11 Smart Food Combinations to Absorb More Nutrients

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 18 February 2019
  • 3 minute read
11 Smart Food Combinations to Maximize Your Nutrient Absorption | The Health Sessions

You know you should eat a wide variety of colorful foods to get all the vitamins and minerals you need to function well. But simply consuming these nutrients isn’t enough – your body has to absorb them first.

The percentage of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that makes it into your bloodstream after ingestion is called bioavailability. The bioavailability of nutrients is influenced by how you cook your food, your biological makeup and how you plan your menu.

Your menu? Yes. Because when you add certain ingredients together, that combination maximizes your body’s ability to absorb the available nutrients. Take a look at how you can get the most nutritional value out of your meals by making smart food combinations.

1. Iron + Vitamin C

Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a protein responsible for transporting oxygen throughout your body. When you don’t get enough iron from your diet, you develop fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath – the tell-tale signs of anemia.

You can obtain dietary iron from both animal protein, like beef and shell fish, and plant sources such as dark leafy greens, legumes, pumpkin seeds, (pseudo)grains and even chocolate. There’s only one slight problem: the non-heme iron found in plants can’t be absorbed as efficiently as the heme iron from meat. Fortunately, nature provides a solution: vitamin C increases the absorption of plant-based iron.

How to maximize your meals:  

To up the iron content of your meals, eat foods high in vitamin C – such as berries, citrus fruits, peppers, kale and broccoli – with your salads and grains. Also, don’t drink coffee or tea with your breakfast, but rather in between meals. That’s because caffeine inhibits the absorption of iron. Here are successful combinations of plant-based iron and vitamin C:

Chocolate Acai Bowl from The Healthy Hour 

Smart Food Combinations: Chocolate Acai Berry Bowl from The Healthy Hour | The Health Sessions

Sizzling Marinated Beef Fajitas with Bell Peppers from Salted Mint

Smart Food Combinations: Sizling Marinated Beef Fajitas with Bell Peppers from Salted Mint | The Health Sessions

Warm Quinoa, Sweet Potato Kale Salad from Not Enough Cinnamon

Smart Food Combination: Warm Quinoa Sweet Potato Kale Salad from Not Enough Cinnamon | The Health Sessions

2. Fat-Soluble Vitamins + Healthy Fats

Did you know that there are two types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble? Whereas vitamins B and C are dissolved in water, your body absorbs fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K best when you eat them with – you guessed it right – fatty foods.

Once absorbed, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in fatty tissue and the liver for future use. Handy, but that also means you can consume too much of fat-soluble vitamins, which could lead to toxicity. So instead of taking supplements, try to increase the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K by combining them with healthy fats.

How to maximize your meals:  

Some ingredients contain both fat-soluble vitamins and healthy fats, like cod liver oil (vitamin A), salmon (vitamin D) or nuts and seeds (vitamin E). But this isn’t the case for colorful fruits and veggies packed with pro-vitamin A and K. Thankfully, you can easily maximize the absorption of these fat-soluble vitamins with smart food combinations.

Are you skipping salad dressing for health reasons? That may sound wise, but actually, adding a healthy dressing to your salad boosts the nutrient intake from carrots, tomatoes and leafy greens. So never feel guilty again for dipping crunchy veg royally in hummus or guacamole! Here are three more ideas for combining fat-soluble vitamins and healthy fats in one meal:

Vegan Carrot Cupcakes with Coconut Whipped Cream from Choosing Chia 

Smart Food Combinations: Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Coconut Whipped Cream from ChoosingChia | The Health Sessions

Breakfast Baked Sweet Potato with Almond Butter, Banana and Chia from Ambitious Kitchen

Smart Food Combinations: Baked Breakfast Sweet Potato with Almond Butter, Banana and Chia from Ambitious Kitchen | The Health Sessions

Grilled Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad with Chimichurri from How Sweet Eats 

Smart Food Combinations: Grilled Corn Tomato Avocado Salad with Chimichurri from Howsweeteats.com | The Health Sessions

3. Complete (Plant-Based) Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks of your body. Each protein structure is made up of different combinations of amino acids. Of the 20 existing amino acids, your body can manufacture 11 of them from scratch. The other 9, called essential amino acids, have to be obtained through food.

Animal sources of protein like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy deliver all the amino acids we need and are easily absorbed by your body. Plant- based proteins such as soy, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, however, lack one or more essential amino acids. People who don’t eat (much) animal proteins should be eating a variety of plant-based proteins to get all the amino acids needed.

How to maximize your meals:  

You can get all your proteins in by eating “a grain, a green and a bean” – a classic vegetarian combo for a reason. The Dutch Centre of Nutrition also suggests vegetarians and vegans should set their daily protein target respectively 20% and 30% higher than the recommended daily allowance. To consume plenty of plant-based proteins in one day, take a look at these nutritious recipes:

Rainbow Grain Bowl from Camille Styles 

Smart Food Combinations: Rainbow Grain Bowl from Camille Styles | The Health Sessions

Black Bean Quinoa Burger with Activated Charcoal Bun from The Awesome Green

Smart Food Combinations: Black Bean Quinoa Burger from The Awesome Green | The Health Sessions

Cauliflower and Hummus Pita Pockets from The Healthy Hunter

Smart Food Combinations: Cauliflower and Hummus Pita Pockets from The Healthy Hunter | The Health Sessions

4. Vitamin D + Calcium

Vitamin D and calcium are both crucial nutrients to keep your bones strong. But they work even better when paired together. Studies confirm that the active form of vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium in the gut. On the contrary, phytates found in whole grains, legumes and nuts, and sodium both lower the bioavailability of calcium.

How to maximize your meals:

Pair foods containing vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna or egg yolks with calcium-providing foods, like dairy, collard greens, broccoli and sesame seeds. Maximize the benefits of this vitamin-mineral duo with these food combinations:

Savory Golden Miso Oats with Sesame, Kale and a Jammy Egg from Jojotastic 

Smart Food Combinations: Savory Golden Miso Oats from Jojotastic | The Health Sessions

Kale Salad with Smoked Trout and Tahini Yoghurt from HeNeedsFood 

Smart Food Combinations: Kale Salad with Smoked Salmon and Tahini Yoghurt from HeNeedsFood | The Health Sessions

When planning your meals, do you ever think about nutrient absorption and how to make smart food combinations?

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