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No-Nonsense Nutrition Report: Even Plants Can Have a Downside

plant based dietMy Blessed and Valued Health Seeker:

I see articles almost every day talking about the dangers of eating animal products, how meat is bad for you and eating a totally plant based diet is best. But is that really true? 

We are all metabolically unique and saying one diet or way of eating is best for everyone is very narrow minded. I work with all different people who have their own preferences, sensitivities, allergies, likes and dislikes. For me to try and convince a committed vegan to add fish to their diet or an omnivore to cut out meat would be frustrating and counter-productive – for them and me! 

What especially concerns me about the people espousing totally plant-based eating is that they don’t take into consideration that plant foods are not totally without certain issues. By the way, here’s food for thought, nearly every processed junk food in the grocery store is “plant-based." 

Before I delve any deeper into this, let me say I eat animal foods and plant foods. So I am not saying one is “better” than the other. Personally I believe you need both for a truly balanced, healthy diet assuming you choose the highest quality of both. Most people don't eat enough plant foods. I did a report recently with tips for boosting your plant food intake. However, plant foods have tens of thousands of chemical compounds and any of them can stimulate the immune system too much for your biology. 

So, that being said I just wanted to outline some of the issues plant foods may cause that most people are totally unaware of. Obviously I can’t go into detail about all the possible anti-nutrients but I will touch on the most common. 

What are Anti-Nutrients? 

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation: “Mother Nature puts anti-nutritional factors and toxins in grains, nuts, seeds and beans for a variety of reasons. Phytates, for example, block seeds from sprouting prematurely. Protease inhibitors, saponins, lectins and phytoestrogens harm insects, animals and other predators that would otherwise eat too many of them. If evolutionary theories are correct, wounded plants produce extra inhibitors and other anti-nutrients to save the plant species. The idea is to cause predators—including plant-eating humans—to experience slowed growth and diminished reproductive ability.”  

Plants do not want to be eaten any more than animals do, but since they can’t run, growl, bite, or claw at creatures that want to eat them, they have developed some very sophistical chemical weapons to ward off hungry passers-by. 

Anti-nutrients refer to any natural or synthetic compound that reduces the body's ability to absorb or use essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Anti-nutrients, which include phytic acid (or phytates), lignans, saponins, phytoestrogens, oxalates, phenolic compounds, and others, are found in all plant foods, including plant roots, vegetables, leaves, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, although the types and amounts vary tremendously from food to food.

What are the most Common Anti-Nutrients

beans and legumes 2Phytates: In the plant kingdom, phytates prevent premature germination and they store the phosphorous that plants need to grow. They allow us to store seeds safely over the winter, but present a potential problem when we want to eat those seeds, grains and beans. 

Phytates bind tightly with minerals. In order for seeds to leave their dormant phase and begin to sprout and grow, they are planted in warm, moist, slightly acidic soil. To eat grains, nuts, beans and other seeds, we are wise to do much the same by preparing them in a warm, moist and slightly acidic medium, soaking and/or sprouting.  

Advocates for plant-based diets often point out the high mineral content of their foods, but rarely take into account how phytate content might affect their ability to assimilate and use these minerals, particularly zinc. 

Lectins: are proteins that are found in every living organism, including viruses, bacteria, and pretty much all foods, to one degree or another. Most of them are harmless. Lectins are part of the defense mechanism of plants to protect them from being eaten. The more dangerous of these proteins have the potential damage and destroy the cells in our intestines causing discomfort, poor digestion, and “leaky gut.” Some dietary sources of lectins such as wheat can directly break tight junctions in gut cells. 

Our cell membranes contain sugar molecules (glycol) attached to either fat (glycolipids) or protein (glycoproteins). The harmful lectins are chemically attracted to these molecules and disrupt the cell wall. They can also spike inflammation in the gut, skin, joints and the hypothalamus in susceptible people. Over time, the immune system has evolved to create antibodies that compete with lectins. However, not all of us have the genetics that creates antibodies that protect us from every harmful lectin, which is why some of us are sensitive to the lectins in nightshades, and others are not. 

On average, 15% of a bean’s proteins are composed of lectins. I discussed lectins, specifically those in beans, in this previous newsletter. 

More Anti-Nutrients

PotatoesSaponins: are bitter, biologically active components that foam up like soap suds in water. They are named after the soapwort plant. Foods that contain saponins include soybeans, chick peas and other beans, alfalfa, as well as other plants. 

Saponins: are what cause the bitter foam that rises to the top of the pot when you cook beans and should be carefully skimmed off. Saponins bind with cholesterol, causing injuries in the mucosal lining of the gut that result in “leaky gut.” When combined with allergens, lectins, gluten gliadin and other components that cause similar damage the risk accumulates. 

Nightshade Glycoalkaloids: While these compounds definitely have health benefits, we can’t overlook some of their downsides, the most common of which is causing arthritic joint pain in sensitive people. There have been numerous documented cases of nightshade toxicity that demonstrate how poisonous they can be to our central nervous system, capable of causing severe side effects such as apathy, restlessness, drowsiness, mental confusion, rambling, incoherence, stupor, hallucinations, dizziness, trembling and visual disturbances, as well as headache, vomiting and diarrhea. 

Most nightshades–eggplant, tomatoes, goji and peppers– are technically fruits as they contain seeds. This is good because even though nightshade fruits contain glycoalkaloids, they either contain lower amounts of these potentially toxic compounds or contain gentler versions of them. 

