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  • Writer's pictureLaverne Banderk

Food Combinations That Increase Nutrient Absorption

Your body's ability to absorb nutrients from food is called nutrient bioavailability. Strategically combining certain foods can enhance the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals, and in turn enhance the benefits you are getting from your meals.

Below are some simple food combinations to help increase your nutrient absorption:

Vitamin C and Plant-Based Iron

Your body's ability to absorb plant-based, or non-heme, iron is increased when you pair iron-rich plants with a source of vitamin C. The vitamin C helps to breakdown the iron into a form more easily absorbed by the body, and absorption will be even greater if the nutrients are paired together in the same meal. For example, squeeze some lemon juice over your spinach or kale salad, or add bell peppers to a lentil dish.

Vitamin D and Calcium

In order for your body to be able to absorb calcium, it needs vitamin D. These two micronutrients work together because the active form of vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium in the intestines, which in turn helps to build and maintain bones. Therefore, try pairing your vitamin D rich foods such as salmon, tuna, and eggs, with calcium-rich foods such as broccoli, oranges, and dairy products, to ensure maximum calcium absorption.

Folic Acid and Vitamin B12

B vitamins work their best when they work together rather than alone. In particular, a combination of vitamin B12 and folic acid (vitamin B9) is essential to form healthy red blood cells, and folic acid, B6 and B12 all work together to maintain normal blood homocysteine levels (a common amino acid in your blood). To help B vitamins work together, try pairing lentils (folic acid) with beef (B6 and B12), or spinach (folic acid) with eggs (B6 and B12).

Lycopene and Healthy Oils

Tomatoes contain lycopene, a disease-fighting antioxidant, very beneficial to the body. When tomatoes are cooked, and served with healthier oils including olive oil or avocado oil, the body's ability to absorb lycopene is enhanced. Try making your tomato sauce with olive oil, drizzling baked tomatoes with avocado oil, or adding olive oil to your tomato pizza.

Healthy Fats and Fat Soluble Vitamins

The fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. They are most abundant in high-fat foods, and their absorption into your bloodstream is increased when they are consumed with fat. Fat soluble vitamins are all essential for health and play various important roles in the body. Therefore, to ensure optimal absorption, pair healthy unsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, or olive oil with milk, dark leafy greens, and orange and yellow vegetables.

Turmeric and Black Pepper

Turmeric is a great way to add beautiful flavour to a dish, while also adding many health benefits. The most active compound in turmeric is curcumin, a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. A bioactive compound in black pepper, known as piperine, has been shown to have the ability to increase absorption of curcumin, making the beneficial compounds in turmeric more bioavailable, enhancing its effects. So, next time you're making a soup, stew, or seasoning some vegetables, try mixing these two spices together to magnify the health benefits of turmeric.

Complimentary Proteins

It is important to eat a variety of protein sources. Only some foods or protein sources (animal or plant) contain all 9 essential amino acids that your body needs to make up a complete protein. So, by combining different types of incomplete proteins (proteins that lack one or more essential amino acids needed for growth and development), you can make a complete protein. Some examples include whole wheat bread and peanut butter, rice and black beans, quinoa and corn, and hummus and whole wheat crackers. Also, there's no need to try and constantly pair proteins at every meal. As long as you are consuming a variety of different proteins during the day, you will get sufficient amounts of amino acids throughout the day.

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