the biggest culprits are and why they may be bad for you and your thyroid.
Thyroid Overview: What is the Thyroid?
What is the thyroid? It is in the base of the neck and ~2.5 inches wide. It produces three important metabolic hormones — Thryoxine, Tri-Iodothyronine and Calcitronin. TSH controls the production of these hormones [*].
The gland is small, but packs a big punch. It’s like the yapping chihuahua of glands.
It’s responsible for almost all of metabolism. Metabolism isn’t just that thing that “slows down as you age” or “makes you fat”. It’s the entirety of chemical reactions in your body.
Therefore the thyroid affects everything from the brain to the cardiovascular system to gallbladder and liver function. T3 and T4 regulate the speed of your cells and metabolism.
If they’re low, for example, you’ll get constipated and gain weight. If they’re too high, you’ll have a rapid heart rate and diarrhea. Think about that next time you see someone running to the bathroom…
Thyroid issues are on the rise. Almost 20 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease. And up to 60% of those may not even be aware of it. Can you imagine this?
People are just walking around cold, depressed and overweight and they have NO idea why. It’s like there’s a monkey hanging from their neck and they’ve never noticed it.
One culprit: the vegetarian and vegan health craze. People are practically hooking themselves up to an IV drip of Kale to get healthy. Trust me, if this really made you healthy I’d be the first one in line. But it doesn’t work. They may as well rip their thyroid out and throw it in the trash.
Kale smoothies. Green tea extracts. Broccoli sprout powder to wash it down. This is insanity.
The saddest part is that people think that it’s healthy. But it’s making problems worse. I’m here to help.
Goitrogens are foods that cause goiter — or swelling of the thyroid.
For some muscularly inclined Neanderthals — i.e. bros — a swollen neck means CrossFit is working. However, for most of us, it’s not a good thing.
Goitrogens do this by interfering with iodine absorption in the thyroid. Iodine is required for thyroid hormone production. Without it, the thyroid cannot produce the T4 and T3 hormones.
TSH is like a 5am wake up call for your thyroid, and iodine is its coffee. Without it your thyroid is like a hibernating bear.
In response to deficient T4 and T3 levels, your pituitary gland produces more TSH to signal to your thyroid to produce more T4. The excess TSH causes swelling.
Symptoms of Thyroid Issues: Side Effects Include
The thyroid plays an indispensable role in all metabolism. Thus when you have hormone production issues, it wreaks havoc throughout your body.
Where do these evil goitrogens come from? Hell? Florida? Your scary Aunt’s attic?
What if I told you that some of the worst offenders were hiding in the “healthy” grocery section aisle.
Goitrogenic Plant Toxins
People think plants are these perfect vessels placed here to protect us. They’re going to stop climate change and save the rainforest. If we eat enough spinach we will have muscles like popeye…this is just hippie propaganda.
The worst part…it turns out they may even be bad for you. It’s almost like finding out your doctor is an axe murderer in his free time…
Plants look so innocent, but turns out they’re loaded with booby traps to kill predators. Almost like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone.
In an arms race over millions of years of co-evolution with animals, plants developed toxins to fend off predators. Goitrogens are one mechanism.
All goitrogens are derived from naturally occurring plant pesticides called glucosinolates.
These goitrogenic chemicals are even too toxic for the plant to store. So they store them in an inactive glucosinolate form. But when the plant is cut, chewed or digested, BOOM, it combines with the myronase enzyme. A nuclear bomb of plant pesticides explodes, turning your gut into a wasteland.
Glucosinolates are mainly in the brassica family of vegetables. There are over 120 known glucosinolates [*].
The chemical Broccoli produces, for instance, is called sulforaphane.
Think of this like coke and mentos mixing together. It serves a purpose…like impressing someone at a middle school party. But it’s pretty much unacceptable and damaging at all other times.
Well the same goes for these plant toxins.
Glucosinolates severely damage vertebrates and insects who eat them. They cause everything from liver lesions to growth issues [*].If you are a vertebrate, watch out. If you are not a vertebrate and you are here, please send pictures.
In fact, they are so effective that plant breeders increase their concentration to deter predators [*].
How Goitrogens Cause Damage: Thyroid Hormone Factory Shutdown
Goitrogens cause damage by three main mechanisms
Iodine competition: Goitrogens can prevent iodine from entering the thyroid.
Interfering with TPO: Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) enzyme is like the assembly line that constructs Thyroid hormones. If it’s damaged, thyroid hormone production is impaired.
Reducing TSH: TSH signals to the thyroid to produce T3 and T4.
There are a number of different types of goitrogens. Let’s dive in.
Types of Plant Goitrogens
There are three main sources of plant goitrogens.
Goitrins: Labor union on strike.
Thiocyanates: Bully who steals lunch money
Flavonoids: Two headed hydra of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson
Goitrin is the most insidious plant goitrogen. It can cause goiter, even if you eat plenty of iodine. Why?
(Because its a S.O.B!). It targets thyroid peroxidase, which is necessary to create thyroid hormones. Instead of attacking the building blocks, it attacks the builder.
Goitrin isn’t naturally occuring in plants. It’s the result of the enzymatic breakdown process of the glucosinolate called progoitrin.
How much is needed to be damaging?
One study found that when a diet of 154 μmol of progroitrin per 100g was fed to rats, they developed hypothyroidism. They found that in pigs it took a higher concentration to induce liver damage — a diet of 383 umol / 100g [*].
According to another study, 70 μmol / 100g of progoitrin was not associated with thyroid issues, whereas 194 μmol was. Based on his study, three foods were highest in progoitrin compounds with over 100 μmol per 100g of weight [*]:
Siberian russian kales
One collard green
One brussels sprout
Russian Kales are very high in progoitrin. Like with Russian Olympic athletes, they pack a bigger punch than their American counterparts. They have almost 30x more progoitrin than Broccoli.
Chinese cabbages and other brussels sprouts had between 10 and 100 μmol. Commercial Brocolli rabe and Brocolli have less than 10 umol per 100g.
Below are the four foods highest in goitrin producing glucosinolates.
Cooking can minimize concerns. For instance, one study showed that 150g of Brussels Sprouts daily for 4 weeks had no effect on thyroid function [*].
However, this doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. This is something I’ll continuously harp on. If you already have thyroid issues, high doses of these vegetables are not a good idea. It’s like playing basketball on a broken ankle.
Even if you’re in optimal health, I’d still advise against megadosing them. But if you’re just eating small amounts of whole food versions, you’ll probably be okay.
Other glucosinolates break down into thiocyanates. Try saying that sentence 4 times fast…
Thiocyanates are positively charged ions that compete for iodine uptake in the thyroid. Unlike Goitrins, thiocyanates attack the building blocks of thyroid hormones. They’re like thyroid bullies who steal their lunch money.
Sulforaphane, a metabolite produced from Broccoli ingestion, is a thiocyanate.
What is its function? Sulforaphane is a powerful insecticide…and it can do the very same thing to your cells. How does it kill insects? Does it smash them with a shoe? No.
Some researchers suggest that normal broccoli consumption shouldn’t be a concern [*]. Going back to my point above, if you have a healthy thyroid it’s unlikely that thiocyanate consumption is going to hurt you.
However, the problem arises from megadosing raw amounts.
Sulforaphane is the most recent health craze because it may upregulate antioxidant pathways [*].
Similar to an alchemist trying to turn lead into gold, people came up with the brilliant idea to mega dose sulforaphane to increase their superfood potential. But the only thing super about megadosing these “super”foods is the damage to your thyroid levels.
There’s a common theme here…Trying to manipulate foods for your advantage will almost always backfire.
Sam dancing, a bodybuilder, developed hypothyroidism from excessive broccoli sprout consumption.
Another case: an elderly woman in New York developed myxedema coma, the most life threatening form of hypothyroidism, after eating 1.6kg of raw bok choy daily for several months [*]. Now, that is a Joey Chestnut like amount of Bok Choy. However, there are a number of carnivores eating that amount of beef daily and they’re thriving.
My verdict…if you’re not at optimal health, be wary of these foods –especially raw. For most people who feel perfect, they’re probably okay to be eaten in their whole form.
The last stop on the tour of unfriendly plant goitrogens is Flavonoids.
What are they?
Flavonoids are naturally occurring plant pesticides and pigments. They are debatably the most potent thyroid affecting compounds. They are present in a wide array of foods, from wine to tea to soy.
Flavonoids exert their effects via both mechanisms discussed above. Some inhibit iodine absorption and others damage TPO. They’re like a double headed hydra between Goitrins and Thiocyanates. They’ll steal your lunch money. Then they’ll make you cook lunch for them after.
