Knowing how your body absorbs each nutrient can help you be healthier and even enhance your workout! Nutrients aren’t technically in your body until properly absorbed from your GI tract, which means optimizing nutrition involves getting a handle on what happens to nutrients once down the hatch! While you might be getting plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet, if your body isn’t digesting and absorbing those foods you aren’t getting the maximum nutrition bang for your buck!
There are two types of nutrients:
Macronutrients (i.e., carbohydrates, proteins and fats) are your body’s energy source since they provide calories.
Micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals) don’t provide calories but are equally as important since they are required in small amounts for normal cell growth and development across the lifecycle.
Watch out fast eaters! Digestion begins in your mouth and chewing is the first step to breaking down your food. Many foods like nuts are more efficiently digested by being chewed for a longer period. Saliva is packed with enzymes that help begin the breakdown process, especially in the case of carbohydrates.
Stomach acid helps to further digest or break down food and nutrients like protein. Not much gets absorbed directly in the stomach, except alcohol.
Absorption of nutrients mostly occurs in the small intestine. Here are 6 easy tips to maximize the amount of nutrients you absorb:
1. Fat helps to increase absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. So, don’t feel bad about adding in healthy fats from avocados or olive oil to your favorite dish.
2. Vitamin C helps improve iron absorption from plants. This is especially important for vegetarians (iron from meat is better absorbed). Do add a lemon squeeze and/or mandarin orange slices to your spinach salad.
3. Natural phytic acid and oxalates in plants can bind and decrease the absorption of both calcium and magnesium. Add milk to your protein shake… not your vegetable smoothie.
4. Caffeine can decrease the absorption of several nutrients. Grab a cup of coffee in between meals.
5. Calcium is much better absorbed with adequate vitamin D from food or sunlight. Another great reason to sport a tank top on the weekend!
6. Carotenoids like lycopene, which are powerful antioxidants, are better absorbed with fat and after cooking. This rare time pizza sauce beats out a whole tomato.
Nutrient absorption can vary. The amount of nutrients that your body absorbs from food can range from less than 10% to greater than 90%. Food labels are great, but they won’t give you the whole story!
For more information check out the Linus Pauling Micronutrient Information Center!