4 Food Pairings to Maximize Nutrient Absorption

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By Amy S. | Updated: Oct 26, 2021

4 Food Pairings to Maximize Nutrient Absorption
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Adding chopped fruit to whole grain cereal can double the absorption of iron from whole grains.

When it comes to getting the best from your food, preparing meals is not always easy. Foods that complement each other in terms of taste may not always complement one another nutritionally. The strategic pairing of different food types to maximize the body's absorption of nutrients is sometimes referred to as "food synergy." Effective food synergy dramatically increases the absorption of vitamins and minerals from some food sources, allowing you to get the most health benefits possible from your meals. Keep reading to learn which food pairings could achieve this effect!

Almonds with Avocado

Vitamin E is essential for healthy circulation and tissue repair in the body, and can be found in leafy greens - especially spinach - as well as seeds and nuts like almonds (Prunus dulcis).1 However, vitamin E is fat soluble, which means that the body struggles to absorb it in the absence of healthy fats. Combining your vitamin E-rich foods with a source of healthy fats, such as olive oil or avocado (Persea americana) - perhaps in a salad -, not only adds tasty flavor, but will also increase the internal vitamin absorption after eating them to boost your circulatory system.2

Soy and Lemon

Iron is a vital mineral for blood renewal and regulating the immune system, and can be sourced from lean and red meats, fish, nuts, seeds,soy (Glycine max), and whole grains. The body's absorption of iron is significantly increased when consumed alongside vitamin C, which prevents iron from becoming insoluble, thus boosting its absorption into the body. More potential pairings or iron and vitamin C could include fish with lemon juice (Citrus limon), chopped fruit on cereal, or chicken with broccoli.

Amaranth in Probiotic Yogurt

Calcium is a mineral that promotes the healthy growth of bones, teeth, hair, and nails. Found primarily in dairy products, but also in nuts, figs, and especially amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus), calcium it is a vital part of a balanced diet. Its effects are maximized when consumed alongside live bacteria.3 This may not sound appetizing, but live bacteria, also known as probiotics, are healthy bacteria found in yogurt (and other fermented foods) that help maximize calcium absorption.

Pumpkin Seeds with Garlic

Zinc is a mineral needed for overall growth and development in the body. It boosts the immune system to help fight infection, helps wounds to heal, and promotes the healthy development of DNA in the body. Red meats, lean meats, fish, whole grains, and pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) are all excellent sources of zinc. To maximize the absorption in the body, pairing zinc sources with foods rich in sulfur compounds - such as garlic (Allium sativum) and onion (Allium cepa) - has been found to be effective.4 Marinating pumpkin or squash seeds in garlic or serving it alongside onion gravy is, therefore, as nutritionally sound as it is delicious.

The good news is that many of these pairings are natural ones in terms of taste as well as nutrition. When you are attempting to create a healthy and balanced meal, it only makes sense that you are doing what you can to get the best out of the ingredients you use. Considering food synergy when you prepare your meals means that you are consciously maximizing the nutritional effects of the food you are putting into your body.

Sources

  • Colorado State University, Fat-Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, and K
  • International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, The role of vitamin C in iron absorption, 1989
  • Office of Dietary Supplements, Zinc - Quick Facts

Footnotes:

  1. European Journal of Nutrition. (2018). The effect of almonds on vitamin E status and cardiovascular risk factors in Korean adults: a randomized clinical trial. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28695324/
  2. Nutrients. (2018). Avocado Fruit on Postprandial Markers of Cardio-Metabolic Risk: A Randomized Controlled Dose Response Trial in Overweight and Obese Men and Women. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6164649/
  3. Current Issues in Intestinal Microbiology. (2006). The effect of probiotic bacteria on transepithelial calcium transport and calcium uptake in human intestinal-like Caco-2 cells. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16570693/
  4. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. (2010). Higher bioaccessibility of iron and zinc from food grains in the presence of garlic and onion. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20597543/