✅ Written by Zeynep Ozdemir, RDN. Updated on March 27, 2023
The popular saying, "You are what you eat," is actually a simplification of the more accurate "You are what you eat and absorb."
Even if you eat a diet rich in nutrients, you may not reap their full benefits if those nutrients are not absorbed.
The inability to absorb nutrients is the same as not receiving them. If nutrients are not absorbed properly, they cannot promote health and function inside the body. Because of their importance to health, deficiencies in the necessary nutrients may cause serious problems. Researchers discovered that "Nearly one-third of the U.S. population is at risk of deficiency in at least one vitamin, or has anemia," as reported in a recent study published in the journal Nutrients. Vitamins C, D, B6, and B12, C, as well as mineral iron, were the top five most prevalent nutritional deficiencies.
The digestive system is responsible for breaking down and absorbing the food you eat so that the body may utilize the nutrients for missions like development, maintenance, energy production, and repair. To avoid night blindness, vitamin A must go to your eyes, and for vitamin C to heal wounds, it must get to your skin. Calcium is for strong bones and teeth; iron is for healthy red blood cells and energy...The critical part is that if these nutrients are not removed from food and absorbed into the body through the digestive process, they cannot be transported to their destination.
This article will discuss methods for improving nutrition absorption. But the first question is, why exactly do certain nutrients have such a hard time being absorbed?
In order to maintain optimal health, it is crucial for individuals of all ages to consume sufficient amounts of all the necessary nutrients. Both macro (protein, carbs, and good fats) and micro (vitamins, minerals, and other trace elements) are part of a balanced diet. Due to the vast variety of meals and foods that exist, absorption and digestion of nutrients may be tricky in some places.
An interesting fact is that the term "nutrient bioavailability" refers to the amount of a nutrient that is absorbed by the body and then either utilized or stored there. This value reflects the nutrient's accessibility for biological use by the body.
Breaking down the food you consume, absorbing its nutrients, and getting rid of the waste are the three primary phases of digestion. Because of this, the digestive tract offers a lengthy and varied trip for food once it has been consumed.
Your stomach, for instance, produces digestive fluids (such as acid and enzymes) to help break down food. Once food enters the small intestine, the liver and pancreas contribute alkaline bile (to counteract the acid) and other enzymes to begin breaking down the meal's other components. Most of the food you eat is absorbed by your body in the small intestine, although not entirely. The last step of the voyage takes place in the large intestine, where friendly gut microbes reside (helpful bacteria and other tiny microorganisms). These microorganisms can degrade (or ferment) some of the most resistant nutrients that have survived so far (some fibers). Additionally, nutrients and water are absorbed through the large intestine.
If certain nutrients aren't absorbed, it might be because the digestive system wasn't able to break them down small enough, they were complexed with anti-nutrients, or the body just wasn't able to utilize them. It is normal and good to pass most of the food you consume, but the waste you produce should include as little food as possible. If you want your body to get the greatest benefit from the food you eat, it's important that most of the nutrients be absorbed.
Even while your body employs a wide variety of complicated procedures to extract as much nutrition as possible from the food you eat, it still could use some assistance. The inability to properly absorb certain nutrients is a consequence of dietary intolerances and digestive problems that affect certain individuals. In addition, your body may be unable to fully absorb some nutrients due to nutrient-nutrient interactions or anti-nutrients in the food you eat.
The good news is that studies have found several intriguing ways to boost nutritional bioavailability. By consuming some nutrients together or separately, or by consuming certain foods cooked or raw, you may enjoy the same foods in a more bioavailable, nutritionally effective manner.
Here are some easy ways to increase the efficacy of nutrients you receive from the foods you enjoy eating.
Deficiencies in vitamin C are among the most widespread in the U.S. Fruits and vegetables are the primary sources of vitamin C in the diet. Bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwis, and strawberries are all excellent food choices for getting your daily dose of vitamin C.
A water-soluble antioxidant, vitamin C is inactivated by high temperatures. Therefore, the vitamin C content is greatest in raw and freshly prepared foods (or cooked as little as possible). When possible, consume fruits and vegetables in their fresh, raw state for the highest concentration of vitamin C. If you want them cooked, you can heat them slightly by simply steaming them.
