It’s all very well eating a huge plate of leafy greens and other fresh veggies, knowing that you are giving your body a rainbow of vitamins and minerals.
However, we don’t always consider the bioavailability of the nutrients within the foods we eat. Though a food item may contain a certain amount of this vitamin or that mineral, it is not to say that our bodies have the ability to absorb said nutrients.
Bioavailability refers to the percentage of a nutrient that is digested, absorbed, and metabolized by our bodies. Knowing how much of a certain nutrient a particular food contains does not mean that our bodies are able to use 100% of that nutrient. This is why understanding the bioavailability of nutrients is also important.
Macro and Micronutrients
Source: Eat Tank/YouTube
The three macronutrients that our bodies need are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Our bodies, in general, do not have any problems absorbing these nutrients as their bioavailability is high.
Micronutrients are all the vitamins and minerals that are essential to our overall health. These are needed in much smaller quantities and are a little more difficult for our bodies to absorb. Many micronutrients can be better absorbed by the body when combined with other foods.
Increase the Bioavailability of Your Food
Not surprisingly, eating a healthy, balanced diet will help your body to absorb all that it needs. By eating a balanced meal, you will be feeding your body a combination of different macro and micronutrients that can work together to increase the bioavailability of the nutrients and ensure that your body gets what it needs.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables from different families will give you the array of nutrients that you need. Having those alongside other macronutrients will also help increase bioavailability.
There are also other issues that can inhibit the number of nutrients that we can absorb, such as older age and certain medications.
Below are some things to consider when understanding how our bodies absorb different nutrients.
Fat-Soluble and Water-Soluble Vitamins
Source: Dr. Eric Berg DC/YouTube
Fat-soluble vitamins attach themselves to the fats that we eat and are together absorbed into our fatty tissue and liver. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins that are stored for up to six months in our fat cells.
Choosing to have unsaturated fats, such as the ones found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil would be a healthier option.
Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in our bodies like fat-soluble vitamins are. Instead, they pass through our bloodstream and any excess is discarded in our urine. Since these vitamins don’t stay in our bodies in the same way, we need to replenish them often.
Iron and Vitamin C
Plant-based iron does not have a high bioavailability rate. That is not to say that you shouldn’t eat delicious iron-rich food to get your recommended daily allowance of iron (8 mg daily for men, 18 mg for women). It just means that you could try combining your food to help with the absorption of this essential mineral.
Vitamin C is one of iron’s best friends. When eating an iron-rich food, try to have vitamin C-packed food to go along with it to help the iron absorb into your bloodstream. Having leafy greens, tomatoes, and bell peppers would be a great combination, for example.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Unless vegans eat foods fortified with vitamin D, they will be getting most of the vitamin D from the beautiful sunshine and maybe mushrooms! However it is sourced, vitamin D is essential in the absorption of calcium.
This is to say that even if you have a diet rich in plant-based calcium from eating all of those lovey leafy greens if you are deficient in vitamin D, you won’t be getting the full benefit.
Raw Food Versus Cooking
Though there are many benefits to eating a raw diet, there are also some limitations to consider. Water-soluble vitamins for example are lost in the cooking process, so eating foods for their vitamin C content is better done so raw. Cooking seems not to affect fat-soluble vitamins.
Cooking food, on the other hand, makes food easier for our bodies to digest and absorb. Some foods, such as legumes, actually contain an antinutrient that inhibits the body’s ability to absorb its nutrients. Thus, soaking and cooking dried legumes before eating them is vital.
One study found that cooking tomatoes actually reduced the vitamin C content significantly but doubled the bioavailability of lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes.
Other studies also found that the bioavailability of antioxidants found in carrots, broccoli, and zucchini also increased when these vegetables were eaten cooked.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a medical professional for any questions or concerns regarding your diet and health.
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