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What Are Saponins: Foods, Risks and Benefits

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Saponins are found in many plant foods and can interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients, but experts say you shouldn’t eliminate them from your diet entirely.

Credit: istetiana / Moment / GettyImages

In your quest to eat more plant-based diets, you may have come across claims that saponins – phytochemicals found in many plants – can cause a variety of harmful side effects, such as bowel damage and inflammation.

But is there enough evidence to confirm the risks of saponins? Not exactly, say experts.

In fact, these botanicals can have overall diet benefits, and not using them can do more harm than good. Here is everything you need to know about saponins, what are the claimed risks of saponins, and what are the benefits of saponins.

Think of saponins as plant bodyguards: these phytochemicals help keep plants healthy, and they can do the same for you.

“Saponins are made by plants as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from infection and pests,” says DJ Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap.

They can be found in more than 100 food families, says Blatner. The most common are:

  • legumes
    • Soybeans
    • Dried peas
    • Beans
    • lenses
    • Chickpeas
  • Andean millet
  • oats
  • asparagus
  • spinach
  • onion
  • garlic
  • Sweet potatoes

The Latin word “sapo” – which means “soap” – inspired the term “saponin” in an expert-reviewed chapter in July 2017 on the use and characterization of surfactants. That’s because saponins have the unique properties of foaming and emulsifying agents (for example, the bubbly aquafaba in a can of chickpeas is filled with saponins). Traditionally, saponins are used as natural detergents.

Saponins are known to be toxic to insects, parasite worms, mollusks (think of snails) and fish, as described in the chapter. However, this toxicity is not necessarily carried over to warm-blooded animals: studies on rats, mice and rabbits have shown that saponins are not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract but are broken down by enzymes. Saponins also have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial effects.

What are the alleged risks of saponins?

These phytonutrients have earned a reputation for being “anti-nutrients” because they interfere with your body’s absorption of certain nutrients – but that doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy or need to be removed from your diet.

“Saponins are badly pressed as anti-nutrients because they bind to certain minerals like iron, calcium and zinc and make their absorption less likely,” says Blatner. “However, saponins actually have potential health benefits such as lowering cholesterol, blood sugar, and the risk of cancer.” (The key word here is potential – saponins haven’t clinically proven these benefits.)

In fact, you could do more harm than good by eliminating saponins from your diet. Saponins are found in a wide variety of foods that provide fiber and other nutrients necessary for healthy and long life.

“When you look at the bigger picture, completely eliminating these foods could prevent you from getting good nutrition like plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients,” says nutritionist Amanda Kostro Miller, RD. “It’s a situation where the benefits of these foods usually outweigh the risks of not eating them.”

Tip

If you’re still concerned, you could eat saponin-rich foods at one meal and limit or avoid them the next, says Kostro Miller. This can help minimize the anti-absorption properties.

How you prepare your food can also affect the saponin levels. “Rinsing off foods like quinoa, soaking foods like legumes, or cooking foods can lower saponin levels,” says Blatner.

While it can give you a little reassurance, there is probably no reason to do so.

“There’s no good evidence that saponins are harmful in any way,” says nutritionist Morgyn Clair, RDN. “It is possible that saponins, in very concentrated amounts and very high doses, can cause intestinal damage. However, it is unlikely that anyone would consume saponins in this way.”

Nor is there any evidence that saponins adversely affect the absorption of any particular nutrient in a way that requires the average person to avoid them, Clair adds.

If you’re at high risk for a mineral deficiency-related disease, like anemia with iron deficiency or osteoporosis with calcium deficiency, ask your doctor if you need to monitor your food choices for anti-nutrient levels, according to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Anti-nutrients can contain saponins, but also tannins (in tea, coffee, and legumes), phytates (in whole grains, seeds, legumes, and nuts), and glucosinolates (in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage).

Because many nutrients have anti-cancer and antioxidant properties, it is not recommended to avoid them entirely, according to the university.

However, if you are sensitive or allergic to saponins, your doctor may recommend limiting them – as with other types of food intolerance or allergies.

Is aquafaba poisonous?

There are rumors claiming that aquafaba (the frothy water in cans of chickpeas) can cause miscarriages, but there is no data to back it up.

The saponins in Aquafaba make it foam up. “However, the amount would not be toxic or dangerous,” says Blatner. “I haven’t seen any research or case studies that would suggest extreme health consequences.” As always, speak to your doctor for customized dietary advice when you are or might be pregnant.

The health benefits of saponins

Although more research is needed, the evidence points to various dietary benefits of saponins.

