We all know how important it is to eat nutrient dense foods to reach our bodies’ daily micronutrient needs. But are you actually absorbing everything your fruits and veggies have to offer?
Bioavailability: the term used to describe this degree to which food nutrients are available for absorption and utilization in the body.
You may think that your body absorbs the full nutrient profile of the foods you are eating, but this is usually not the case. Digestion depends on a variety of factors: foods have all different kinds of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that each individual can utilize given the right factors.
Despite what most people think, digestion actually starts in the mouth with chewing and the release of salvia enzymes. Then, the food enters the digestive tract where it is broken down into micro and macronutrients. These nutrients are then absorbed into the intestinal lining, and passed into the bloodstream where they are either used immediately, or stored for later use.
Absorption of vitamins and minerals from whole foods can range from as low as 20% to as high as 98%. Thankfully, RDA allowances take into account that not all of the nutrients are put to use, so there’s no need to worry, but everyone could benefit from some more micronutrients, right?
So what can you do to make sure your body is utilizing 98% of the nutrients from the foods you eat?
The Ultimate Debate: Raw vs. Cooked Vegetables
You may think that raw vegetables give your body more nutrients since they’re more fresh, but cooked are actually much easily absorbed. This is because the process of cooking breaks down the tough, fibrous outer layers of the vegetable, so by the time it reaches the intestines, the food is already partially broken down. Elimination of this step of digestion allows your body to be much more efficient, and doesn’t make you as bloated (Yay!). Carrots in particular yield significant higher beta-carotene levels in the bloodstream if they are cooked. Other veggies that are important to cook are broccoli, kale, and brussel sprouts, as they yield much higher mineral levels as well like calcium, magnesium and iron.
But here’s a heads up for the method you use to cook: the most beneficial method is usually steaming, NOT boiling! Boiling causes water soluble nutrients like vitamin C, B1, and folate to be lost into the water, which ends up going down the drain and not into your body.
Soak grains and legumes before cooking them.
These foods contain phytic acid which bind to minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc leaving them entirely inactive for absorption. Soaking for 12-24 hours before cooking allows this anti nutrient factor to be broken down in water, virtually eliminates its possible effects in your digestive system.
Learn more about food synergy!
Different foods can interact together to amplify each other’s nutrient bioavailability. Definitely don’t stress yourself out about making sure every food in your meal work together, it’s all about learning what different foods can do for your body and experimenting with them! There’s so many cool properties some foods contain, it’s totally worth taking a little time to research what benefits you want along with which foods you enjoy eating most. Here’s the two major interactions to start you off:
- Vitamin C and Iron: Vitamin C enhances non-heme plant iron absorption by almost six fold! The most iron rich greens include kale, bok choy. spinach, and collard greens. Try squeezing lemon juice over your next salad! Or if you’re eating a bowl of cereal/oatmeal, add a piece of fruit like berries, a peach or an orange. Not only do these fruits have vitamin c but they also have a high water content to help process fiber.
- Healthy fats and greens: Fats like nuts, seeds, avocado and omega 3 oils act essentially as a sponge to the vitamins and minerals in vegetables. Try roasting vegetables with coconut oil or adding a crunch to any dish with a sprinkle of nuts and seeds!
So venture out of your usual routine and try some of these methods- I can guarantee your body will thank you for it!
Check out these articles, too:
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- Why It Doesn’t Matter “What a Fitness Instructor Eats in a Day”