You don’t want to mess with them.
The most common flavonoids are called flavonols. Some of the foods highest in flavonoids are below [*]
Studies on rats show that quercitin — one of the most abundant flavonoids in fruits and vegetables — inhibited iodine uptake at their thyroid. [*].
I’m most concerned about Soy. Soy contains isoflavonoids…which translates to PLEASE STOP EATING THEM.
Soy has the most compelling goitrogenic evidence and is one of the most detrimental aspects of the vegan diet.
When Americans were told to avoid the healthiest fats and proteins in the world, soy was elevated to a dietary staple. It was touted as a perfect protein to replace meat and a versatile cooking oil that wouldn’t increase your cholesterol.
So it began. The soyification of the world. Cheap soy flooded the market. And now you can find soy playing dress up as almost any meat in the market. Now that would actually be a scary Halloween costume…
The damage starts from day 1 out of the womb. Studies show that babies who consume soy based formulas have increased risk for autoimmune disorders [*].
Two flavonoids found in soy products, genistein and daidzein, inhibit TPO function [*]. A study in 1991 showed that 50% of subjects eating 30g of soy beans every day for 3 months developed hypothyroid symptoms [*].
And if you already have thyroid issues, soy is one of the worst things you can eat. A study of 60 patients with borderline hypothyroidism were 3x more likely to develop clinical hypothyroidism when consuming 16mg of soy isoflavones (typical amount in a vegetarian’s diet) [*]
One of the biggest problems is that cooking does not destroy the goitrogenic activity of soy isoflavones.
Goitrogens Are a Double Edged Sword
Why are people eating them in such high doses?
Several studies have elevated the most goitrogenic foods to life saving white knights. Sulforaphane, for instance, has been shown to activate the NRF2 pathway, which has anti-carcinogenic effects [*]. Another study showed that Sulforaphane was the reason why Bruce Willis always saves people in Die Hard…Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.
According to this study, however, you’d have to consume 1,000,000g of Broccoli sprouts a day to achieve sufficient sulforaphane intake [*]. That sounds like a full time job….
Supplement companies have jumped on this gold mine and produced concentrated broccoli sprout supplements to achieve these levels.
But like other nutritional guidance, the studies do not hold up when scrutinized. Tests in petri dishes don’t always translate to the real world.
Dr. Georgia Ede looked at all 726 studies regarding vegetables on PubMed and none have shown conclusively positive benefits on health [*], independent of other lifestyle and carbohydrate factors.
Even if they do work, these astronomical doses of broccoli sprouts are a double edged sword. Yes, they may up-regulate antioxidant pathways, but they also destroy your thyroid. So maybe you reduce your cancer risk, but say sayonara to your thyroid.
Telling someone to take 1 million grams of Broccoli sprouts to reduce cancer risk is like taking cocaine for a headache.
Meanwhile, the ketogenic diet upregulates the same exact pathways — without all the negative side effects [*].
The story is similar with flavonoids. They’ve shown antioxidant potential by scavenging free radicals [*]. Other studies have showed antiinflammatory benefits [*].
But once again, at high doses, flavonoids can have the opposite effect.
This study pictured below shows that they can induce free radical damage and inhibit hormone metabolism.
Green tea extracts also impair thyroid function. This study showed that catechins, the flavonoids in green tea, decreased levels of t3 and t4 and increased TSH [*]
I get it. The word antioxidant lulls me to sleep too. But this madness needs to stop.
Other Goitrogens to Watch Out For
Plants aren’t the only source of goitrogens. There are a number of other goitrogenic foods in your diet and environment:
Heavy metals like lead and mercury
Pesticides like glyphosate
How to Reduce Goitrogenic Content in Foods…and Put the Bullies in Their Place
It’s time these plant compounds stop shoving you in a locker. It’s time to fight back.
The easiest way to shutup a bully: ignore it. This is why I follow the carnivore diet. Cutting out vegetables and plant foods was the best thing I’ve ever done for my health.
If you insist on still eating some of the foods high in goitrogens above, there are ways to counter their defense mechanisms.
Boiling cruciferous vegetables can reduce their glucosinolate content, more than steaming or microwaving. Nonetheless, bacteria in your colon will still break down glucosinolate into toxins [*].
Freezing or boiling them for 10 minutes will reduce glucosinolate by ~50% [*]. Please don’t try this with real life bullies.
If you already have thyroid issues, the research shows you may want to avoid goitrogens.
If you’re healthy, it’s probably fine to eat small amounts of cruciferous vegetables.
However, based on the research above, I’d recommend everybody avoids soy and mega dose of goitrogens in the form of raw juices and supplements.
Ultimately, megadosing leads to major unintended consequences. Just because 100mg is good, doesn’t mean 10kg is good…The only thing you should megadose is your steak.
Anecdotally, many carnivores have benefited from wholesale elimination of these foods. The evidence is now too strong to ignore.
Want to hear something scary? What if I told you some of your favorite superfoods are actually hurting you.
Almost like finding out your doctor spends his free time as an axe murderer…
Turns out plants don’t want to be eaten. To defend themselves, they produce toxic booby traps. One of which is saponins.
Now you may need to sit down for this…
Quinoa, the pope of the church of superfoods, is loaded with these chemicals.
Block nutrient absorption
Keep reading to learn the truth about saponins according to science, which foods are high in saponins, and 5 dangers of eating them.
5 Dangers of Eating Saponins
Saponins are Antinutrients and Disrupt Fat Metabolism
Saponins Increase Intestinal Permeability
Saponins Cleave Cholesterol
Saponins Disrupt Endocrine Function
Saponins are Toxic to Cells
What Are Saponins?
Saponins…Not just a shorthand way to say hello to someone. “What’s saponin?”
Saponins are a class of bitter-tasting compounds that produce soap-like foam when added to water. Most saponins occur naturally in plants, but some are manmade for scientific or industrial purposes.
All saponins have a hydrophilic (water soluble) carbohydrate bonded to a lipophilic (fat soluble) triterpene or steroid structure. The hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties interact with the surface tension of water to create bubbles in aqueous solutions.
Like many plant compounds, saponins evolved as a defense system against herbivores and insects[*]. Unlike human beings, they don’t like being submerged in a bubble bath.
Are Saponins Healthy?
Overall, the effects of dietary saponins aren’t very well-studied. Some researchers believe they have medicinal effects or health benefits, but any such effects appear to be hormetic in nature.
Hormesis is a favorable biological response that sometimes occurs when cells or organisms are exposed to manageable amounts of toxins or stress.
According to the authors of a 2018 paper,
“Emerging evidence suggests that hormetic phytochemicals produced by environmentally stressed plants can activate the moderate cellular stress response mechanisms at a subtoxic level in humans, which may enhance tolerance against severe dysfunction or disease.”[*]
In other words, by taking in low levels of toxic compounds, you might make your cells stronger. As Nietzsche said “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…but quinoa still tastes like cardboard.”
The dose makes the poison. And unfortunately, no one really knows what the correct dose of saponins is for these effects.
Someone who eats saponin-rich foods every day could be well above the threshold for any theoretical beneficial hormetic effects. And if you are already unwell, they could easily make you sicker.
That’s why I recommend exercise, fasting, cold exposure, and other forms of hormesis instead.
They’re safer because you can control the dose and gauge the effects much more easily
Some studies also show that Ketones and BHB upregulate the same antioxidant pathways, without the side effects [*].
Even if saponins are beneficial from an antioxidant perspective, they have side effects. It’s like smoking a cigarette combined with quinoa, because it has antioxidants.
Keep reading to learn 5 reasons why eating saponin-rich plant foods is unwise.
And processing or cooking does not significantly lower saponin content[*].
While rinsing quinoa or other foods may remove a portion of saponins, this isn’t true of all foods that contain saponins, like spinach for example[*].
Some processed foods may even include elevated levels of saponins added during manufacturing[*][*].
Pro tip on how to reduce saponin content: Cook saponin containing foods in vegetable oils, then throw them in the trash.
This is why I recommend the carnivore diet. if you’re interested in a 30 day guide to getting started, make sure to sign up at the end of the article.
5 Reasons to Avoid Saponins
#1: Saponins are Antinutrients and Disrupt Fat Metabolism
Similar to oxalates, phytins, lectins, and tannins, saponins are antinutrients[*]. These jerks bully your cells and steal their nutrients.
Research shows that saponins in plant foods may interfere with the absorption and digestion of glucose, protein, and vitamins A, B12, D, and E[*][*][*].
They can also form protein complexes that have unknown effects when combined with proteins like casein from milk[*].
Not only that, saponins can disrupt the digestion of cholesterol and saturated fat.
