The 5 best springtime food combinations to help boost vitamin absorption.
8 min read
Have you heard the one about it not being about what you eat, but what you absorb? Well, I don’t think that one will win us any Perrier awards, and anyway, we put our “very serious” faces on here at JetFuel, when we talk about vitamin absorption.
We believe that if you’re eating a healthy diet, and investing in your health by spending your hard-earned cash on premium supplements, it’s our responsibility to make sure you’re getting the biggest boost for your buck!
So today we’re going to look at how you can boost your vitamin absorption. First, we’ll look at how your body absorbs vitamins. Then we’ll consider what factors might be negatively impacting your vitamin absorption before we look at some great springtime food combinations you can use to help give your absorption rates a bit of a boost.
How does your body absorb vitamins?
First, let’s look at how your body absorbs vitamins and nutrients from your food.
Step One: You chew your food and the enzymes in your saliva start breaking the food down, ready to be digested in your stomach.
Step Two: Once you’ve chewed your food, it travels down to your stomach, where hydrochloric acid and enzymes break down the carbohydrates, fats and proteins as well as vitamins and minerals.
Step Three: The digested food moves into your small intestine, your nutrient absorption centre, where you absorb the vitamins and minerals into your bloodstream.
Water vs fat-soluble vitamins
Before we go any further, let’s take a minute to look at water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins because your body absorbs, and stores them differently.
Water-soluble vitamins, like Vitamin C, are picked up in the small intestine by “active transports”, molecules that carry nutrients through the cell walls of your small intestine and into your bloodstream. Because they’re water-soluble, they don’t need stomach acids to enable absorption, and importantly, it also means they leave your body every day in your urine, so you need a daily supply.
Just a quick side note, B vitamins are also water-soluble, but they’re a little bit different. They get bound to proteins, so they need your stomach acid to break down proteins to make sure they’re properly absorbed.
On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K need to dissolve in fat before you can absorb them. Bile acids from your liver help break down the fat the vitamins are dissolved in. Then, the vitamins move with the fat through your intestinal wall, into your body, where they’re stored in your liver and body fat.
Because fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your body, you don’t need to take these daily, in fact, they can build up in your system, so you need to make sure you don’t overdo it.
All sounding good so far? Are you getting that you aren’t really what you eat, but what you absorb? Now, let’s look at what might be stopping you from absorbing all the goodness you’re swallowing.
What factors can negatively impact vitamin absorption?
If you’ve committed to healthy eating, and you’re taking high-quality supplements to give you that little extra boost, it’s frustrating if you’re not seeing and feeling the results you were hoping for. It could simply be down to you not absorbing all that goodness as well as you could, and here are some reasons why that might be happening.
Stress can have a significant impact on vitamin absorption. When we’re stressed, we’re in fight or flight mode, and again, your body isn’t focused on digestion, which means you won’t absorb vitamins as effectively.
Also, when you’re stressed, your gastric secretions are weakened, so you don’t digest your food properly, further reducing your vitamin absorption.
Of course, exercise is good for us, but you could be putting your body under stress if you’re exercising excessively, which obstructs the absorption process. Also, be careful with how you time your exercise or take your supplements. Try to eat or take supplements a few hours before you exercise. When you physically exert yourself; your body isn’t focused on digestion or absorption, it’s more interested in getting blood and nutrients to the muscles that need them.
If you’re stressed and reaching for a glass of wine every evening to help you cope, you could be doing more harm than good. But you knew that anyway, didn’t you?
So, alcohol does a few things that negatively impact vitamin absorption. First, it inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules by decreasing the secretion of digestive enzymes from your pancreas.
Alcohol also damages the cells lining your stomach and your intestines which impairs the transport of nutrients into your bloodstream. And even if you manage to digest and absorb your vitamins and minerals, alcohol can prevent them from being properly utilised by your body by altering how they are transported, stored and excreted.
Don’t worry; you don’t need to give up your morning cuppa, but, drinking too much caffeine throughout the day can have a real, negative impact on vitamin absorption. Caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, which leads to more frequent urination which means water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and Vitamin B can be depleted due to fluid loss. High levels of caffeine can also interfere with Vitamin D and calcium absorption, so keep your consumption of tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks in check.
