Anti-Nutrients and Pro-Nutrients

Currently, deficient vitamin and mineral intakes are quite common. In the adult population of the United States at least 50% are deficient in Vit A, Vit C, calcium and magnesium, while over 90% are deficient in Vit D and Vitamin E. (ref). And these data don't consider effects of natural anti-nutrients which decrease nutrient bioavailability and add to the shortfall. For those intolerant to many foods and forced to limit their diets, anti-nutrients in those few foods are an even greater concern. Eating a wide range of foods dilutes out the effects of specific antinutrients in a few foods. (e.g. oatmeal at breakfast will not lead to zinc deficiency but oatmeal 3 times a day will, unless supplemented with zinc (as well as copper to keep balance with the extra zinc.) Anti-nutrients are also a concern for those on exclusively plant-based diets, which contain large amounts of antinutrients such as phytates and oxalates that interfere with uptake of divalent minerals such as calcium, copper, zinc and magnesium. Plants also sequester nutrients behind cellulose walls that must be breached by processing methods such as chopping, cutting, thorough chewing and/or cooking.

Nutrient data on food packaging or websites such as SelfNutritionData, which has data from the USDA's National Nutrient Database, is only a starting point in determining diet quality.

The best overall source of information on vitamins, minerals, other nutrients, and nutrient interactions is the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center website (connected to Oregon State University)

Anti-Vitamins and Pro-Vitamins
  1 – Water-Soluble Vitamins,
  2 – Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Balancing Act–Notes


    Water Soluble Vitamins:
To best absorb dietary thiamine, avoid high prolonged cooking temperatures, and only consume tea and coffee between meals.
Nutritional data on niacin content in grains does not take into account that bound niacin can't be absorbed.
Take biotin supplements separate from pantothenic acid supplements, and vice versa. Does not apply to multivitamins that contain only small amounts of both (less than or equal to 100% RDA or 100% Daily Value)
– As above with pantothenic acid, take biotin supplements separately from pantothenic(-ate) acid supplements, and especially do not take mega doses of pantothenic acid, particularly for the 4% of population with heterozygous low activity biotinidase enzyme.
– Consider that large amounts of Alpha-Lipoic Acid may interfere with biotin uptake.
–note: supplemental biotin may interfere with the most commonly used thyrotropin and thyroid hormone assays and mimics the typical laboratory pattern for Graves’ disease. ref
Flaxseed has great nutritional value, but should not be ingested at more than one meal per day. Supplemental vitamins containing Vit B6 should be taken at a meal other than the flaxseed-containing one.
If possible avoid acid lowering medications to decrease risk of B12 deficiency. Do not supplement with more than 800 micrograms of folic acid or other forms of folate to avoid the increased risk of B12 deficiency neuropathy. Those with low activity MTHFR variants may need only 400 micrograms supplementary folate to adequately bring down homocysteine levels. ref