Saponins form complexes with cholesterol that cause up to 44% of dietary cholesterol to be excreted rather than digested[*][*]. And in the case of saturated fats, they can decrease absorption by up to 87% by forming calcium-containing complexes[*].
They also inhibit pancreatic lipase which can cause oily diarrhea and liver failure[*][*]. The only people saponins benefit: the executives of Charmin toilet paper.
Vegetables are not this horcrux that solves all your problems. Turns out they can even make you fat.
Some saponins may even inhibit lipolysis (the release of free fatty acids) and hepatic gluconeogenesis, which could prevent your body from burning stored fat[*].
The mainstream medical paradigm considers antinutrients that disrupt cholesterol and fat metabolism “beneficial” because of the narrative that cholesterol and fat are responsible for heart disease and the obesity epidemic.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. You need cholesterol and saturated fat to make hormones and stay alive, and higher intake levels correlate to a healthier, longer life.
#2: Saponins Increase Intestinal Permeability
Along with preventing absorption of some nutrients, eating too many saponins can cause leaky gut.
According to the authors of a study published in the Journal of Nutrition,
“The results indicate that some saponins readily increase the permeability of the small intestinal mucosal cells, thereby inhibiting active nutrient transport, and facilitating the uptake of materials to which the gut would normally be impermeable.”[*]
Basically, increased permeability of your intestines can allow bacteria, metabolites, and small food molecules to “leak” into your bloodstream and cause autoimmune issues and inflammation[*]. Your gut, stops holding the door.
Think of your gut like an exclusive club. The bouncers are the single layer of epithelial cells. In line, there are both toxins — underrage and uncool kids — and nutrients — celebrities and fashionistas you want inside. When your gut bouncers reject the toxins, saponins beat them over the head and find their way in anyways.
The club turns from something cool, fun and exclusive to a drunk, under-age mosh pit. It’s a disaster for everyone.
Mouse studies of high doses of saponins demonstrate intestinal hemorrhage, erosion of mucosa, and damage to the small intestine, liver, and kidney[*].
Although it’s unlikely anyone eats enough saponins to cause hemorrhaging, some researchers think that elevated saponins in modern diets might be responsible for gut and immune issues[*].
“Leaky gut syndrome” may be responsible for rising rates of celiac disease, too[*].
#3: Saponins Cleave Cholesterol
Remember how saponins form complexes in your gut that prevent cholesterol from absorbing?
Saponins can also interfere with cholesterol in your cells and cell membranes[*]. All your cells contain cholesterol, and they require it for normal functioning[*].
In fact, scientists often use saponins to cleave cholesterol from cell membranes intentionally, to better examine them[*]. Instead of eating leftover quinoa, scientists put it in a test tube to conduct their tests. Okay, not actually. These scientists use chemically isolated saponins — but it’s the same exact chemical.
Plant saponins also have the ability to strip away phospholipids, another vital part of cells[*].
According to a 2013 peer-reviewed paper, “the general cytotoxicity of saponins is mainly dependent on their membrane toxicity and that the membrane toxicity might be caused by the loss of cholesterol from the cell membrane”[*].
Keep that in mind next time you hear someone talking about the benefits of “lowering your cholesterol” with plant compounds or drugs.
#4: Saponins Can Disrupt Endocrine Function
Saponins can disrupt male and female hormones in two different ways.
First of all, even though your cells can make cholesterol, you need adequate dietary cholesterol to sustain production of sex hormones[*][*]. And as we’ve already learned, saponins prevent your body from absorbing cholesterol.
Second, many saponins have a phytoestrogenic effect and may act as an endocrine disruptor[*].
In men, endocrine disruptors can reduce testosterone levels, lower sperm count, and cause feminization[*]. We all knew eating quinoa was lame, but this takes it to a whole new level.
And research links endocrine disruption in women to higher rates of breast cancer, infertility, and children with birth defects[*].
Finally, children may be more susceptible to endocrine disruption because their brains and organs are still in development[*][*].
That’s why I recommend that everyone, but especially kids, avoid saponins. Why take the risk?
#5: Saponins are Toxic to Cells
We’ve already covered the fact that saponins can cleave cholesterol from cells and increase gut permeability.
However, the cytotoxicity (cellular toxicity) of saponins extends beyond those effects.
While some scientists think it could make saponins useful for treating cancer, cytotoxicity is a double-edged sword (at best)[*].
For example, saponins remove the cell membrane from erythrocytes and destroy red blood cells[*].
Saponins are a one-two punch. They first damage your gut junctions and allow molecules into your bloodstream. Then once inside, they destroy your cellular integrity.
In vitro studies also show that saponins can damage and dissolve the endothelium (delicate, single-cell lining) of blood vessels[*].
Do people typically eat enough saponins to cause these effects?
No one knows for sure, but if you eat a standard vegan cocktail of soy, chickpeas, quinoa, or take saponin supplements like ginseng or licorice root, you could be getting several grams of saponins each day.
Studies show that saponins cleave cell membranes in concentrations of micrograms per milliliter [*]. Do you really want to unleash these toxic termites into your bloodstream?
Last but not least, plant saponins are also genotoxic, meaning they cause DNA damage and interfere with cell replication[*].
According to a 2015 study, a triterpenoid saponin caused DNA damage in concentrations as low as 5 micrograms per milliliter[*]. That translates to human serum levels as low as a few milligrams of saponins.
Essentially, the evidence shows that saponins are likely to cause problems no matter where they end up in your body.
Are saponins helpful or harmful?
For the most part, they’re harmful.
Most of the purported health benefits involve lowering blood glucose, insulin levels, cholesterol levels, or triglycerides[*]. But if you eat a healthy diet to begin with, you don’t have to worry about any of those things.
Perhaps in the future, someone will discover that saponins can help cancer patients. But you wouldn’t chow down on chemotherapy drugs at every meal to prevent cancer, would you?
Insoluble calcium oxalate is what can really cause problems for the human body, because it forms a sharp crystal like structure.
Oxalates are ubiquitous in plant foods. They occur in over 200 plant families and in some plants comprise over 80% of the dry weight [*].
The plants it’s most prevalent in are: leafy greens, fruits, nuts, seeds and cocoa [*]. Ironically, these are the foods that people tend to think are the most healthy…thanks a lot popeye.
When you eat spinach, do you know that weird texture on your tongue and the roof of your mouth? Well hopefully you don’t remember because you don’t eat spinach.
But this is the oxalate content and is a defense mechanism for plants.
People that think they’re being healthy by overpaying for a green smoothies are actually flooding themselves with damaging oxalates.
Oxalates Are a Defense Mechanisms for Plants
What is the function of oxalates in plants? They’re used as protection from infection and being eaten.
Animals use the oxalates in two main ways.
The first is that they are very abrasive and damaging. Insoluble oxalates form crystals that can actually tear up the teeth of the bugs that are eating them.
Animals have shown a distinct preference for eating foods deprived of these oxalates.
Larvae that eat food rich in oxalates show noticeable wear and tear. [*]
These crystals are like razor blades and are physically damaging to tissues. Below is a photo of the oxalate crystal like structure.
Oxalates can also be toxic to predators. In an experiment, one group of larvae were fed a diet high in oxalates. The researchers found that they larvae with high oxalate consumption didn’t grow as large [*].
Researchers also found higher mortality rates at larger stages of larva growth.
Part of the way oxalates lead to higher mortality rates is because they bind to nutrients and reduce their bioavailability. They’re actually a sneaky way to make the diets the predators are eating much less nutritious.
Many insects recognize this and avoid foods high in oxalates. In one study, researchers applied calcium oxalate to the outside of funghi and flies stopped feeding on the mushrooms.
Additionally, a study of 46 conifers showed that there was a negative correlation between the amount of calcium oxalate and how much they were eaten by bark beetles [*]
High Oxalate Foods…This is a Big Problem with Keto
Oxalates are found in over 200 plant species, but some contain more than others.
Over the last few decades, oxalates in our diet have increased substantially. This is largely because of the de-emphasis on animal foods and the allure of the “real food”, vegetarian movement.
However, none of the evangelists of these diets have considered the bioavailability of nutrients or the toxic substances they contain.
Paradoxically, the obsession with superfoods has hurt some people’s health. Some of these noble superfoods are the highest in oxalates and antinutrients: spinach, beets, blackberries, sweet potatoes, turmeric, cinnamon and chocolate.
The average daily intake of oxalate is around 150mg. One green smoothie alone can have 500-800mg.
Below are some other foods that have over 100mg per serving.
The 12 highest oxalate foods (100–900 mg per serving) include:
Keto dieters need to be especially aware because many of these vegetables that are recommended to be eaten liberally are very high in oxalates.
