Food Pairing and Preparation for Optimal Nutrient Absorption


Thanks to modern science and an expanding base of nutritional education that is readily available to anyone in the world, our knowledge of food has allowed a greater understanding of what foods we need to eat in order to be healthy and disease-free.  What we don’t often think of though, is how to optimize those benefits through food pairing.

“Fat Soluble”

If you’re reading about a particular vitamin, mineral or other nutrient that you think might really benefit your health for various reasons, and you see the words “fat soluble”, this can tell you a lot about what foods to pair it with. For example, lycopene is a very potent carotenoid antioxidant that is most well known for being abundant in tomatoes.  It also happens to be a fat soluble nutrient.

If you’ve ever looked for a lycopene supplement, you may have noticed that it’s in an oil based softgel style capsule – this is so that it has a bit of fat that will allow it to be better transported to the right tissues in the body, and absorbed and utilized properly by the body.  Fat soluble vitamins are also stored in the fat of the body, so they need to be replenished less often than a water soluble vitamin such as vitamin C, which needs to be consumed every day in some form to maintain adequate levels.  If you do a little further research on lycopene, however, you’ll find that it’s released in its  most bioavailable form when it is heated.

So, for lycopene, your ideal food pairing and preparation for optimum absorption would be to have a cooked tomato food, such as a marinara sauce, with some olive oil or other omega 3 rich type of fat added in.  Much of the same fat-pairing logic goes for any other vitamin or nutrient that research has proclaimed as “fat soluble”, since it is absorbed by fats.  Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, E, and D.

Preparation matters

It is also important to know, as touched on for lycopene, whether a vitamin, mineral or nutrient is destroyed or enhanced by the act of cooking or heating the food which contains it.  Lycopene is enhanced and released by heating, but other nutrients can be destroyed by heating.  Many beneficial enzymes can be destroyed when various veggies and fruits are heated as well, giving rise to the “raw” style diet where foods are cooked minimally or not at all.

Garlic is an interesting one.  Garlic releases its full potential when it is crushed.  Allicin is the primary chemical compound in garlic that gives it incredible health benefits, and this compound is much more readily available when the garlic clove is mechanically crushed or smashed before being swallowed.

Most vegetables are at their nutritional best when they are minimally cooked. Steaming is a good method, as long as they are not over steamed.  Another method gaining in popularity is pressure cooking. Because pressure cookers cook vegetables in fractions of the time they take to cook on the stove top, they help maintain much of the structural integrity of the vegetable, and leave much of the vitamin and mineral content in place.  Try to never microwave nutrient rich foods if possible since microwaves can deplete nutritional value severely, and has effects on the foods structure that are not entirely known due to lack of good studies on the subject.

Mineral Absorption

The human body also relies on minerals to effectively function and remain disease free.  One of these important minerals is iron.  Iron is necessary for several bodily functions, and most living organisms need it in some way.  The best way to efficiently absorb iron as well as magnesium and potassium, two important electrolyte minerals, is to pair it with vitamin C. This can be as easy as drinking fresh squeezed lemon in your water when eating iron-rich foods such as red meat or dark leafy green (minimally cooked) vegetables.

Calcium is a vital mineral, necessary for strong bones and teeth.  And yet, a lot of the calcium we consume is never properly absorbed by the body.  And most calcium supplements can actually pose more hazard than benefit, since they are not properly absorbed and utilized by the body and instead deposit in places where they can do more harm than good.

Vitamin D, that good old sunshine vitamin, seems to be the magic bullet for optimal calcium absorption.  This means simply getting your daily dose of sunshine, or at the very least taking a good vitamin D supplement daily (make sure it’s in a fatty base, in a softgel for best absorption, it is fat soluble itself), will enhance your ability to properly absorb, distribute and utilize bone-building calcium.

In addition to using the above strategies for increasing mineral and vitamin absorption, it’s a good rule to avoid diuretics like tea, coffee and other caffeinated beverages, while consuming vitamin and mineral rich foods.

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Danna Norek
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Danna Norek founded AuraSensory, a line of naturally inspired and effective hair, body and skin care products free of harmful chemicals.