Take multi-vitamins with food that contains enough fat/oil to insure bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins in the multi as well as fat-soluble vitamins in the food itself.
– Co-ingest at least 3 grams of fat/oil with vegetables to absorb beta-carotene.
– Co-ingest lutein and zeaxanthin-rich vegetables with several grams of fat/oil, and do not consume supplemental beta carotene at the same meal.
– Cooking and thorough chewing increases absorption of carotenoids.
– Carotenoid-rich foods gives the skin a golden glow, but some people have genetic variants (see BCMO1 gene) that make them prone to turning yellow or orange with carotenoid supplements.
– to optimize absorption of Vit D supplements, co-ingest with several grams of fat/oil (monounsaturated?).
– and if taken with a meal, perhaps avoid co-ingestion with carotenoid-rich vegetables.
– Make sure to get sufficient magnesium to help increase serum levels of Vit D. (Magnesium oxide is poorly absorbed, and most magnesium in grains and nuts is not bioavailable.) Supplementing with a more soluble compound such as magnesium citrate improves symptoms of magnesium deficiency such as leg muscle spasms at night.
– There may be negative side effects above optimal Vit D supplementation (serum levels greater than 50 ng/ml).
It can be difficult to get sufficient Vit E from daily food intake but natural sources are preferred to supplements because varying amounts of the 7 other forms of Vit E are also present. Check Vit E (alpha tocopherol) amount in daily diet at SelfNutritionData. If insufficient, perhaps supplement with natural D-alpha with mixed tocopherols vs. synthetic DL alpha tocopherol. But try to stay with smaller doses because Vit E interferes with the function of Vit K in blood clotting and perhaps bone metabolism. Also high amounts of supplemental antioxidants such as Vit E and Vit C may interfere with beneficial cellular response to resistance exercise. (see ref) and for ultramarathoners, supplementation for 2 months with 800 mg. Vit E as D-alpha-tocopherol showed pro-oxidant and pro-inflammatory effects, contrary to expectations  (ref). (To limit dose of Vit E, perhaps take an E capsule every two or three days or poke a hole in a 200 IU capsule, and squeeze out a couple drops into food once a day and use the same capsule over a few days. But that can get messy.)
To more efficiently absorb Vit K co-ingest with fat/oil and chew vegetables thoroughly. Do not take large doses of supplemental Vit E, which interfere with Vit K activity.


– For better calcium retention, lower dietary sodium to recommended levels (< 2300 mg/day for most, but 1,500 mg/day for certain other groups - CDC).
– If a condition of low stomach acid is present, take insoluble calcium supplements with meals. (not necessary for calcium citrate or milk)
– Take calcium with sufficient bioavailable phosphorus (phosphorus in grains is strongly bound into phytates and not bioavailable), recommended levels of dietary protein and Vit D.
– Calcium inhibits uptake of several minerals. Take calcium separately from Zinc and Magnesium supplements.
I generally have 2 small snacks/day of a beverage (such as milk) spiked with calcium carbonate (to make about 400 mg total Ca each snack) apart from main meals. These snacks usually consist of small amounts of the high oxalate foods in my diet such as nuts. Some of the calcium will bind soluble oxalate (the kind that is absorbed) and limit uptake of the oxalate and also a small amount of the calcium. High levels of dietary oxalate increase risk of calcium-oxalate kidney stones, especially in those at risk.
Precaution: More than 1.5 grams of calcium per day (especially calcium carbonate, which is alkaline) along with ingested alkali (aluminum and magnesium hydroxide) predisposes to a dangerous condition called calcium-alkali (a.k.a. milk-alkali) syndrome. May cause calcium deposits in tissues, kidney failure and kidney stones. More information.
– For better copper absorption avoid high zinc and Vit C supplementation (amount considered high depends on the individual) .
– Limit high tannin–containing foods such as raw nuts with skins, and tea to one meal per day or between meals.
– Magnesium and selenium supplements may inhibit uptake of copper so limit to one meal per day or between meals.