Throughout evolutionary history, these foods were never available year round due to seasonality. But now they are ubiquitous.
Walk around any metropolitan city and you’re sure to find someone carrying an overpriced spinach and kale smoothie, mixed with non dairy almond milk, and touting the health benefits (probably instagramming about how they’re saving the environment).
But these green smoothies flood your body with these oxalate crystals.
How Do Oxalates Cause Damage to Humans?
Oxalates are one of the most effective plant weapons. Insect predators are aware of the consequences.
But humans have taken the bait and fallen for the marketing. The damage to humans is much more insidious and occurs over the long term, so the immediate consequences aren’t always apparent.
It’s almost like the insects are smarter than we are.
How do they cause damage?
Oxalates are toxins. Plain and simple. You can’t use them in any way, so whenever you ingest them your body tries to get rid of them. The process is slightly different depending on whether the oxalates are soluble or insoluble.
Soluble and free oxalic acid is absorbed through the intestines and excreted into the urine.
Insoluble oxalates are not absorbed. Instead, they have an affinity for calcium and try to bind to it (the two are like Romeo and Juliet together). It’s quite romantic.
Because you can’t absorb insoluble oxalates, you excrete them through the feces.
Dietary calcium can actually protect you against the damage of the oxalates by binding to it. But on the other hand, it reduces the bioavailability of calcium in your diet (because the calcium is excreted instead of used).
In a normal scenario, your body should do a good job expelling oxalates. However, if you have gut issues or leaky gut, you’ll have a much harder time expelling them.
There are two main ways oxalates cause damage. Mechanically and biochemically.
Because oxalates are so abrasive, even the process of expelling them can cause damage.
Oxalate crystals are very abrasive and cause a tremendous amount of wear and tear.
When you have high circulating levels in your blood, they can be deposited in almost any organ in your body: thyroid, kidney, lymph nodes, intestines, eyes and skin [*] [*].
These crystals are not something you want deposited in your organs. It’s basically like filling your body with tiny razor blades that can mechanically shred tissues.
Similar to an oyster, if you open us up and you’ll often find some pearly crystals inside. Except in this case, the crystals are destroying your health
Oxalates also work on a biochemical level. Smaller oxalate crystals called nano crystals can pass through your cell membranes.
When they get into the cell they inhibit enzymes that convert fuel into energy (such as biotin enzymes) These enzymes are critical for maintaining an energy balance and metabolic flexibility.
When it gets into the cell, it can poison and disrupt many processes [*]
High oxalate levels can cause cells to swell up and burst
Depletes antioxidants like glutathione
Destruction of organelles
Rupture of lysosomes leading to the release of destructive enzymes
When to Be Worried About Oxalates?
People with impeccable health and immune systems don’t need to be as concerned about oxalate content. But spoiler alert, that’s not me. And if you’re reading this, it’s probably not you either.
If you have any of the issues below, you need to be very careful with oxalate intake. The gut issues are especially important because instead of excreting oxalates, issues like leaky gut can allow them to sneak into your bloodstream where they’ll wreak even more havoc.
Leaky gut syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Autoimmune diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic inflammation related diseases
Dangers of High Oxalate Food Consumption
Too much oxalate in the urine and bloodstream is called enteric hyperoxaluria. This is caused by fat malabsorption, gut dysfunction and / or a high oxalate diet [*]
Basically, various factors are causing you to absorb way too much oxalate and your circulating oxalate is through the roof.
Over time, high oxalate levels will damage tissue and organs throughout your body.
The symptoms of oxalate toxicity are often hard to identify because they are subtle and damage occurs over the long term. It’s not like 1 spinach smoothie will cause your face to blow up like a balloon.
But over time, the damage can be severe. Given the ubiquitous prevalence of leaky gut and the excessive consumption of high oxalate foods, I believe that many people are suffering from issues stemming from high oxalate consumption.
Below are some of the main consequences.
1. Kidney Stones
The majority of research of oxalate impact is on the kidney.
When oxalate is high in the blood it goes to the kidney. Soluble oxalates are mainly excreted through urine so the kidney plays a big role.
In the kidney, oxalates can bind with calcium and wedge themselves into its tissue [*]. Because of this mechanism, roughly 80% of kidney stones are calcium oxalate.
And no wonder kidney stones are on the rise in the US [*]. People can’t get enough of their leafy green superfoods (i.e. poison).
Reducing oxalate content is an effective treatment for kidney stones.
2. Renal Failure
Over time, oxalates can damage the kidney enough to cause renal failure. The kidney is the main organ focused on excretion, and the stress and inflammation from oxalates can overwhelm it. [*]
3. Reduced Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc Absorption
Oxalates are like magnets for minerals. The most common mineral that it attracts is calcium. Because oxalates are expelled from the body as fast as possible, the calcium is attracts is no longer absorbed.
So if you’re eating calcium and high oxalate foods together, you’ll only actually be getting a fraction of that calcium.
This is why plant foods are often inferior sources of nutrients to animal products.
Many people think that spinach is a good source of calcium. But they’re almost as wrong as the people who think carbohydrates are good for you.
The calcium in spinach is completely useless. It’s all tied up in oxalate and you excrete it all. And this is true for all high-oxalate foods.
According to Dr. Weil:
“For example, although the calcium in spinach is 115 mg per half cup cooked, because of the interference of oxalic acid, you would have to eat more than 16 cups of raw or more than eight cups of cooked spinach to get the amount of calcium available in one cup of yogurt.” — Dr Weil
Additionally, a study tested consuming a high fiber diet with spinach, which is high in oxalates, vs the same diet with lower oxalate cauliflower.
Calcium, magnesium and zinc absorption were all lower on the diet higher in oxalates [*].
4. Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Maintaining mitochondrial function is a critical aspect to maintaining health.
Mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with many chronic diseases, including cancer [*]. Despite being touted as longevity promoting superfoods, high oxalate foods can severely damage the mitochondria.
Mitochondria produce reactive oxygen species. They are atoms with an unpaired electron, which repel throughout your body looking for a match. Think of this like a drunk person at a single’s bar…
If they go unchecked, they can damage DNA, proteins and healthy mitochondria.
Your body produces antioxidants to neutralize these reactive oxygen species: glutathione and superoxide dismutase. They’re both critical to maintaining mitochondrial health.
However, oxalates deplete both of these antioxidants and can damage mitochondrial function [*].
Patients with kidney stones have been shown to have decreased mitochondrial function in their white blood cells [*]
The increased mitochondrial damage and dysfunction produces even more free radicals that lead to DNA damage and cancer [*]
“Results of clinical and experimental studies show that renal epithelial exposure to high oxalate and crystals of CaOx/calcium phosphate (CaP) generates excess ROS, causing injury and inflammation” [*]
Which is ironic because many of these superfoods people eat are because they’re supposedly “antioxidants”. They’re really causing these “reactive oxygen species” and free radicals [*].
5. Arthritis and Joint Pain
Joint pain is one of the most common symptoms of high oxalate consumption. Many people are unaware of how much oxalates contribute to these problems.
Oxalate crystals can actually lodge themselves into joints. If you remember the structure, they are very abrasive and can cause pain every time you move the joint [*] [*].
When oxalates are deposited into your organ tissues, they trigger inflammation. Specifically the NLPR-3 inflammasome [*].
NLPR-3 has been implicated in numerous chronic diseases, including cancer [*].
This study found that patients with Autism had 3x the levels of oxalates in their blood than normal individuals. [*]
Researcher Susan Owens has also shown drastic improvement in autism symptoms when removing oxalates from the diet [*]
The exact metabolic pathways are unclear, but a few mechanisms have been hypothesized.
Gastroinstestinal problems are common in children with autism and intestinal permeability likely plays a role[*].
Researchers in this study also proposed that increased permeability may allow oxalates to disrupt the blood-brain barrier and interfere with central nervous system function.
8. Leaky Gut and Gut Dysbiosis
Oxalates are an even bigger concern if you already have leaky gut.
But they can also cause leaky gut and gut dysbiosis. Gut bacteria is necessary to degrade oxalates in the gut, but over time Oxalates can actually kill those bacteria [*].
One big problem with oxalates is that we cannot digest them. They pass directly to the GI tract and because of their crystal-like structure, they can irritate the gut.
If you give these bacteria too many by force feeding them almond milk or green smoothies on a daily basis, they’ll give up and die.
There’s a war going on in your gut between oxalates and bacteria, and the oxalates are winning.
Gut dysbiosis can lead to leaky gut, which then makes the problem even worse.
