Nutrient Combinations for the Best Absorption

Monday, February 7, 2011
Peanut butter and jelly. Cookies and milk. Some things in life just work better together. While our bodies take in nutrients from foods even when they're eaten alone, some nutrients' absorption is increased when they are eaten at the same time. Fortunately, there are many foods that naturally contain these combinations. Here are some examples of great nutrient pairs:

Iron and vitamin C: Vitamin C enhances the absorption of the iron found in plant foods. Particularly for vegetarians or individuals who eat small amounts of animal foods, pairing an excellent vitamin C source with an excellent iron source is the way to go. So to gain the iron from a spinach salad, sprinkle it with lemon juice, or add orange sections, strawberry slices or tomato wedges. When eating lentils, add vitamin C-rich red bell pepper slices.

Vitamin D and calcium: Vitamin D, or the sunshine vitamin, is needed for calcium to be absorbed. In the cloudy Pacific Northwest, our bodies are unable to make vitamin D for most of the year. There are few food sources of vitamin D, so many people require a supplement to maintain healthy levels. Examples of foods that do contain this nutrient pair include fortified milk and canned salmon.

Vitamin A, D, E, K and fat: All of these vitamins are fat-soluble, so the presence of dietary fat helps with their absorption. Just a small amount of fat is needed, such as a drizzle of olive oil. Avocados and nuts contain their own source of fat along with their own fat-soluble vitamins.

Consider these combinations the next time you're planning a meal, so you can get the best nutrient bang for your buck.

— Kristi Lyle, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chairwoman and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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