The dynamic duo's when combined, will maximize nutrient absorption.
While it may be tempting to focus solely on what we put into our bodies, it's important to remember that our bodies can only benefit from the nutrients we consume when they are properly absorbed. This makes absorption essential for optimal health and wellness.
Nutrients can only help the body if they reach where they need to go. A study published in the journal Nutrients found that “Nearly one-third of the U.S. population is at risk of deficiency in at least one vitamin, or has anemia.” The top five most common nutrient deficiencies were Vitamins B6, B12, C, and D.
Your digestive system breaks down and takes essential nutrients from food for growth, maintenance, energy, healing, and overall good health. For example, Vitamin A needs to reach the eyes to prevent night blindness, and Vitamin C needs to go to the skin to heal wounds. The pancreas needs chromium, and the adrenals need copper.
Why are some nutrients hard to absorb in the first place?
Nutrient bioavailability is how much a nutrient is absorbed and can be used or stored in the body.
Good health requires essential nutrients. These include macronutrients (like protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
The simplistic journey your food takes through the digestive system is this; breaking it down, absorbing nutrients, and eliminating waste. Although the breakdown begins in your mouth by chewing, the heavy lifting is done in the stomach, where digestive juices
(e.g., acid, enzymes) break down food into smaller pieces. Then, your food starts to move through your small intestine, where nutrient absorption occurs. Then it's off to your liver and pancreas, where the addition of alkaline bile neutralizes the acid and other enzymes to break down the different components of food.
The journey comes to an end as it enters the large intestine. Here friendly gut microbes break down some challenging nutrients, absorb water (and some remaining nutrients), and prepare the rest to exit the body via poop.
Digestion is an impressive process, but we can make it even more powerful by increasing nutrient bioavailability with some dynamic duos.
Strategies to boost nutrient absorption.
Combining certain foods, eating some raw and some cooked enhances the absorbability of nutrients.
Absorb More Vitamin C: Vitamin C is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the U.S. It is a water-soluble antioxidant easily destroyed by heat. To get the biggest bang from vitamin C-rich foods, consume them raw or minimally cooked, such as by steaming or microwaving.
Some of the highest sources of Vitamin C are bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwis, broccoli, and strawberries.
Absorb More Iron: Iron is the most common mineral deficiency in the U.S. Iron-rich foods are seafood, beans, liver, spinach, lentils, and tofu. But, not all iron-dense foods are created equal. Heme (found in animal-based foods) and non-heme (found in plants) are how we get iron from our diet. If you are iron deficient, consider adding more animal protein to your diet, as heme is more bioavailable than non-heme plant sources.
Iron absorption can be enhanced with Vitamin C-rich foods and away from tannin-containing drinks like tea and coffee. Enjoy beans, lentils, spinach, or tofu with a Vitamin C-rich food like a spinach salad with bell peppers, orange wedges, berries, and some avocado for healthy fat.
Absorb more fat-soluble essential Vitamins A, D, E, and K
Vitamin A is found in liver, seafood, fortified dairy, and eggs. Beta Carotene (pro-vitamin A) is present in orange fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots and dark leafy greens like kale and spinach. The way plant cells store beta-carotene limits its bioavailability as compared to vitamin A in animal-based foods. Being fat soluble, Vitamin A becomes more bioavailable when cooked with orange and dark green plant-based sources.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, which is essential for bone health. It also reduces inflammation and regulates the immune system. Plus, it supports carbohydrate metabolism, meaning it helps your body produce hormones that regulate blood sugar. Although we get Vitamin D from sun exposure, we also find it in foods like egg yolks, seafood, mushrooms (exposed to UV light), and fortified dairy.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant necessary to protect cells from oxidants to delay or even avert chronic disease. Like Vitamin D, Vitamin E is essential for immune function. Some foods include whole grains, nuts, seeds (yes, their butter and oils, too), green beans, and asparagus.
Vitamin K comes in two forms: K1 is in dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, soy, and herbs. Bacteria mostly make vitamin K2, so it’s found in fermented foods like yogurt, cheese, and sauerkraut. Vitamin K is essential for proper blood clotting and bone metabolism.
Although these fat-soluble vitamins can be bioavailable on their own, a simple tip to enhance absorption is adding healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, hazelnut oil, and coconut oil.
Absorb more calcium: The most significant sources of calcium in the U.S. is from milk and dairy products. But did you know that you can also get calcium from fruits and vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and mineral water? Some plant sources of calcium have lower bioavailability because they contain anti-nutrients like oxalate and phytic acid.
Absorb more Lycopene: Lycopene is not an essential nutrient. People with diabetes have an increased risk for some types of cancers and cardiovascular complications, and Lycopene has been shown to reduce these risks, making it an essential nutrient, in my opinion.
Lycopene is an antioxidant found in red and dark green fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon. Lycopene is found in cooked tomato products like ketchup, tomato juice, and pasta sauce. Cooking tomatoes and enjoying them with healthy fat can improve their absorption.
The Bottom Line
Healthy eating is more than consuming nutritious foods; it’s about absorbing nutrients from those foods. You can enhance the benefits of healthy eating by using a few simple hacks.
Overall, it's important to remember that we are not just what we eat but what we absorb. In order for our bodies to stay healthy, we need to pay attention to the nutrition we consume and the factors that impact absorption.
If you are not sure if you are reaping all the benefits of what you are eating, then I'd be happy to help. Each nutritional program begins with a discussion and analysis of your lifestyle and nutrition habits and how they relate to your health concerns. From there, we create a blueprint based on your bio-individual needs.
Book a complimentary consultation to see if my coaching services can help you. If we mutually agree, I’ll share all the juicy details, and if not, you will walk away with a strategy to get you unstuck.
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