9. Skin and Eye Issues
High circulating oxalate levels leads to deposits in numerous organs throughout the body. Two of the most common are the skin and eyes [*].
Oxalates are abrasive causing skin and eye issues when deposited there.
Neuropathy is a disease where you have numbness in the hands and feet. Similar to the joints, oxalate crystals can make themselves at home in your peripheral nerves in the feet and hands.
In this study, a 61 year old man who had neuropathy, had crystal deposits in his nerve tissues [*].
11. Thyroid Issues and Hypothyroidism
One of the oxalates other favorite crawl into is the thyroid. There, oxalate binds to T3, a hormone that the thyroid releases.
This study showed oxalates in 79 out of 100 thyroid glands in routine autopsies [*].
T3 and thryoid hormones help to regulate many functions including:
Central and peripheral nervous systems
This can disturb your natural thyroid hormonal balance.
Another study found that rats fed a diet with 5% oxalic acid developed hypothyroidism and had severe body weight losses [*]
12. Cystic Fibrosis
A study of 26 children with cystic fibrosis and no symptoms of kidney stones, showed that 14 had elevated levels of oxalate excretion [*]
This is just associative, but if you have cystic fibrosis you should be aware of this potential cause.
Symptoms of Issues with Oxalates
Fix Oxalate Issues with the Carnivore Diet
The human body isn’t designed to have access to these high oxalate foods all year round. Hunter-gatherers never ate oxalates in such high concetrations and throughout the year like we do.
But people today are constantly barraging their bodies with oxalates and over time their bodies will give in.
The best way to fix these issues?
The carnivore diet is the best diet for oxalate based problems. And I think this is a big reason why we’re seeing some of the miraculous improvements in health that we are.S
How does the carnivore diet improve problems with oxalates?
The Carnivore Diet Can Heal the Gut
The carnivore diet cuts out anti-nutrients, fiber and inflammatory sludge. This improves the gut microbiome by starving bad bacteria and strengthening the good bacteria.
Lowering inflammation is the most important thing you can do for your gut health.
Low Thiamin (B1) levels will increase your body’s endogenous oxalate production.
Thiamin is an important coenzyme for carbohydrate metabolism. Excessive consumption of carbohydrates can lead to Vitamin b1 deficiency [*].
So people that are both eating a higher carbohydrate diet and a diet high in oxalates, are flooding their body with these toxic crystals.
And to make matters worse, spinach and vegetables don’t have the Thiamin necessary to replenish their levels. 100g of Spinach has only 10% of the daily RDA.
Thiamine deprived rats have much higher levels of oxalate production [*].
500g of steak and 100g of beef liver will get you >60% of your daily Vitamin B1 needs.
Meat is Rich in B6
Low B6 increases oxalate production. How? Your body can’t convert the oxalate precursor glyoxalate to the amino acid glycine without sufficient b6. Instead your body synthesizes oxalate instead because you have no b6.
This study shows that b6 deficient mice can develop excessive oxalate levels [*]
Animal products have substantial amounts of b6 and they’re in the most bioavailable form.
Just 100g of beef liver has 60% of your daily needs. And spinach, which is already raising your oxalate level, only has about 15% of your daily RDA.
Steak and liver are like mr. clean for oxalates.
The Carnivore Diet is a Low Oxalate Diet
If you eat what humans are made to eat — red meat — you can cut out the overhyped antioxidant superfoods, and power yourself off the most nutritious food in the world.
Red meat has all of the nutrients that humans need, in the perfect quantities. And it has no oxalate content.
And the ketogenic diet increases our endogenous antioxidant levels [*]. Juice cleanses are destroying your health. Eat red meat instead.
Recent obsession with plant superfoods has dramatically increased the amount of antinutrients in diets.
A naive obsession with “noble” antioxidants has ironically flooded people’s diet with oxidative stressful and inflammatory toxins.
Oxalates in our diets have skyrocketed and so have many of the health issues it brings.
If you want to lower oxalate levels and make yourself immune to chronic disease, you need to start the carnivore diet.
This is nonsense. Plants and vegetables are not put on this earth to serve humans.
They don’t want to be eaten.Over millions of years evolving with animals, they developed defense mechanisms.
Instead of fleeing or attacking, plants have chemical booby traps that poison their predators. They’re like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone.
One of them causes countless issues such as:
Here’s what they are and 8 reasons to not eat them.
Are Lectins Bad For You?
Are Lectins bad for you? First we need to discuss what they are.
It turns out plants aren’t so innocent after all. They’re loaded with chemical weapons to attack their predators.
We tend to think of only refined sugar and carbohydrates as unhealthy. But these chemicals in plants can also be as damaging.
One of the most damaging plant chemicals are lectins. They are carbohydrate binding proteins designed to damage cellular communication.
What is their function? Lectins are designed (by evolution) to cause a severe immune response in the insects that eat them, which ultimately results in paralysis.
But the same mechanisms are detrimental to your health.
Lectins are like sugar seeking drones. And because sugar is on almost every cell in your body, lectins seek them out and latch on.
They also bind to something called Sialic acid, which is found in the gut, brain and nerve endings. Brain fog is often the result of your brain literally getting clogged with these lectins, which disrupt normal cellular communication.
Lectins are in both plants and animals, however the most damaging ones are in plants.
Lectins Are a Plant Defense Mechanism
Unlike animals who can run away, plants need extra protection for their seeds [*].
Remember, evolution was about maximizing genetic fitness. That is, increasing the chance genes are passed down to the next generation. If a vegetable’s seeds are eaten, its genes ceased to exist.
So plants tend to concentrate their defenses in seeds to protect the family jewels. Over time through evolution, the plants that were best able to protect their offspring survived. Thus, the plants and vegetables that exist today are hyper optimized machines to protect their seeds.
Lectins are highly inflammatory, and resistant to cooking and digestion. Thus, they pass right through the gut where they wreak havoc.
Yet humans continue to try to eat them…
When an insect eats lectin containing seeds and has an adverse reaction, its intuition dissuades it from ever doing so again. Whereas humans just paper over the symptoms and take antacids, instead of avoiding the foods that caused discomfort in the first place.
How much smarter are we really?
Two Lectins to Watch Out For
There are many different lectins. The most infamous ones and damaging ones are Gluten and Wheat Germ Agglutinin.
Gluten is the most renown lectin.
I get it the fear is annoying. To many today, gluten is scarier than nuclear weapons.
What is it? Gluten is actually a complex of 100s of different proteins mainly consisting of two: gliadin and glutenin. It is the main protein in wheat and comprises approximately 80% of the protein in wheat.
Gluten can cause a whole spectrum of reactions. It can even kill people that are highly allergic. This alone should make you skeptical of all the health claims around gluten containing foods.
Gluten is technically what is called a prolamin. The real danger stems from the fact that you do not have the enzymes to break down their amino acid structure. They are incapable of being digested and anything that cannot be digested or expelled causes harm.
Celiac disease — a severe gluten allergy — is on the rise.
However, gluten is not just a concern for people that have celiac disease. It damages everybody.
When you eat gluten, it stimulates the release of zonulin, which prys the gut open. This is why gluten has been linked to so many autoimmune disorders (I will discuss more below).
However, gluten is not the only damaging lectin. In fact, gluten free products tend to have more of other lectins that are even more damaging.
Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA)
The other lectin that’s especially pernicious is Wheat Germ Agglutinin. An agglutinin is a protein that is in seeds to protect against insects. Crops today are modified to contain higher levels of agglutinin to make them even more resistant to insects.
Wheat Germ Agglutinin is an especially small lectin. So even if the gut wall isn’t compromised, it can still pass through the walls of the intestine easier.
Disrupting endocrine dysfunction by binding to insulin receptors
Blocking sugar from getting into muscle cells
Interfering with protein digestion
Crossing blood brain barrier
Stimulating weight gain.
One of the biggest reasons the damage from WGA is so insidious is because it is in the bran. So from this perspective, whole wheat grains are worse for you.
10 Dangers of Eating Them
Lectins are especially damaging to humans because we haven’t adapted to handle them.
For instance, in 1988 a hospital launched a healthy eating day for staff. One dish had red kidney beans. Over the next 4 hours, over 10 people vomited profusely and had diarrhea. It was not a pretty sight in the hospital. No pathogens were found.
One such mechanism is lectins. When they reach the bloodstream they bind to insulin receptors and interfere with insulin’s action [*].
This causes your pancreas to secrete more insulin than necessary. Ultimately this can lead to insulin resistance and chronic hyperinsulinemia.
Lectins and wheat were prized by our ancestors to gain weight. In advance of a cold winter, people used them to fatten up [*].
The problem is most people are now fattening up all year round.