The only nightshade vegetable we consume is the potato and all potatoes are nightshades except for sweet potatoes and yams. Potato plants happen to make the two most toxic glycoalkaloids: alpha-chaconine and alpha-solanine. While people do not eat raw potatoes, there are documented cases of solanine poisoning from eating improperly stored, green, or sprouting potatoes. 

Glycoalkaloids are poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, so, as long as you have a healthy digestive tract, most of the glycoalkaloid won’t leak into your bloodstream. However, if you eat potatoes every day, levels can build up over time and accumulate in the body’s tissues and organs, as it takes days for them to be cleared. Most of the glycoalkaloid content is in the potato skin, so peeling will remove virtually all of it. And it is best to avoid potatoes that have a green tinge under the peel or those that have sprouted “eyes.” 

Trypsin: is the most commonly known protease inhibitor, which inhibits some of the key enzymes that help us digest protein. Most of the USDA studies performed over the years have looked at trypsin inhibitors in soybeans, but these anti-nutrients are also found in other beans, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant) as well as various fruits and vegetables. 

Traditionally, these foods did not cause health problems because they were rarely eaten every day and cooking deactivates most of them. But given the growing popularity of filling up on plant foods, gentle cooking and “live food,” raw vegan diets, more and more people are eating foods with their protease inhibitor content intact. 

Plant-based proponents assume their diets provide plenty of protein, but they fail to take into account the fact that just because you eat a food that contains protein, you are not necessarily getting the full benefit of it if it also contains protease inhibitors. Without high-quality, usable protein, growth, repair, immunity, hormone formation and all metabolic processes suffer.

More Plant Defenders

spinachThiocyanates and Goitrogens: are natural plant defense compounds, (like sulforaphane in broccoli) designed to protect plants in the cruciferous vegetable family such as arugula, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, radishes, turnips, watercress and others from potential invaders. 

Now there is no doubt these vegetables have numerous health benefits. However, the dark side is that some of these compounds can also suppress thyroid function in sensitive people, cause leaky gut, deplete glutathione, the most important cellular antioxidant and poison mitochondria, the energy centers in our cells. Cooking inactivates most goitrogenic compounds so any potential harm to your thyroid exists only when the foods are eaten raw. Roast, steam, sauté, or blanch these foods, and then enjoy to your heart’s content. 

Oxalates: are indigestible compounds in foods that prevent the proper absorption of calcium and are not significantly neutralized by cooking. Foods highest in oxalates are soy protein, spinach and rhubarb, which rarely posed a problem because soy protein isolate had yet to be invented, and few people ate much spinach or rhubarb. 

Many health conscious people now eat a huge, raw spinach salad every day. While it has health benefits, it can also cause kidney stones and other oxalate-related health problems. Other oxalate-containing foods are peanuts, kale, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, beets and chocolate. Especially for vegans, these popular and addictive foods can be eaten to excess.

 Although studies on rice, wheat, rye and soy indicate that phytates cause more calcium binding than oxalates, such foods are high in both anti-nutrients. Increased calcium and oxalic acid excretion have been linked to osteoporosis. 

Salicylates: “While definitely healthy, fruits and vegetables are not only high in carbs but also contain all-natural phytochemicals known as salicylates, which evolved to fight predators. Organic fruits and vegetables seem to have more of them. The most well-known OTC members of the salicylate family are aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), Ben Gay (methyl salicylate), Pepto Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) and Doan’s (magnesium salicylate). Salicylates are also increasingly found in alternative medicines and Chinese herbs. 

People sensitive to salicylates may suffer from asthma, hives, nasal polyps, chronic swelling and a wide variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, including irritable bowel as well as being linked to acne, bedwetting, restless leg syndrome, tinnitus, tics, styes, hyperactivity, headaches, anxiety, hallucinations, weepiness, blurred vision, bad breath, body odor, and even constant hunger. 

Although people prone to inflammatory responses are typically advised to cut out meat and other foods rich in arachidonic acid, surprisingly the culprit for some might be fruits and vegetables. Researchers in Scotland who tested vegetarians versus non-vegetarians found much higher levels of salicylates in the vegetarians’ urine, though considerably less than subjects taking aspirin. The levels of salicylates found in food can vary greatly, with raw and dried foods containing higher levels than the same cooked foods. 

People who are salicylate sensitive may find it helpful to peel fruits thickly (so as to cut off areas just under the skin) and to throw away the outer leaves of vegetables as well as eating only fruits and vegetables that have been allowed to ripen. 

Isoflavones: are highest in soybeans and can have estrogenic effects and cause hormonal changes, contributing to digestive issues. They are considered endocrine disruptors.
NO-NONSENSE NUTRITION NUGGET: Here’s My Bottom Line: The more varied and seasonal your diet is the better! Just choose fresh, quality (organic, non-GMO), whole foods that are in season so you are not eating the same foods day in and day out. Pay attention to what you eat and how it affects you because even healthy foods can have a downside for certain people. 

Until next week, I wish you overflowing, abundant health, peace and joy and I call you BLESSED (empowered to prosper and succeed). 


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Your fork is the most powerful tool you have to transform your health. 


Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body. 

As always, all information offered in these reports is provided for informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.

“You can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a nutritional deficiency.” Dr. Linus Pauling

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