5 springtime food combos to help boost your vitamin absorption
Strategically combining certain foods can help your body better absorb vitamins and minerals.
Fat-soluble vitamins and unsaturated fats
Remember those fat-soluble vitamins? Vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K are all absorbed better if paired with a fat source, preferably an unsaturated one.
You’ll find vitamin A and vitamin K in leafy green veggies; vitamin A in orange and yellow veggies and tomatoes; and vitamin E in various nuts and seeds. Now things are warming up a little, why not make yourself a big salad and use an oil-based dressing to help make sure you absorb all the goodness. Or you could add avocado, or sprinkle some sunflower seeds on top to enhance absorption further.
A 2015 study found that taking a vitamin D supplement with a high-fat breakfast resulted in a 32% greater absorption of the vitamin than those who ate a fat-free morning meal.¹ So maybe add some avo, a slug of your favourite milk, or a dollop of yoghurt to your morning smoothie if you want to boost your Vitamin D absorption even further.
Folates and foods rich in vitamin B12
Folates and Vitamin B12 are a pretty tight pair. In fact, together they support some of your body’s most essential functions, including cell division and replication. Folate is actually part of the B vitamin family and relies on vitamin B12 to be absorbed, stored and metabolised.²
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in meat, eggs, milk, and other foods of animal origin, while the best natural sources of folate include leafy green vegetables, beans, and legumes. So why not try quinoa, wild rice and spring lamb salad, or use some new season asparagus with salmon, avocado and fresh spinach leaves to give yourself a springtime boost?
Vitamin C and foods rich in plant-based iron
To make sure you best absorb plant-based iron found in foods like lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts and seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, it’s important to combine your food with Vitamin C.
Vitamin C helps break down the iron into a form your body can absorb more easily, so remember to add a squeeze of lemon to your salads. Or how about sauteed spinach and mushrooms for breakfast with a glass of fresh orange juice, or a kale and butternut squash tart with a salad tossed in a citrusy dressing?
Vitamin D and calcium
Pairing Vitamin D and calcium together in your meals helps you absorb more calcium from the foods you eat. Vitamin D creates a cascade of effects that increases calcium absorption in your intestines.
Make sure you eat foods containing Vitamin D, like salmon, tuna, eggs, and fortified milk and non-dairy products with calcium-rich foods, including leafy greens, broccoli, dried figs, oranges and dairy foods.
Perfect pairings for spring could be yoghurt berry cups or fresh green smoothies for breakfast and lightly grilled salmon with roasted broccoli for lunch or dinner.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) and foods rich in tryptophan
Vitamin B3, which is more commonly known as Niacin, is probably best known for its ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase “good” HDL cholesterol if taken in large doses.³
While there’s some pretty complicated chemistry involved, one way to ensure your niacin levels remain healthy is to make sure you eat plenty of foods containing tryptophan. Foods rich in tryptophan include bananas, chicken, turkey and almonds. So this spring, try popping a banana in your morning smoothie, mixing kale into a light chicken salad or have a small handful of almonds as an afternoon or evening snack.
Probiotics and plant-based digestive enzymes
And while you’re eating all these fabulous springtime food combos, you can make sure you improve your vitamin absorption even further by taking a probiotic supplement or eating plenty of probiotic-rich foods like kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. Oh yes, and don’t forget to drink your kombucha!
Plant-based digestive enzymes can also help give your vitamin absorption a boost. Plant-based digestive enzymes—in foods such as raw honey and ginger and delicious fruits including pineapple, mangoes, papayas, apricots, bananas—help encourage a more effective breakdown of food into absorbable pieces.
So, there you go, a whole host more ingredients to include in your delicious breakfast smoothies and lighter springtime meals.
Share Your Creations!
We hope these springtime food combinations will have inspired you to create some gorgeous, healthy meals which, when you know they’re helping you boost your vitamin absorption, makes them taste even better.
Why don’t you share your pictures and recipe ideas? Tag your creations at #jetfuelforlife or @jefuelyou? We’d love to see what you rustle up!