There are a number of ways lectins make you gain weight. One such mechanism is via insulin. Persistently high insulin signals that you’re in the anabolic or fed state: that you should be building up and storing fat instead of burning fat. As discussed above, lectins are linked to insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia.
This study shows that when added to insulin, lectins stimulate the insulin receptor more than insulin alone.
Lectins also exert their weight gain effect via leptin. Leptin is a hormone that regulates satiety.
Lectins can bind to the leptin receptor and cause leptin resistance. [*] When you’re leptin resistant, your body doesn’t signal that you’re full.
This may be why bread is served at the beginning of a meal: to block hunger receptors and make you even more hungry.
3. Leaky Gut & Digestive Problems
If you have digestive issues, lectins are a likely culprit. Digestive issues are the most direct symptom of lectin consumption.
Your gut has evolved over millions of years to recognize and expel one thing: infectious microorganisms. The problem is that it hasn’t yet adapted to the flood of lectins and antinutrients added to your diet.
As a result, lectins are indigestible to humans and the gut is the first site where they wreak havoc.
After passing through your gut undigested, Lectins attach directly to the intestinal lining. There they cause digestive discomfort and can even pry your gut lining open. Additionally, lectins like gluten also stimulate the release of zonulin which opens up a space in the lining, causing leaky gut.
Once a gap is open, anything you consume can find its way into your bloodstream. Similar to a splinter, your body recognizes the foreign invader and tries to expel it. Usually it’s quite successful. However, there are major externalities and side effects including chronic inflammation.
Last but not least: harmful bacteria love lectins. A healthy gut microbiome is vital to your health [*].
Once you have leaky gut, food you consume can pass into the bloodstream. This effectively hacks your immune system and makes it go haywire.
This study pictured below, for instance, showed a spike in lectin concentration in the blood after peanut digestion.
Foreign bloodstream invaders activate the immune system and cause inflammation.
As a result, lectin intake is associated with proinflammatory cytokine production — a signal that the immune system is on alert.
Chronic inflammation is associated with a range of conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, insulin resistance and again, autoimmune diseases [*].
5. Autoimmune Disorders
Autoimmune disorders are on the rise. One of the biggest causes in my opinion are lectins.
Your immune system uses antibodies to identify pathogens. But in the case of autoimmune disorders they bind to healthy cells.
One of the reasons why is because lectins can mimic healthy cells. Once lectins enter the bloodstream, they play dress up. They are able to mimic your healthy proteins and confuse your immune system [*]. This is why lectins cause insects to become paralyzed.
I have to give it to lectins, this is a heck of an attack maneuver. Instead of plants exerting the energy to attack you, they cause you to turn on yourself.
Your immune system needs time to rest and if you’re eating 6+ meals a day or constantly bombarding your gut with lectins it will break.
Many autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis are associated with leaky gut, suggesting that the gut damage from lectins plays a big role in the etiology of these diseases [*].
6. Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Disease
Lectins have been implicated in the development of cardiovascular disease.
The first mechanism is via platelets. Platelets are blood cells that form clots to stop bleeding. However, aggregation of platelets can block blood flow through vessels leading to a coronary event. Lectins can aggravate this effect. Endothelial function has been shown to improve on a low lectin diet [*].
Additionally, The Diet and Reinfarction Trial (DART) showed that a group that consumed more fiber had a higher cardiovascular mortality rate. Lectins, amongst other things, may have played a role in the negative consequences of fiber [*].
Is it finally time to rethink the suggestion to replace red meat with lectin rich legumes and grains?
Depression is on the rise. One of the biggest reasons why: the evolutionary mismatch.
Society has transitioned from real food to junk food. Real relationships to junk relationships. Sun daily to a sedentary, indoor lifestyle. All of these are major factors in the rise of depression.
But when it comes to diet, one of the so called “healthy” foods may be a culprit: vegetables.
How? A study in yeast showed that lectins are transported directly from the gut across the brain barrier into the brain [*].
Once in the brain, they bind to dopamine receptors damaging their function. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that signals pleasure. Dopamine dysregulation is linked to depression [*].
Additionally chronic inflammation exerts many of its most pernicious effects on the brain where it’s been implicated in both depression and neurodegenerative disorders.
8. Neurodegenerative Disorders
Low dopamine production is also associated with parkinson’s disease.
This could explain why vegetarians have a higher rate of Parkinson’s [*].
This study showed that when scientists severed the vagas nerve — the nerve that connects the gut and brain — in c elegans, it reduced their risk of parkinson’s by 40% [*].
Quite the draconian treatment. However, it begins to elucidate one of the mechanisms by which diet may cause neurodegenerative disorder.
9. Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is on the rise. However, the medical institution views it as a result of losing the genetic lottery.
What if it was also connected to our poor diet?
Lectins may play a role. This study showed that maternal gluten consumption increased the risk of type 1 diabetes by 2x between the lowest and highest intake group [*].
Why? One explanation is because lectins damage insulin receptors.
Another explanation is because of the autoimmune component of type 1 diabetes. One of the causes of type 1 diabetes is because your immune system attacks your pancreas cells, damaging insulin production [*]
10. Nutrient Deficiencies
Lastly, lectins also exhibit anti nutrient effects and can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Antinutrients are a big problem with plant based foods and why vegetables are a lot less nutritious than you think.
Just because a vegetable has a nutrient, doesn’t mean you absorb it.
Lectins, for instance, can actually block protein absorption by interfering with digestive enzymes and binding to sugar molecules that disrupt physiological processes.
This study showed that lectins reduce protein absorption, for instance. This is by inhibiting trypsin, a digestive enzyme [*]
Foods Highest in Lectins
There are 5 main categories of foods highest in lectins
Beans and legumes
Squash: pumpkin, butternut, zucchini
Grains: new food to us. Lectin bombs. Even gluten free
Nightshades: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers
Fruit: out of season. If it has a seed it’s a fruit. Peppers and cucumbers.
If you’re having health issues, try cutting these lectins out for 30 days.
You can see that a diet that is rich in lectin increases the risk of many western chronic diseases.
These conditions are linked with each other: if you have one, you have a high chance to have more from the list. This suggests that they all have a common cause, one of which may be high lectin intake.
Lectins are a plant defense mechanism and serve as protection from being eaten. So, it’s not surprising that eating large amounts of lectins is indeed a threat to our health.
The more we follow our natural diets and cut out the toxic junk, the healthier we will be.
Are you confused about what antinutrients are, where they’re found and if they’re actually a real threat?
Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds found in a variety of foods — especially grains, beans, legumes and nuts — that interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They can even get in the way of the digestive enzymes, which are key for proper absorption. Antinutrients can also be found in plant roots, vegetables, leaves and fruits, although these are at much lower levels and usually have benefits as opposed to mostly harmful effects.
Many different types of “seed” foods contain antinutrients like phytic acid, leptins and saponins naturally, including some that you probably don’t even realize are seeds (for example, all grains are really the seeds of cereal grasses). The reason they contain these compounds that bind to vitamins and minerals, making them unabsorbable, is largely as a defense mechanism. Their antinutrients help repel pests, bugs and other predators so the seeds are able to live on and reproduce.
The good news? Not all antinutrients are bad, first off, and secondly, you can help lower the content of the kinds that are. (1)
Polyphenols, for example, are a type of antinutrient that can actually be beneficial (when eaten in appropriate doses), so it’s not always cut-and-dry as to the types we should avoid. This is the same case as with flavonoids, another group of antinutrients found in “healthy” sources, including tea, coffee, wine and certain other whole plant foods. Unfortunately, even positive antinutrients can inhibit mineral absorption to some degree but are relatively harmless (and even beneficial) as long as you don’t overconsume them.
Just keep in mind, in sensitive individuals and when eaten in very high concentrations, even “good antinutrients” can inhibit digestion of copper, iron, zinc and vitamin B1, along with enzymes, proteins and starches found in plant foods. It all depends on someone’s unique reaction, so it’s key that you tune in to your own reactions to different foods so you can adjust your diet accordingly.
How to Reduce Antinutrients in Your Body
When it comes to lowering the content of “bad” antinutrients that are more harmful than beneficial, here’s what you need to know: When you sproutfoods that contain antinutrients, the concentration of the antinutrients usually goes way down. (2)
The same can happen when fermenting foods, which produces incredibly beneficial probiotic foods. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting are the simple and time-honored practices of germinating seeds — whether seeds from grains, nuts, beans or legumes — so that they’re easier to digest and your body can access their full nutritional profile.
Research shows that unsprouted grains have lower protein content, deficiency of certain essential amino acids, lower protein and starch availabilities, and the presence of certain antinutrients when compared to seeds that have been sprouted.
