Best Food Combinations for Better Nutrient Absorption

The functions of the food matrix are remarkable. Even if you can take each vitamin, mineral, and nutrient on their own, things change in a food matrix. This is how food combinations work together to create a cumulative effect. It is also the reason why we cannot fix our nutritional deficiencies by taking supplements. In this article, we take a look at the different food combinations for better nutrient absorption.

Key takeaways:

Each day, we have needs for both macro and micronutrients. It is true that we can obtain them even if we take supplements and powders, but the effects will not be the same as if we obtained them through food.

Synergistic effects of foods

The primary idea behind food synergy is bioavailability, which is how micronutrients like zinc, iron, and vitamins A and D influence our bodies.

Meat and meat products provide major sources of protein, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12, A, and D with high bioavailability. Conversely, compared with omnivorous diets, plant-based products contain more vitamin C, B vitamins, folate, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. When we combine these different food sources, we achieve a balanced macro and micronutrient matrix in our daily diets.

However, the combination of foods affects whether those effects are good or bad.

Iron ion absorption and Vitamin C

By improving iron ion absorption, ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, raises iron ion bioavailability. Only the ferrous form of iron—a reduced form of iron—can be absorbed by our bodies. Iron that is not absorbed is converted from ferric to ferrous iron by ascorbic acid.

Bile salts and digestion

Bile salts are natural surface active molecules that play an important role in lipid digestion. They provide a suitable environment for the absorption of fats. Most of this cholesterol, which is synthesized from cholesterol in the liver and secreted into the small intestine, is reabsorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and sent back to the liver.

Dietary fibers use a particular binding mechanism to stop their reabsorption. Because there is less bile salt reabsorption and usage, our body uses the cholesterol in the blood to create bile salts in the liver once more. If a patient has high blood cholesterol, eating fiber will help lower it. Additionally, the interaction between bile salts and dietary fibers lessens the absorption and digestion of dietary fats.

It is important to remember, though, that this also means that the rate at which fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed is lowered.

Your goal is very important here. If you have high cholesterol or obesity, your primary purpose will be to lose weight and get rid of an unhealthy metabolic profile. While a high-fiber diet will help improve your overall metabolic status, it will also decrease the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.

Prebiotic and probiotic foods

One of the most important interactions is consuming prebiotic and probiotic foods together. Foods containing microorganisms beneficial to our microbiome are referred to as probiotic foods. Prebiotics are nutrients that feed these bacteria and enable them to grow in our microbiome.

When it comes to the absorption of carbohydrates, eating carbohydrates in or with high-fiber foods, matching them with sources of fat or protein, or both, may help slow the absorption of carbohydrates and prevent blood sugar spikes.

Best matches

Here are the best food combinations for better nutrient absorption.

1. Fruits and yogurt

Yogurt and fruit are essential components of a balanced diet.

  • Fruits are an excellent source of antioxidants, prebiotic fibers, and polyphenols, which can promote digestive health. Also, they are relatively low in energy density.
  • Yogurt on the other hand, is a good source of dairy protein, calcium, magnesium, conjugated linoleic acid, and other critical fatty acids.

Furthermore, yogurt is one of the best sources that we can consume to get probiotic microorganisms for our microbiome and overall health. It contains beneficial bacterial cultures.

Combining yogurt with fruit could provide prebiotics from fruits for probiotics in yogurt while getting high-quality protein, essential fatty acids, and a mixture of vitamins and minerals that have synergistic effects on health.

Another advantage of combining yogurt with fruit is a balanced blood sugar rise. Because if you consume fruit on its own, it may increase your blood sugar faster. If you are in good health, you can easily handle this rise; however, if you have diabetes or insulin resistance, you should try to control your blood sugar spikes.

You can also consider other dairy products like kefir, milk, or quark cheese.

2. Citrus fruits and iron sources

As we previously discussed, combining iron with sources of vitamin C can increase its bioavailability. As a result, you might consider pairing meat with orange juice or other vitamin C-rich citrus fruits for your meals. By doing this, you can increase the amount of ferrous iron in your intestine, which your cells can then absorb.

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may also benefit from consuming tofu with vitamin C source fruits. A study showed that lacto-ovo-vegetarian females consumed four-week tofu and tofu + orange in their meals. The tofu + orange group has been found to have higher levels of hemoglobin, the iron-containing oxygen-transport protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues.

3. Caretonoids with fats

The relationship between fat sources and vitamin A is one of the major food synergies. Carotenoids are a plant-based source of vitamin A, such as orange-red veggies and fruits like carrots, tomatoes, red-orange bell peppers, or grapefruits.

The incorporation of carotenoids into micelles—a mixture of fats, bile salts, and digestive enzymes—is thought to depend on the presence of fat for the proper digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the intestine.

The inclusion of fat improves the absorption of provitamin A carotenoids, according to a number of absorption studies. As a result, you can drizzle olive oil over your red-orange vegetables and eat your grapefruit with cashews or walnuts.

4. Dried fruits with nuts

You can have healthy, high-energy snacks by pairing dried fruits with nuts to prevent blood sugar spikes. Dried fruits can quickly increase your blood sugar, but when you combine them with nuts, you can control your blood sugar rise. That's why commercial products for healthy snacks like raw bars or protein bars also use dates or dried fruits like prunes, figs, and apricots with walnuts, almonds, or cashews.

What combinations to avoid

It is important to know which foods shouldn't be consumed together to get the best food combinations for better nutrient absorption.

Iron source with phytic acids

Whole grains like lentils and legumes contain phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of iron. In addition, tannic acid and chlorogenic acids, which are found in tea, coffee, and red wines, also inhibit iron absorption.

Divalent ions race for absorption

Our cells in the intestine have a special transporter for divalent ions (+2) like iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, or copper. You must be aware that these ions are competing with one another. It is therefore advisable that you take your iron or zinc supplement, for example, after eating dairy products. Alternatively, if you have an iron deficiency, you should avoid dairy products that contain iron sources like meat.

You can not control every combination of micronutrients you eat because some of them come from the same source, like the zinc and magnesium in nuts, but you can be cautious in general.

Additionally, there are some absorption similarities between zinc, calcium, and magnesium and iron because they are all +2 valent ions. Some minerals are not absorbed well by the same nutrients, such as phytic acid and tannic acid.

Caffeine effect

Caffeine can negatively affect our health if not consumed in moderation. Caffeine may interfere with the absorption of essential minerals, including vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.

For this reason, you may consider consuming caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee and tea sometime after or before your meals or prefer other alternative drinks rather than coffee. But you also need to watch out for phytic acid in herbal teas.

The last words

By educating ourselves about the best food combinations for better nutrient absorption, we can enhance our overall health and well-being while enjoying delicious and nutritionally rich meals.

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