Several foods that we daily consume contain substances that are called "anti-nutrients", among these there are saponins. What is it about, exactly? Where are they and what are the possible health effects?
Saponins, what are they?
On a chemical level, saponins are made up of a part of glucose, galactose or other sugar and a non-sugary part called sapogenin. The root of the word with which they are classified, "sapo", comes from the Latin and refers to the soap with which these substances share the ability to produce foam in contact with water.
Nature, which does nothing by accident, has inserted saponins in different plants in order to protect them from some micro-organisms or predators that could otherwise more easily attack them. This capacity is due to the fact that saponins have a particularly bitter taste and are therefore unwelcome to insects and animals.
Saponins, where are they?
Saponins are quite common in plants commonly used, among these we have quinoa, licorice, basil, and among legumes we have soy and among cereals we have oats that, not surprisingly, is the most naturally protected against mushrooms. Other foods that contain saponins in different percentages are: beans, garlic, amaranth, spinach and even a drink like red wine.
Fermented soy products contain a lower saponin content than simple soybean, while isolated soy proteins are very rich in these substances.
Summing up, the saponins are found in foods such as:
Saponins, why pay attention
Attention has often been paid to the saponins as they are substances that are potentially hazardous to health. These molecules, in fact, are able to destroy the red blood cells inside the blood. In reality, this particularly damaging effect would only show itself if the saponins arrived in the bloodstream by injection into the vein, which obviously does not happen since we are used to take them by mouth through food.
In fact, the hemolytic activity of these substances takes place only if the molecule remains intact, while the digestion disintegrates the saponins, making them substantially harmless in most cases.
Once in the digestive system, the toxicity of the saponins is then deactivated and only in case of very high ingestion of these substances there can be side effects such as stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or other symptoms including irritation of oral mucosa. The only useful expedient is therefore simply that of not overdoing the consumption of foods rich in saponins especially if you have noticed a hypersensitivity to this substance or if you suffer from gastrointestinal reflux or stagnation of bile (cholestasis).
It is also possible to choose ways of consuming and preparing food that include techniques such as soaking, fermentation or germination which greatly reduce the saponin content.