Sprouting foods that contain antinutrients (or cooking them in the case of most vegetables) increases absorption of beneficial vitamin B12, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc, plus it makes the food easier on digestion; decreases risk of allergic reactions; and releases more vitamins, amino acids and fiber from within the seeds. While sprouted grains and other nutrient-blocking seeds won’t be completely free from all antinutrients after soaking and sprouting, it’s a much better option than eating them unsoaked.
10 Antinutrients to Avoid
Due to the potential for contributing to deficiencies and causing digestive distress for a high percentage of people, here are 10 antinutrients to try and eliminate from your diet as much as possible:
1. Phytic Acid (Also Called Phytate)
This is probably the most well-known antinutrient that’s found in grains and legumes and interferes with the absorption of minerals. Phytic acid can unfortunately lock up high percentages of phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc. Some research shows that up 80 percent of phosphorous found in high-phosphorus foods like pumpkin or sunflower seeds, along with 80 percent of zinc found in high-zinc foods like cashews and chickpeas, might be blocked by phytate. The same can be said for about 40 percent of magnesium-rich foods.
At the same time, it interferes with calcium and iron absorption, which raises the risk for problems like anemia (which emanates from an iron deficiency) and bone loss. On the other hand, eating foods rich in vitamin C, like leafy green vegetables or citrus fruits, can counteract phytate and increase iron absorption. And foods rich in vitamin A like sweet potatoes or berries can also help improve iron absorption.
Another very problematic component to phytic acid is that it inhibits certain essential digestive enzymes called amylase, trypsin and pepsin. Amylase breaks down starch, while both pepsin and trypsin are needed to break down protein.
Known to be one of the most difficult-to-digest plant proteins, gluten is an enzyme inhibitor that has become notorious for causing gastrointestinal distress. Not only can gluten cause digestive problems, but it can contribute to leaky gut syndrome or autoimmune disease, allergic reactions, and cognitive problems as well. Gluten sensitivity is classified as a group of symptoms related to negative reactions to the gluten protein found in all wheat, rye and barley plants.
The severe form of gluten sensitivity, a true allergy to gluten, is celiac’s disease — but gluten can also cause other less severe symptoms in a much larger percentage of people, including joint pain, headaches, fatigue and poor memory.
Tannins are a type of enzyme inhibitor that prevent adequate digestion and can cause protein deficiency and gastrointestinal problems. Because we need enzymes to properly metabolize food and usher nutrients to our cells, molecules that inhibit enzymes can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation and other GI issues.
Similar to tannins, oxalates are found in the highest quantities in sesame seeds, soybeans, and black and brown varieties of millet. The presence of these antinutrients makes plant (especially legumes) proteins of “poor quality,” according to research done on absorbability of plant amino acids. (3)
Lectins are found in high quantities in beans and wheat, which as mentioned earlier reduce nutrient absorption and can cause indigestion, bloating and gas for many people. One of the most nutritionally important features of plant lectins is their ability to survive digestion by the gastrointestinal tract, which means they can penetrate cells lining the digestive tract and cause a loss of gut epithelial cells, damage the membranes of the epithelium lining, interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption, stimulate shifts in the bacterial flora, and trigger autoimmune reactions. (4)
Lectins can cause GI upset similar to classical food poisoning and immune responses like joint pain and rashes. Improperly prepared raw grains, dairy and legumes like peanuts, and soybeans have especially high lectin levels.
Similar to lectins, saponins affect the gastrointestinal lining, contributing to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disorders. They’re particularly resistant to digestion by humans and have the ability to enter the bloodstream and trigger immune responses.
7. Trypsin Inhibitors
Trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors are found in most grain-containing products, including cereals, porridge, breads and even baby foods. They seem to be degraded well by heat processing and cooking but can still cause problems like mineral deficiencies for young infants, children and anyone with reduced pancreatic function.
These are a type of polyphenolic antinutrient found in highest levels in soybeans that might cause hormonal changes and contribute to digestive issues. In smaller does and when beans have been properly prepared, this can also be beneficial, but it’s usually recommended to avoid soybeans because isoflavones are capable of exerting estrogen-like effects. For this reason, they’re classified as phytoestrogens and considered endocrine disruptors — plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity that might result in harmful changes in hormone levels.
Found in nightshade vegetables like eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, this is actually a beneficial antinutrient in most cases. But in high levels and in those sensitive to eating nightshades, it can cause “poisoning” and symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, headaches and dizziness.
Found in corn and plants of the Solanaceae family, including potatoes, this compound is beneficial when eaten in small doses because it has antifungal properties, but in some people it’s capable of causing digestive issues, especially when uncooked and eaten in high amounts.
Plant-based diets are supposed to be healthy, right? Unfortunately, there are many inflammatory substances in these foods. Learn the chemicals to watch for.
When I was 20, I read “The China Study”, which listed the miracles of a plant-based diet. In my experiments, I’ve found that the fewer plants I eat, the healthier I am.
I’ve listed 19 chemicals found mostly in ‘plant-based’ foods that can cause chronic inflammation and autoimmunity. Each person has a different immune system and can react differently to these substances. I’ve tried to list them in the order of importance for most people.
The foods mainly fall under the category of plant-based foods and secondarily cured meats.
Inflammatory Substances Naturally Found in Plant-Based Foods
Lectins are proteins that are found in every living organism, including viruses, bacteria, and pretty much all foods, to one degree or another – but most of them are harmless. Scientists have known about lectins since 1884.
The more nefarious of these proteins have the potential damage and destroy the cells in our intestines causing discomfort, poor digestion, and “leaky gut.”
Cell membranes in our body contain sugar molecules attached to fat and protein called glycolipids and glycoproteins (glyco=sugar). The lectins that harm our cells are chemically attracted to these sugar molecules and disrupt the cell wall.
Lectins can also spike inflammation in the gut, skin, joints and the hypothalamus in susceptible people.
Lectins are part of the defense mechanism of plants to protect them from being consumed .
Over time, our immune system has evolved to create antibodies that compete with lectins . Unfortunately, not all of us have the genetics that creates antibodies that protect us from every harmful lectin. This is why some of us are sensitive to the lectins in nightshades, and others are not.
Some dietary sources of lectins such as wheat can directly break tight junctions in gut cells [3, 4].
On average, fifteen percent of a bean’s proteins are composed of lectins.
Studies show that bean lectins aren’t completely destroyed after soaking for 2 hours and cooking. In common beans, the lectin content declines from 820 to 3.2 (Hemagglutinating Activity), while in fava beans it declines from 51.3 to 6.4 .
Lectins can cause GI upset similar to classical food poisoning and immune responses like joint pain and rashes. Improperly prepared raw grains, dairy, and legumes like peanuts, and soybeans have especially high lectin levels.
A study was done on 800 people with autoimmune conditions who ate a diet that consisted of avoidance of grains, sprouted grains, pseudo-grains, beans and legumes, soy, peanuts, cashews, nightshades, melons and squashes, and non-Southern European cow milk products (Casein A1), and grain and/or bean fed animals.
Most of these people had elevated TNF-alpha. The result after 6 months was a normalization of TNF-alpha in all patients who complied with the diet.
The study concluded that elevated Adiponectin is a marker for lectin and gluten sensitivity, while TNF-alpha can be used as a marker for gluten/lectin exposure in sensitive individuals .
Dr. Gundry frowns upon foods that originated from America.
When plasma histamine levels are raised above the normal range (0.3-1.0 ng/mL) this produces certain effects. For example a level of 1-2 ng/mL causes increased gastric acid secretion and heart rate, with, flushing, headache, urticaria, pruritus, and tachycardia occurring at a level of 3-5 ng/mL), bronchospasm at a level of 7-12 ng/mL and cardiac arrest occurring at levels of 100 ng/mL .
Thus large amounts of ingested histamine can cause significant symptoms in otherwise well individuals. For example symptoms of flushing, sweating, urticaria, GI symptoms, palpitations and in severe cases bronchospasm may occur following the consumption of spoiled fish .
This condition, known as scombroid poisoning, occurs due to the high level of histidine in certain fish species being converted into histamine by marine bacteria .
Due to the nature of the symptoms caused, reactions involving vasoactive amines may, therefore, be incorrectly diagnosed as a food allergy.
Although 75 mg of liquid histamine can provoke symptoms in healthy volunteers , defining a safe threshold level for sensitive individuals is difficult .
According to one study, mean levels of histamine were 3.63 mg/L for French wines, 2.19 mg/L for Italian wines and 5.02 mg/L for Spanish wines .