1. They act as antioxidants

“There are numerous reported benefits of saponins, but one of the most widely studied is their antioxidant effects,” says Clair. “These plant chemicals are able to eradicate free radical damage in the body.”

2. They are linked to lower cholesterol

Saponins also have cholesterol-lowering effects in humans and fight cancer cells, according to a review in Food Chemistry in April 2017. Researchers find that saponins are important in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.

3. They could support tooth and kidney health

A diet high in saponins can even help prevent tooth decay, and epidemiological studies have shown that saponins are inversely linked to kidney stones, as shown in a classic July 2004 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

4. Saponin Foods Pack other important nutrients as well

“Also, avoiding foods that contain saponins could result in you missing out on really healthy, plant-based diets and other benefits,” says Kostro Miller.

In other words, perhaps one of the greatest benefits of saponins is the foods they are in, which make up a healthy plant-based diet. Researchers analyzed data from over 12,168 middle-aged adults followed from 1987 to 2016 to track the effects of diet on long-term health in an August 2019 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Those who followed a plant-based or pro-vegetarian diet had the best of:

  • 16 percent lower risk of heart disease
  • 31 to 32 percent lower risk of death from heart disease
  • 18 to 25 percent lower overall mortality risk

The key to a healthy diet is variety, and including saponin-rich foods in your meals ensures that you will have access to a wide range of nutrients.

Whole Grains Health

Protein Variety and Heart Health Are Linked, Study Finds

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We’ve all found ourselves in the habit of eating the same three things over and over (…and over) again. When life gets busy, falling back on simple dishes that satisfy your tastebuds is the natural thing to do. But if you’re cooking up the same couple proteins on the regular, a new study published in the the journal Hypertension suggests that it may be time to introduce a few new varieties into your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

The study pulled existing data from over 12,000 participants who took part in a minimum of two rounds of the China Health and Nutrition Survey. Researchers sought to explore the relationship between hypertension—or high blood pressure—and the variety and quantity of proteins from eight major dietary sources consumed by participants. (Study participants were an average age of 41 years old.)

Researchers measured protein intake by looking at three consecutive days of eating, scoring each round based on the number of protein varieties consumed (including legumes, fish, eggs, whole grains, refined grains, processed and unprocessed red meat, and poultry).

The results? “Among ‘just the right amount’ consumers of protein, those eating the greatest variety of protein had a the lowest blood pressure,” explains John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at the UT Health Science Center at Houston. Notably, those who ate the least and the most amount of protein were at the greatest risk for developing high blood pressure, while those who ate the greatest variety of protein were 66 percent less likely to end up developing hypertension between the rounds of the survey .

“The heart health message is that consuming a balanced diet with proteins from various different sources, rather than focusing on a single source of dietary protein, may help to prevent the development of high blood pressure.” — Xianhui Qin, MD, study author

Although the survey results sound complicated—and, hey, they were—the takeaway is simple: “The heart health message is that consuming a balanced diet with proteins from various different sources, rather than focusing on a single source of dietary protein, may help to prevent the development of high blood pressure,” Xianhui Qin, MD, the study author, said in a press release. In other words: Mix it up! Spin the protein wheel of fortune and try something new.

Related Stories

If you’re not quite sure where to start with upping your protein game, Dr. Higgins recommends looking at your consumption on a daily basis. “The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than about 5.5 ounces of protein daily, about one to two servings, from healthy sources such as plants, seafood, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and some lean meats and poultry,” he says. “The best proteins are lean proteins including beans, soy or tofu, fish, skinless chicken, very lean meat, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid proteins that say ‘hydrogenated’ on label or contain high levels of trans fats or saturated fats. “

Of course, there’s always room in your eating plan for less nutritional proteins, too—just try to incorporate these lean sources when you can, and ask your doctor if you have questions about what dietary habits are right for your particular health status and family history .

A delicious way to eat more varied proteins? This delicious quiche recipe:

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Whole Grains Health

The 10 Best Diet Books in 2022

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Staff, Courtesy of Shalane Flanagan & Elyse Kopecky

The word “diet” has earned itself an undeniably negative reputation, often leading people to think of unsustainable restriction and unhealthy fads. However, if you’re looking to adjust your way of eating, whether you want to feel better, lose weight, or hit a new personal record, there are tons of great diet books out there that can help educate you on ways to improve your nutrition and get you feeling better than ever.

