Improving Nutrient Absorption from Food

Improving Nutrient Absorption from Food
  • Dr. Taylor Wallace
  • April 19, 2017

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!

12 thoughts on “Improving Nutrient Absorption from Food

  1. My wife eats more than I do, and she continually looses weight. She was 135lbs 15 months ago now 98 lbs. Has been suffering from hair loss. and dehydration. Suffers from IBS, acid feflux and fibromyalgia. My family and myself feel that after MANY TESTS show nothing that the possibility is that her body has a malabsorption problem.. Can you advise….What type of Dr best suited to check for problem..

    1. Hi Dennis… you need to contact a medical doctor as that amount of weight loss is dangerous. Email me on my Gmail (drtaylorwallace@gmail.com), let me know your location and I will try to help you identify a specialist (likely a gastroenterologist) that can help. Thoughts to your wife and family!

  2. Hi Dr
    I had chronic inflammation in October back in September I was 200lb know I’m 165 I’m not hungry I force myself to eat what can I take to get my appetite back
    I also have fatigue every day

  3. I was 120lbs now I’m 115 don’t have the appetite to eat a lot of food. I’m 42 and having gas like pain in my stomach. Sometimes after I eat I feel nausea us and then a slight pain in my stomach and then I vomit. When I vomit I feel a lot better. I went to the doctor and she say I was amaemic blood level was 7 and a little high blood pressure she prescribe iron tablets blood pressure pills and acid reflux pill and one for appetite to let me eat. For a while I was gaining back weight stomach was OK but after the medication was finish I start having the problem again. What should I do

  4. I have always had IBS, but now I have regular diarrhea. It smells horrible, there is a lot of gas and it is explosive. I am extremely fatigued, my memory is poor and feel as though I don’t keep anything in me long enough to absorb the proteins, vitamins and minerals. I can often recognize what I have eaten in my stools. They all float and stick to the sides of the toilet. I have taken numerous antibiotics for UTIs for the past 2 or more years. It seems as though since the last two bouts of antibiotics (this year) it has gotten much worse. I do not want to go to the doctor to explain this if they are going to push a bunch of pills down my throat to see what happens since I have a difficult time taking many medications. My primary care physician acts as if she doesn’t really have time to see me and her answer is to just give me another pill. Who can I see that will really look into the my problem and help me? This really affects my daily life.

    1. Hey there – you should speak with a gastroenterologist. Most insurance plans require a primary care physician refer you… so definitely ask your doctor for a referral (its easy for them to do). The gastrointerologist will have advance screening techniques that can help identify the underlying issue. You may also want to take a look at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, as they have many good resources and a directory of qualified physicians. I’ve found food sensitivity tests like EverylyWell to be useful, but by far not as comprehensive as what a gastroenterologist can do. You may also want to try a good probiotic like Align Extra Strength… but don’t take my advise… go see a gastroenterologist/specialist! Wishing you the best! — Taylor

  5. I don’t crave sweet at all is this normal? I have always a funny taste in my mouth. I have got 2 endoscopy and a biopsy but nothing was found. I am tired of going to the doctors and getting any relief.

  6. I lost 25 lbs in 6 months and now weigh 92 lbs in the morning, I do have some health problems that I have been taking care of, but I cannot seem to gain weight, even though I eat many small meals a day. My doctor doesn’t offer anything on how to gain weight except what I am already doing. I eat and eat and I don’t think I am absorbing into my cells, I’ve been taking a small amount of vit D and K2 daily and the D test came out really high. Other nutrients are similar, like selenium and one doctor told me that I don’t seem to be absorbing nutrients into my cells.

  7. Content in this particular article provide us information regarding the nutrient absorption.This article is one of the perfect article which attracts me a lot. I enjoyed a lot while reading this article and would suggest others too and get the best options.

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