In a placebo-controlled study, one study found no correlation between wine histamine content and wine intolerance and concluded that other vaso-active amines or sulphites may be more relevant in intolerance to wine .
It has been proposed that other foods may be able to cause histamine release directly from tissue mast cells although evidence for this is lacking .
One study found that a diet low in vasoactive amines alleviated chronic headache in 73 % of patients .
Another study reported that 27/44 (61%) of subjects had a significant improvement in idiopathic urticaria, angioedema, and pruritus on a diet low in dietary amines, although foods containing additives or high in natural salicylate were also restricted .
Subjects with chronic hives or angioedema had a marginally significant reduction in their use of antihistamines on a histamine-reducing diet compared to a control group who eliminated artificial sweeteners from their diet .
58% of adult patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) considered foods rich in vasoactive amines, such as wine, beer, salami, and cheese, to be a cause of their symptoms .
The diagnosis of sensitivity to vasoactive amines is usually made through history and dietary exclusion; however, some studies have suggested that the measurement of diamine oxidase (DAO) levels may be helpful. One study found a DAO level <3 kU/mL was associated with reported symptoms to high histamine foods, whereas a level of >10 kU/mL indicated histamine intolerance was unlikely .
Patients with chronic idiopathic hives/urticaria and GI symptoms have been shown to have reduced DAO activity [17, 18].
Another study reported that the size of the skin prick test wheal to histamine after 50 min, the ‘histamine 50-skin-prick test’, was a useful diagnostic indicator; 82% of subjects with histamine intolerance maintained a wheal size greater than 3 mm compared with 18 % of controls .
Foods more likely to contain high levels of vaso-active amines and salicylate
All cured meat especially pork products e.g. ham, salami, pepperoni, game, bacon, sausages, fresh pork, fresh or canned tuna, canned sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, herring, processed fish products (fish pastes, smoked, dried or pickled fish), fish sauce
Milk and eggs
Blue cheese, parmesan, brie, camembert, Emmental, old gouda, cheddar cheese, and other hard cheeses
Green tea, champagne, coffee, cocoa, chocolate, wine, beer, fresh fruit juices, smoothies
Coffee, pineapple juice, cider, Benedictine liqueur, lemon tea, black tea, apple juice, cranberry juice, orange juice, tomato juice, fizzy drinks, Drambuie liqueur, wine, rum
I don’t believe all tannins are bad, but many of them stimulate the immune system too much.
Tannins are found in many plant foods and are considered anti-nutritional because they can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients .
Tannins are a type of enzyme inhibitor that prevent adequate digestion and can cause protein deficiency and gastrointestinal problems.
Tannins give plants their color. Some are healthy and some are harmful (to people with an overactive immune system).
Human dietary sources of tannins are tea and coffee , wine (contributes to its bitterness) , cranberries , strawberries and blueberries . Apple juice, grape juices, and berry juices are all high in tannins. Nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans also contain high amounts of tannins.
4) Trypsin Inhibitors
It’s important to remember that plant foods have tens of thousands of chemicals and any of them can stimulate the immune system too much for your biology.
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides), disaccharides, monosaccharides and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. These include short chain (oligo-) saccharide polymers of fructose (fructans) and galactose (galactans), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols) such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and maltitol.
The term FODMAP is an acronym, deriving from “Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides, And Polyols.”
FODMAPs caused fatigue and gut problems in people who thought they’re sensitive to gluten (33).
FODMAP avoidance should be the first-line therapy for the majority of patients with functional bowel symptoms [34, 35].
Salicylate intolerance has been defined as a hypersensitivity reaction to salicylic acid, its derivatives or other related organic or inorganic acids of similar chemical structure .
Salicylic acid is widely distributed in plant foods (especially spices) and, like its synthetic counterpart (Aspirin), has anti-inflammatory activity. Namely, it inhibits COX-2 gene expression [38, 39].
It’s proposed that 2.5 % of Europeans may have salicylate sensitivity , but the evidence on which this assertion is based is sparse.
One study proposed that 2-7 % of all patients with inflammatory bowel syndrome and food allergies could be affected by salicylate intolerance . Gibson and Barrett suggest that since there are no published studies demonstrating
Oxalates (oxalic acid) are considered anti-nutrients.
Foods with oxalates include leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, cocoa, nuts and seeds .
Oxalates are found in the highest quantities in sesame seeds, soybeans, and black and brown varieties of millet.
Your body can produce oxalate on its own or obtain it from food. Vitamin C can also be converted into oxalate when it’s metabolized .
Oxalates can bind to minerals to form calcium oxalate and iron oxalate. This mostly occurs in the colon, but can also take place in the kidneys and other parts of the urinary tract.
In sensitive individuals, high-oxalate diets have been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones and other health problems.
However, most of the oxalate found in urine is produced by the body, rather than absorbed from food .
When 59 women with vulvodynia or chronic vaginal pain were treated with a low-oxalate diet and calcium supplements, nearly a quarter experienced improvements in symptoms (10).
Some gut bacteria, such as Oxalobacter formigenes, use oxalate as an energy source, which significantly reduces the amount your body absorbs . Antibiotics decrease the number of these bacteria .
People with inflammatory bowel disease or gastric bypass surgery have an increased risk of developing kidney stones [47, 48, 49], partly because they are unable to regulate the amount of oxalate they absorb.
Foods High in Oxalate
Oxalates are found in almost all plants, but some plants contain very high amounts while others have very little.
Foods high in oxalate (100-900 mg per serving) include:
Drink a lot of water can help with kidney stones.
Boiling vegetables can reduce their oxalate content by anywhere from 30% up to 90%, depending on the vegetable .
Calcium binds to oxalate in the gut and reduces the amount your body absorbs [41, 51].
8-10) Sulphites, Benzoates, and MSG
I personally don’t have an issue with Sulphites, Benzoates or MSG.
Foods usually containing significant levels of added sulphite include cider, white wine, and dried fruit.
A plethora of reports in the 1980s demonstrated that sulphites in foods were provoking adverse reactions; by 1984 the US Food and Drug Administration had received more than 250 reports of suspected sulphite reactions including six deaths .
Foods containing a high level of free-form sulphites are more likely to provoke a reaction .
Sensitivity to sulphites mainly affects patients with asthma, especially those with severe steroid-dependant asthma. Sensitivity to sulphites has a reported prevalence of 3.9-4.6% in asthmatic patients, with those who were steroid dependent being most at risk .
A review suggested that 3–10 % of asthmatics experience symptoms on exposure to ingested sulphites .
An analysis of sulphite-sensitive cases in Korea found that two types of sulphite sensitivity existed, those with sulphite sensitive asthma was the most common, affecting two-thirds of their cohort, with the remainder having sulphite-sensitive hives (urticaria) .
Sulphites can also cause edema (swelling, especially of the lips or face), anaphylaxis, and rhinitis .
One study found 16% of wine sensitive asthmatics responded to sulphite additives in wine .
Benzoic acid is produced by many plants and is present in many foods, including berries and milk products, usually in relatively low concentrations of up to 40 mg/kg [58, 59].
Benzoate can also be a product of digestion, e.g. cinnamic acid from cinnamon is oxidized to a benzoate salt in the liver .
Benzoates are also added in much higher concentrations to soft drinks, jams, sweets, chocolates, ice creams, pickles, baked goods due to their antimicrobial properties [61, 62].
Benzoates have been linked to chronic hives (urticaria), asthma, atopic dermatitis, rhinitis, and anaphylaxis although there is limited good quality evidence to support these findings .
Monosodium glutamate (MSG-E621) is a commonly added ingredient to savory foods. Glutamatealso occurs naturally in other foods, with the ripening of fruits such as tomatoes and the curing of meat such as ham being associated with an increase in the free amino acids such as glutamate.
Results from studies have been mixed, but overall seem to show that some individuals could experience symptoms from the ingestion of MSG, although only in quantities greater than the normal dietary intake .
This additive has been linked to asthma, headache, hives (urticaria) and angioedema, rhinitis, psychiatric disorders and convulsions .
A headache has been the most commonly reported symptom in relation to MSG .
In one blinded placebo-controlled trial, 61 subjects with self-reported sensitivity to MSG were tested. 18/61 had no response, 21/61 had a placebo response and 22/61 a positive response to the active challenge only. On re-challenge, a threshold dose of 2.5 g MSG was established .
In another small blinded placebo-controlled trial, 14 healthy individuals reported a significant increase in reported headache and pericranial muscle tenderness after taking a large dose of MSG (150 mg/kg – about 10g MSG for the average weight man) .
Foods more likely to contain high levels of natural or added sulphites, benzoates, and monosodium glutamate: