We all know that adding vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables to our plates will increase the nutrient content of our meals. But instead of just focusing on adding these foods, we should also keep absorption in mind.
The bioavailability, or the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from a food, is as important as the nutrient content itself. If our bodies can’t absorb the nutrients, it’s as though we never ate them at all.
One way to enhance the bioavailability of nutrients in our foods is to keep nutrient synergy relationships in mind when planning menus. Nutrient synergies occur when the combination of two separate ingredients enhances the overall health-promoting potential of the food.
Here are four easy ideas for increasing nutrient absorption in your diet:
1. Vitamin C and Iron
Dietary iron can be found in both animal sources (heme iron) and plant sources (non-heme iron). The iron from plant sources, however, is not as bioavailable to us as humans. This means we don’t absorb and use this kind of iron as efficiently as we do heme iron from foods such as steak and shellfish.
Vitamin C can increase the absorption factor of plant-based non-heme iron. In order to take advantage of the iron content of dark leafy greens, legumes, and grains, consume these foods as a source of vitamin C.
Food pairings for inspiration:
- Strawberries (vitamin C) with oatmeal (iron)
- Citrus vinaigrette (vitamin C) with spinach salad (iron)
2. Fat and Fat-Soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, and K)
Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are best absorbed when consumed in the presence of fat. Healthy fat sources, which include cold-pressed olive oil, avocado, sunflower oil, walnut oil, and assorted nuts and seeds, help the body take in and store these valuable fat-soluble nutrients.
Try these food combos to get the most out of vitamins:
- Avocado dressing (fat) with kale salad (vitamin K)
- Olive oil (fat) with roasted sweet potatoes (carotenoids/vitamin A)
3. Black Pepper and Turmeric
Black pepper increases both the absorption and potency of curcumin, the major anti-inflammatory component of the spice (or root) turmeric.
Curcumin acts as a potent anti-inflammatory substance within the body. Research shows that curcumin may help to combat a variety of inflammatory health conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, and Alzheimer’s.
To maximize the benefits of this powerful duo, try out the following food combinations:
- Indian spices with cauliflower and potatoes
- Baked salmon with turmeric, black pepper, and cayenne spice rub
4. Sulforaphanes and Selenium
Sulforaphanes, which are sulfur-containing antioxidant compounds, work synergistically with the trace mineral selenium. Selenium, found in a variety of foods including Brazil nuts, poultry, eggs, and mushrooms, also has antioxidant properties. When these nutrients are combined, their total antioxidant power increases exponentially.
If you’re looking to try out a potent antioxidant duo, try one of these:
- Roasted Arctic char (selenium) with bok choy (sulphoraphanes)
- Roast chicken (selenium) with roasted Brussels sprouts (sulphoraphanes)
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