While the diets of the past have focused on restriction, newer ways of eating encouragement consuming more good-for-you foods to crowd out less healthy choices, leaving you feeling satisfied, not deprived. These diet books are also super educational, teaching you why you should eat certain foods, what they can do for your health, and the best ways to make them delicious. To help you on your nutrition journey, we’ve gathered the best diet books and healthy cookbooks available today.

Best Diet Books

    How to Choose a Diet Book

    If you’re looking to switch up your diet, the first thing you should ask yourself is why. What exactly do you want out of a diet?

    Second, consider your lifestyle. Do you need meals that are quick and easy? Do you like to take an hour or two to cook for yourself every night? How often can you grocery shop for fresh ingredients?

    Finally, consider whether you’re looking specifically for a cookbook or one that will provide you education on a particular way of eating without necessarily giving you recipes. While many cookbooks will have some content that discusses the origins of food and their nutritional benefits, these books are unlikely to go as in-depth regarding nutrition as less recipe-focused ones.

    How We Selected

    To find the best diet books among the many options on the market, we researched the most popular books available and considered their content, credibility, design, digestibility, and organization. We then looked at both expert reviews and more than 105,000 customer ratings, written by people who’ve bought these books on Amazon, to settle on the diet books you’ll find below.

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    1

    Best vegetarian

    How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

    This is a great all-around cookbook, but it’s an especially great buy if you’re trying to lay off meat. This book contains everything from specific meal recipes to instructions for steaming veggies, truly teaching you how to cook from start to finish. There are recipes for every meal, as well as snacks and desserts, and it includes instructions for so many different dishes you could easily cook from only this book for an entire year and not get bored.

    2

    Best for Longevity

    The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100

    This cookbook highlights recipes from specific areas across the globe—called blue zones—where people live the longest. While some of their longevity surely comes from other lifestyle factors, there’s no discounting the role diet plays in their long-lasting health and wellbeing. These recipes not only focus on ingredients, but the ways in which foods are prepared and how that relates to their overall nutritional value.

    The goal of the book is to increase longevity and quality of life while creating delicious recipes that you’ll want to eat time and time again.

    3

    Best Mediterranean

    The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook

    The Mediterranean diet is consistently ranked as one of the healthiest diets in the world. It’s full of lean proteins, healthy fats, and tons of vegetables, providing a well-rounded, nutritious way of eating.

    This cookbook not only has 500 great Mediterranean recipes, but it also helps you learn which ingredients you should make staples in your grocery list. It also uses only ingredients that you can easily find at standard grocery stores, which makes the Mediterranean diet more accessible.

    4

    Best for Runners

    run fast eat slow

    You’ve probably heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen”—and to some degree, the same holds true for personal records. While nutritious food won’t necessarily knock 30 seconds off your mile time, it can help you fuel your workouts so you get the most out of your training.

    This book was designed by Olympian Shalane Flanagan and is packed with recipes designed to help runners fuel their toughest workouts and recover after. As a bonus, the recipes included in this book just so happen to be delicious, too.

    5

    Best Vegan

    The Complete Plant-Based Cookbook

    When first going vegan, it can be difficult to figure out how to make food that is both delicious and nutritious. This book has 500 recipes ranging from meals to snacks to desserts that use entirely plant-based ingredients. These recipes also offer alternate ingredient options, like eggs and dairy, which is great if you want to add more plant-based recipes into your diet, but aren’t ready to dive headfirst into veganism.

    6

    Best for a full reset

    The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

    If you’ve been diet-hopping in hopes of finding a meal plan that can help you commit to a healthier lifestyle and enjoy some weight loss, Whole 30 is a great choice. It has you cut out sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, and some other specific foods for 30 days. The idea behind the diet is that it helps jumpstart weight loss while simultaneously getting you to reassess how you think about what you are eating to reach a place of freedom with your food.

    7

    Best for weight loss

    The Obesity Code – Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss

    If weight loss is your goal, and you have struggled to find lasting success, this book could be a game-changer. It dives into the science of weight loss, helping you understand hormones, insulin resistance, and other reasons for weight gain. The book recommends intermittent fasting and a low-carb diet, and guides you on how to do them correctly, efficiently, and in the long term.

    8th

    Best for Learning about Food

    How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

    A lot of eating plans focus on what you should eliminate from your diet, but this book places more importance on what you should be adding to your diet and why.

    It discusses foods that are scientifically proven to help you live a longer, healthier life, and the many ways in which food can help prevent disease. It focuses on whole body health—including both mental and physical health—and teaches you to focus on more than just weight and physical appearance when it comes to your food.

    9

    Best for Anti-Dieters

    Not a Diet Book: Take Control. Gain Confidence. ChangeYourLife.