Anemia caused by a lack of iron is the most frequent form of mineral insufficiency in the United States. Seafood, lentils & beans, liver, tofu, and spinach are some of the highest iron-content foods. Additionally, iron can be added to some cereals and bread. It's important to note that not all foods high in iron are created equal. Heme iron (found in animal-based nutrients) and non-heme iron (found in plant-based nutrients) are both sources of this mineral. Heme iron may be absorbed and used more efficiently than non-heme iron. This implies that plant-based iron is harder to absorb, but there are several easy ways to increase your body's ability to use this mineral.
Consuming iron-rich meals alongside Vitamin C-rich foods and avoiding tannin-containing beverages like tea and coffee will improve absorption.
In other words, pair your lentils, beans, spinach, or tofu with foods high in vitamin C and eat them together. To spice up your spinach salad, try tossing in some orange slices, bell peppers, or berries. And sip some tea or coffee in between iron-rich meals instead of with them.
Liver, seafood, eggs, and fortified dairy are all good sources of vitamin A. Beta-carotene, also known as pro-vitamin A, can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are orange in colors, such as sweet potatoes and carrots, as well as dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale. Unfortunately, not all plant-based sources of beta-carotene are as readily absorbable as animal-based sources of vitamin A.
Cooking makes the fat-soluble vitamin A found in orange and dark green vegetables more accessible.
Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and is required by bone cells for development and repair; it also helps decrease inflammation, regulates the immune system, and controls glucose metabolism, all of which are crucial for bone health.
Vitamin D is sometimes called the "sunshine vitamin" because it is produced by the skin in response to exposure to UV light, also it can be found in a small number of foods. Seafood, mushrooms exposed to UV light, egg yolks, and several fortified dairy products all are included in this category.
Antioxidant vitamins like vitamin E are important for keeping cells healthy and warding off degenerative conditions. Additionally, vitamin E is necessary for the proper functioning of your immune system. Vitamin E-rich foods include nuts, whole grains, seeds; butter, and oils made from them.
There are two varieties of vitamin K: K1 can be found in plant-based foods including dark green leafy vegetables, soy, broccoli, and herbs. Vitamin K2 is mostly made by bacteria, fermented products like yogurt, cheese, and sauerkraut are good sources of vitamin K2. Vitamin K has a crucial role in bone health and blood coagulation.
These four fat-soluble vitamins may be quite accessible on their own; but, there is a simple trick that can assist boost absorption even further: get enough healthy fat. This involves cooking your veggies with a little amount of healthy oil or mixing them with a nutritious dip or dressing in order to assist you in absorbing more of these key fat-soluble vitamins.
Milk and dairy products are the most common sources of calcium in North American and European diets. In addition to dairy products, fruits and vegetables (such as kale, spinach, and broccoli), as well as mineral water, are also good sources of calcium.
Unfortunately, anti-nutrients like oxalate and phytic acid are also found in certain plant sources of calcium, reducing their bioavailability. The consumption of vitamin D helps to increase the quantity of calcium that is absorbed from these meals.
While calcium and vitamin D do not need to be consumed together, obtaining adequate vitamin D daily is essential. This may be accomplished by eating vitamin D-rich meals with a little healthy fat and by spending effective time in the sun.
However, only dietary vitamin D may not be sufficient, if you have a deficiency, you may see a doctor and consider taking D3, the active form of vitamin D, as a supplement.
Lycopene is a carotenoid that has similarities with beta-carotene, although it is not an essential nutrient. Lycopene has been linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and several malignancies, including prostate cancer, according to studies. This antioxidant is present in red and dark green fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon.
Lycopene can be used more effectively when crushed and cooked. You may, for instance, get additional health advantages by cooking and mashing the tomatoes that go into your spaghetti sauce and enjoying them with a little bit of healthy fat.
Healthy eating is more than just ingesting healthy meals; it also involves absorbing those nutrients so your body can put them to use. The same healthy meals you already like may provide even more advantages if you follow a few easy recommendations.
Consuming meals fresh and uncooked that are high in vitamin C and heating foods that are high in vitamins that are fat-soluble will help you absorb more of those key nutrients. Consuming meals high in fat-soluble vitamins with a little amount of healthy fat, iron-rich foods alongside some Vitamin C (but not tea or coffee), and calcium-rich foods together with some Vitamin D may all help to improve absorption.
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