Long term inorganic copper supplements are not recommended due to possible connection with Alzheimer's. Currently, all copper supplements are inorganic even if they say chelated or amino acid chelated etc. True organic copper is incorporated as a cofactor into certain enzymes, mainly oxidases, made by living organisms and need to be consumed from an animal or plant.
Cook Brassica vegetables to reduce potential goitrin and thiocyanate levels by 2/3rds. If pre-existing issue with low/hypo thyroid, then boil Brassica vegetables to leach out goitrins and thiocyanates into cooking water. Make sure to get daily recommended amount of iodine.
For more efficient absorption of nonheme iron, avoid at the same meal: high calcium-containing products such as dairy and calcium supplements, tannin-containing foods such as skins of nuts and tea, and high phytate containing foods such as many grains and nuts. Co-ingestion of vitamin C supplement helps overcome inhibition of inorganic iron uptake by tannins and phytates in the same meal. Organic heme-iron from animal products is more efficiently absorbed, though high calcium will still inhibit uptake. Post menopausal women and men do not need as much iron as younger women; pregnant women and growing children need more. Too much iron is toxic (hemochromatosis), but iron deficiency anemia is common, and causes a host of symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath etc. Suspected anemia should be tested for, and appropriate supplements taken, if needed.
For more efficient absorption of magnesium consider not taking supplemental calcium at the same meal. Bioavailability of magnesium in grains and nuts is low. Consider a magnesium supplement other than mag oxide and containing less than 100% RDA. Excess magnesium supplementation may have severe effects; tolerable upper intake level for adults is 350 mg supplemental magnesium. 170 mg magnesium citrate/day fixed my night-time leg cramps.
To more efficiently absorb zinc, avoid iron supplements and probably avoid calcium supplements and high calcium dairy at the same meal. Consuming lots of phytate-containing grains such as oatmeal at every meal definitely requires a zinc supplement. (see a doctor for blood zinc test) But it's a balancing act between zinc and copper. Taking too much zinc causes copper deficiency. Taking too little zinc, causes zinc deficiency but copper levels are high. Human stores of zinc and copper exist in dynamic equilibrium; an increase in one causes a fall in the other, and may produce clinical consequences of toxicity or deficiency in one or the other.

ANTI-PROTEINS but these are usually accounted for in *PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score)

Achieving a healthful, complete diet is a balancing act; a strict vegetarian diet even more so.


Phytate in whole grains, nuts, legumes: Look for low phytate foods. Try processing by soaking with phytase, either endogenous or added to a phytase poor grain like oatmeal, to release the minerals, but is time-consuming. Or supplement with extra zinc, the mineral most likely to become deficient in high phytate diet. But avoid copper deficiency or interference with magnesium uptake, by avoiding use of an excessive amount. Have serum zinc and copper levels tested. "However, in a balanced diet containing animal protein a high intake of legumes [due to phytate] is not considered a risk in terms of mineral supply." Bioavailability of minerals in legumes, Sandburg (2002)

Oxalates in whole grains, nuts, legumes: Eat lower oxalate foods if possible, for example, pecans better than almonds or cashews. Soaking or boiling in water helps remove soluble oxalates, or consume with calcium-rich dairy or supplements (calcium helps more than magnesium, but both help limit absorption of oxalates.) Join the Yahoo group, Trying Low Oxalates for up-to-date oxalate levels in a wide variety of foods.

Tannins in skin of nuts, in tea or other sources: Eat only one high tannin-containing meal per day. Eat a copper-rich food and sufficient protein at another meal.

Flaxseed - Limit to one meal per day. Consume enough B6 at other meals.

Vegetables and fat-soluble vitamin supplements: consume with a moderate amount of fat (e.g. extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, avocado etc.)

Cooking increases bioavailability of carotenoids in vegetables. Too much cooking destroys thiamine. See this Self Nutrition Data webpage: Nutritional Effects of Food Processing for effects of freezing, drying, cooking and reheating on nutrient losses. and this document, "6. Effect of processing on nutritional value," produced by Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations




"Content and bioavailability of trace elements in vegetarian diets" (1994)

Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center – Excellent comprehensive information on Vitamins, Minerals and much more. My main go-to website for everything nutritional.

"Proton Pump Inhibitors: Acid Suppression with a Nutritional Cost" Dana Zallkin

"Vitamin A, D, E & K - How Much and What Type of Fat Do You Need to Absorb These Fat Soluble Vitamins?" SupperVersity blog by Dr. Andro

Self Nutrition Data - the easy way to ballpark the quality of your diet. Register and keep track of the nutrients in your diet.

USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory reports and Databases includes Nutritive Value of Foods, Home and Garden Bulletin No. 72 (HG-72), USDA Reports by Nutrients (link is external), USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods (2013), Oxalic Acid Content of Selected Vegetables, and Food Composition by nutrients, Macronutrients, Vitamins and Minerals etc.






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