    The rise of anti-diet culture gave inspiration to this book, which helps you improve your relationship with food, tackle weight loss, and debunk fad diets to find a simple and easy way to lose weight and create habits that will keep the pounds from coming back. This book will help you build skills that enable you to live a happier, healthier life without focusing too closely on calories or numbers on a scale.

    10

    Best for fasting

    Complete Guide to Fasting

    Fasting has gained popularity over the last decade and can be a great way to boost your metabolism, clear your mind, and promote weight loss. There are, however, rules you should follow while fasting so that you improve your health rather than endangering it. This book will guide you through intermittent, alternate-day, and extended fasting to ensure you choose the style that will work best for you and do it correctly.


    Before joining Runner’s World as an Editor in 2019, Gabrielle Hondorp spent 6 years in running retail (she has tested top gear from shoes, to watches, to rain jackets which has expanded her expertise—and her closets); she specializes in health and wellness, and is an expert on running gear from head-to-toe.

    This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io

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Whole Grains Health

Eating different kinds of protein protects against hypertension: New study

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Despite all this talk that more Australians are toying with vegetarianism, and despite the endless drum-beating about red meat giving you cancer and a dodgy heart, we continue to have one of the world’s highest levels of meat consumption.

Analysis published in December found Australians eat about 95 kilograms of meat per capita every year. The global average is 35 kilograms.

The article, ‘The Evolution of Urban Australian Meat-Eating Practices’, argues our meat-eating habits are driven by a blocky culture, an association with social status, a perception that plant-based diets are inadequate and lame, and ignorance about cooking legumes and tofu.

On the other hand, the authors point to a survey that found almost 20 per cent of those sampled “identified as meat-reducers”.

Furthermore, the authors say, 87 percent “of the meat reducer segment reported consuming a meat-free dish as their main meal at least once a week”.

They point to another survey that found almost 20 per cent described themselves as “flexitarian”, which is cool.

But it may not translate to more lentils, nuts, whole grains, fish and dairy hitting the dinner table as new favorite sources of protein.

A new study found why we need variety

Chinese researchers found that “eating protein from a greater variety of sources is associated with a lower risk of developing high blood pressure”.

Good to know because blood pressure is literally out of control in Australia.

One in three adults – more than six million Australians – has high blood pressure.

Of those afflicted, only 32 per cent have their hypertension under control. That leaves about four million Australians as ticking time bombs.

In December, in the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Alta Schutte, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at UNSW Sydney, called for a national taskforce to tackle the issue.

By improving the control of hypertension, the risks of coronary heart disease, dementia and cerebrovascular disease will be substantially reduced.

The Chinese study suggests changing your diet will go some way to solving the problem.

the study

“Nutrition may be an easily accessible and effective measure to fight against hypertension. Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is one of the three basic macronutrients,” said study author Dr Xianhui Qin, of the National Clinical Research Center for Kidney Disease at Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China.

The study authors analyzed health information for nearly 12,200 adults (average age 41), who had taken part in multiple rounds of the China Health and Nutrition Survey from 1997 to 2015.

Over three days in the same week, participants shared what they had eaten.

They were given a protein “variety score” based on the different sources of protein they’d eaten: whole grains, refined grains, processed red meat, unprocessed red meat, poultry, fish, egg and legumes.

One point was given for each source of protein, with a maximum variety score of 8. The researchers then evaluated the association for new onset hypertension in relation to the protein variety score.

New-onset hypertension was defined as blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg/90 mm Hg, the use of blood pressure-lowering medicine, or self-reporting that a physician had diagnosed high blood pressure.

The average follow-up time was six years.

The results

More than 35 per cent of the participants developed new-onset high hypertension during the follow-up.

Compared to participants with the lowest variety score for protein intake (1), those with the highest variety score (4 or higher) had a 66 per cent lower risk of developing high blood pressure.

The amount of protein eaten was also a factor. Consumption was divided into five categories, from least to most intake.

The researchers found that “people who ate the least amount of total protein and those who ate most protein had the highest risk for new onset of hypertension”.

The researchers didn’t ask why a variety of proteins was more healthy. But nutritionists, doctors and health writers have banged on about it for years.

Lean red meat is high in quality protein but provides no fiber or healthy fats. Processed meats are high in saturated fats and salt and are the worst.

Fish is high in long-chain fatty acids, which are good for the brain. Lentils and whole grains are high in fibre.

Hand on heart, a bit of each during the week might stop you from carking it in the street. Which is just undignified and unmanly.

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