10 Food Pairings that Increase Nutrient Absorption

by Erica Stephanopoulos, MPH, MBA
March 21, 2021

woman prepping food in kitchen - nutrition - nutrient pairings

 

Rice and beans. Peas and carrots. Peanut butter and jelly. Some things just go better together!


But did you know that pairing certain foods not only helps them taste better, but helps your body better absorb nutrients from them?


Here we’ll share the ten best foods that you can cook with to ensure you’re getting the most out of your meals.

 

Why is Nutrient Absorption Important?

Every cell in the body relies on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from a range of healthy foods. These nutrients help create the biochemical reactions we need for our organs to function.

 

healthy food in the gut

 


While we know that eating a balanced diet is crucial for our health, we don’t often think about what happens once that food hits our belly. In a healthy system, food will enter the belly, then digestive enzymes and bacteria break down this food. Nutrients are extracted and absorbed into the bloodstream, while waste is passed through to be removed.


Unfortunately, our digestive systems don’t always work as they should. If you’re eating a nutritious diet, but your body struggles to absorb those nutrients, you won't enjoy all those health benefits. In some cases, we may even experience issues like fatigue, brain fog, poor digestion, or skin conditions due to nutrient deficiencies. 

 

What causes poor absorption?

Anything can affect how well your body absorbs nutrients. An imbalanced gut microbiome, for instance, will impact which nutrients get absorbed. Stress and poor sleep, the usual culprits in many of our health issues, also often undermine absorption levels. Even your age or weight may play a part.


So, how can we ensure we get as many nutrients out of our food as possible? By taking on a healthy lifestyle, eating nutrient-rich foods, and pairing those foods with ingredients that boost healthy absorption. 

 

10 Food Pairings that Increase Nutrient Absorption

 

1) Tomatoes + Olive Oil

tomatoes and olive oil

Pairing tomatoes with olive just seems like second nature, but the research shows this really is the best way to enjoy the benefits of both. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that can protect against diseases like cancer and heart disease. Olive oil has been shown to increase the absorption of lycopene from tomatoes. 

 


2) Turmeric + Black Pepper

Turmeric is an amazing antioxidant known for its ability to reduce pain, arthritis, and cleanse the blood. But it works even better when paired with black pepper. Studies show that black pepper helps to make the antioxidants in turmeric more bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb and use more of those disease-fighting compounds.

 

 

3) Salmon + Leafy Greens

salmon and vegetables

The perfect weeknight meal just might be salmon and kale (or spinach, if you prefer). Along with being quick to prepare and packed with antioxidants, this simple combo offers an excellent source of two key nutrients that support bone health: vitamin D and calcium.

In our food combo, salmon offers a rich source of vitamin D, while the leafy greens are rich in calcium. You’ll often see calcium-rich products like milk fortified with vitamin D. This is because vitamin D causes the reactions that allow calcium to be absorbed by the body.

 

 

4) Beans + Rice

Beans and rice is a staple meal that has stood the test of time for many cultures. But there’s more to this simple dish than simplicity and affordability alone.

Rice and beans (or chickpeas) are two complementary proteins, meaning they offer a complete protein source when eaten together. Beans are also rich in fiber, which helps to balance the high-carbohydrate levels in rice. By eating rice and beans together, you’ll avoid a blood sugar spike and get a healthy plant-based protein fix.

 

 

5) Healthy Fats + Vitamins A, D, E, K

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble vitamins, meaning they need the presence of fat to be absorbed by the body. You can increase your absorption of these vitamins by pairing foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins with healthy oils.

Green vegetables are high in vitamins A and K. Vitamins A is often found in orange and yellow veggies (like carrots). Nuts are rich in vitamin E. When you eat these colorful veggies, pair them with a healthy salad dressing made from olive oil or walnut oil, add a handful of healthy seeds, or top with avocado to get the most out of every vegetable.

 

 

6) Spinach + Strawberries

spinach and strawberries

Have you ever enjoyed a tasty summer salad with spinach and strawberries? You may not have realized it at the time, but that salad was setting you up for optimum iron absorption! Spinach is a rich source of iron, but iron needs vitamin C to be properly absorbed. Foods like strawberries, bell peppers, and citrus fruits are high in vitamin C and pair perfectly with spinach to help you get the most out of both nutrients.

 

 

7) Green Tea + Lemon

Green tea is one of the world’s most famous health foods. It’s touted for its high antioxidant levels and anti-aging benefits. Well, there’s always room for improvement! Adding a squeeze of lemon (which is high in vitamin C) to your green tea increases the bioavailability of the healing compounds in your cup.

 

 

8) Grain + Green + Bean

We’ve touched on complete proteins above with rice and beans, but there are many more food pairings to try this method on.

Animal protein sources, like meat, fish, or eggs, are complete proteins as is. But plant-based proteins are incomplete. They lack all the amino acids the body needs to rebuild itself. But, we can access all these amino acids simply by blending two different plant-based protein sources.

A good rule to follow is to mix a grain, a green, and a bean. Usually, this combination will create a complete, nutritious, plant-based protein. How about a black bean, quinoa, and spinach bowl?

 

 

9) Broccoli + Garlic

broccoli and garlic

That garlicky stir fry is more than just good for your immunity - it could also be good for your bones! Mix foods like broccoli that are rich in calcium (kale, bok choy, cabbage, and tofu) with foods that are rich in inulin (like garlic, onions, asparagus, and leeks). When calcium and inulin come together, it helps to improve calcium absorption and strengthen the bones.

 

 

10) Probiotics + Everything

One of the best ways to improve your overall nutrient absorption is by starting from the root: your gut. Your gut bacteria and enzymes are responsible for breaking down food and absorbing as many nutrients as possible. If the gut bacteria is imbalanced or weakened, your nutrient absorption will decline.

Probiotics are one of the best ways to boost the health of your gut bacteria to improve your overall nutrient absorption. Including foods like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, or kombucha in your everyday diet is a great way to start repopulating your gut with the healthy bacteria you need.

For even better gut health, consider taking a high-quality probiotic supplement like Aceva’s Ultrabiotic. You’ll no longer have to worry if you’re getting enough probiotics through food because each dose of Ultrabiotic offers more than enough bacteria to support the entire gut.

 

 

Better Absorption, Better Health

woman eating fresh salad - avocado beans and vegetables - nutrients

Eating healthy is simply not enough to stay healthy. We also need to support the body’s ability to process and assimilate all those healthy nutrients from our food.

By eating these delicious food pairings and supplementing with gut-healthy probiotics, you’ll be on the fast track to better digestion and optimum nutrient absorption in no time.

 

 

 

 

Erica Stephanopoulos, MPH, MBA
Erica Stephanopoulos, MPH, MBA

Erica has a longstanding passion and involvement with healthcare philanthropy and global health, specifically looking at how malnutrition and lack of key nutrients relate to infectious disease. She’s helped establish clinics and research projects across the globe in her work with Stanford Research Institute, Airbel Impact Lab, World Pediatric Project, and the International Rescue Committee. She’s also written for numerous publications to help educate others on the importance of nutrition and their overall health. Before setting out to make her mark on the world, Erica studied Biochemistry and International Relations. Just to shake things up, she then went on to get her Masters in Public Health and M.B.A. When she isn’t working, she is an avid runner, reader, and (very) amateur chef.


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