Nutrients are needed for the proper functioning of the body. Eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, iron, and calcium is not enough. Right from how you pair your foods to how you eat them, there are numerous ways that can impact the way the body absorbs the nutrients. This is why even if you are eating nutrient-rich foods, you might not be getting all the nutrients.
So to help you reap the benefits of nutrients here are ways to improve nutrient absorption through foods.
1. Pair your foods wisely
How you combine your foods can play a major role in the absorption of nutrients. Pairing foods wisely can increase the nutrient absorption and also promote the overall health. Protein is the utmost essential nutrient to be taken care of when we pair various foods to get absorbed by the body. Include protein-rich foods in every meal to get maximum benefits from healthy food pairings. Here are some of the popular food combinations that can help you get the most of the nutrients through the food you eat.
-Iron and Vitamin C: In order to absorb the non-heme iron present in plant-based foods you need to pair it up with Vitamin C-rich foods. This is because Vitamin C helps to break down the non-heme iron into a form that can be absorbed and used by the cells. So squeeze a lemon to a bowl of spinach salad or drink a glass of orange juice after eating a meal rich in iron.
– Calcium and Vitamin D: For strong and healthy bones, you need an appropriate amount of calcium. But to aid the absorption of the mineral from diet and supplements you need Vitamin D. Thus the combination of Vitamin D and calcium is a must to ensure absorption of dietary calcium in the intestine. So eat a variety of calcium-rich foods such as dairy, tofu, etc. with Vitamin D fortified cereals, milk, or orange juice.
– Fat and fat-soluble vitamins: For the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K, you need fats in the body. This is the reason, why you should eat foods rich in these vitamins with foods that can provide good amounts of fats such as nuts, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, etc. It is better to choose foods that contain unsaturated fats as these are healthy in nature. For example, you need to eat a handful of nuts to ensure the absorption of Vitamin A and Vitamin K present in green leafy vegetables.
2. Chew your food mindfully
If you are the kind of person who finishes everything on their plate within 5 minutes, then there is a high chance that you are not chewing your food properly. And if you are not, then the chances of absorption of nutrients through food is also low. When you chew your food, it not only activates the enzymes present in the mouth but also aids in the digestion.
According to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fats and vitamins like Vitamin E were more easily accessible and absorbed when study participants chewed almonds 40 times as against when they chewed only 10 times. This is because chewing breaks down the cell wall of the almonds thus helping in the absorption of nutrients. So remember to chew your food slowly and properly so as to ensure the absorption of nutrients from food.
3. Eat food mindfully (minus stress)
It is not just what you eat but also how you eat can affect the process of digestion. When you are stressed, the brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol that makes your heart beat faster. This causes the body to devote its energy to deal with stress. As a result, the digestive process slows down which in turn affects the process of nutrient absorption. Being stressed also slows down the gastric emptying and intestinal transit time and affects the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients present in food.
Moreover, it is also advised to eat mindfully by savouring eat and every bite. As it not only helps you to chew properly and break down the food into easily assimilated and digestible form but also enhances the nutrient absorption. Make it a habit to avoid distractions such as using phones or watching TV while having meals. Also, relish every bite you eat as it helps in the secretion of the digestive juices in the stomach and allows it to mix with the ingested food.
4. Eat it or drink it
We have always been told that eating a fruit is better than drinking the juice. However, it is not always true. It turns out that nutrient absorption from certain types of juices is better than the whole fruit.
According to a study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, absorption of carotenoids (one of the compounds in vitamin A) is readily absorbed from orange juice than from whole oranges. This is because the fibre present in whole fruit may bind to certain micronutrients which keeps these nutrients from getting absorbed in the small intestine. However, the levels of vitamin C absorbed from whole oranges and orange juice remain the same.
Drinking orange juice every time is not a good idea as it lacks fibre. Hence, it is advised to eat the fruit as well as drink orange juice to get the most of the nutrients from the fruit. According to the Journal of Food Science, you can even try a smoothie which retains the fibre from fruits and vegetables along with improving the absorption of various nutrients. However, as a general rule, it is advised to chew your fruits properly than drinking juices.
5. Include probiotics and prebiotics in diet
Most of us are aware of the fact that probiotics are good for the gut health. Probiotics as well as fermented foods which contain microorganisms are not only good for digestion but also help in the absorption of nutrients. The bacteria help in breaking down the food particles, thereby maximizing the absorption of nutrients by the intestine. Hence, include probiotics such as yoghurt and fermented foods like kimchi, buttermilk, pickles etc in your diet to up the nutrient absorption.
Foods like legumes, potatoes and oats, which are prebiotic foods, can also help to absorb nutrients from food. These are non-digestible food components which act as food for the gut biome. Moreover, dietary fibre is known to enhance the absorption of minerals such as magnesium, iron, and calcium.
Bottom line: There are numerous factors that can impact your digestive process and prevent absorption of nutrients from your food. This is the reason why making these simple tweaks in your diet can help you to make the most of the nutrients available through food and stay healthy.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Dave, Dietician & Nutritionist, Ahmedabad and Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
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