15 Best Practices for Improving Your Nutrient Absorption
Are you getting the maximum nutrient benefit from the foods you eat? Unfortunately, it is possible that you are not. A quote from the journal Nutrients stated that "Nearly one-third of the U.S. population is at risk of a deficiency in at least one vitamin or has anemia. (1). The most common deficiencies are Vitamins B6, B12, C, D, and the mineral iron. Some factors can be poor diet, genetics, toxins, and environment.
We all need an adequate amount of essential nutrients for good health. These include protein (amino acids), carbohydrates, and healthy fats like olive oil. Eating a balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods, including plant-based foods and protein sources, is essential for maximizing health.
9 reasons you may not be absorbing your nutrients
1. Poor gut health. Your digestive tract is at the top of the list regarding overall health. It is how your body takes the essential nutrients from food, absorbs them, and uses them for growth, maintenance, energy, and healing. If you have a poor balance of gut microbiota, then you are not getting the maximum benefit from your food.
2. Natural aging process. We have no control over aging, but we can make healthier food and lifestyle choices to age more gracefully.
3. Mineral imbalances affect absorption because minerals either work together or against each other. If you have an imbalance, your cells cannot get the nutrients they need for proper function. These imbalances cause health problems over time if not addressed. For example, Vitamin A has to reach your eyes to prevent night blindness, and Vitamin C needs to be in adequate amounts to make it to the skin for healing wounds. The same goes for calcium for your bones, muscles, and teeth. In a hair analysis test, if a calcium level is significantly high, that means there is bio-unavailable calcium, and the cells are not able to utilize it for cellular functions. The calcium can be deposited in unwanted places and cause arthritis or cardiovascular problems.
Adequate amounts of iron are needed for your blood and energy levels. These are just a few examples of how vitamin and mineral imbalances affect our health.
4. Toxin overload causes all kinds of havoc on our bodies. We are overloaded daily with toxins from our foods, environment, beauty, skin products, household soaps, and cleaning products.
5. Choosing foods with poor nutritional value. Unfortunately, our lives are busy, and convenience-type foods can be in larger quantities than they should be due to time constraints.
6. Lack of variety and color in meals. Adequate amounts of color in our meals are imperative for getting nutrients. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is not high in color from fruits and vegetables.
7. Eating on the go is another issue regarding proper digestion. If we are in a hurry or stressed, our bodies will not have the energy for proper digestion.
8. Poor sleep. Reduced sleep duration has been linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease, malignant neoplasm, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, septicemia, and hypertension (2).
9. Chronic Stress will also affect your absorption of nutrients. Stress increases inflammation and decreases immune response. Symptoms can be physical, cognitive, and behavioral.
So, you see how our vitamins and minerals are essential for our cells to function so we can feel our best. The good news is you can make some changes to maximize your absorption of nutrients, and it is easier than you might think.
15 tips to help maximize your nutrient absorption
Eat your meals in a relaxed setting. Chew your food thoroughly and enjoy what you are eating. This signals the brain that you are eating, which can help with satiety and prevent overeating. Sit for 10-15 minutes after eating to allow your body to focus on digestion.
Combine the right foods/nutrients. Iron with Vitamin C assists with non-heme iron absorption. Black pepper and Turmeric work well together and can help with inflammation. Calcium and Vitamin D work best when taken together in a supplement, and new research is also favorable with adding Vitamin K2. Take your supplements with meals for maximum benefit.
Include healthy fats with meals to assist in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. Healthy fat examples are olive oil, chia seeds, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel), avocado, nut, and seed butter. I'm a fan of Organic Almond butter. Pro tip: buy wild-caught fish only to help decrease the intake of contaminated fish.
Eat a variety of foods. The more color you have in a meal, the healthier your diet. Increasing plant-based foods have many health benefits and can decrease the risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, Type 2 Diabetes, and many cancers. Click here for a free handout on Phytochemicals. If you are not sure where to start in increasing plant foods click here for access to this vegan recipe book.
Eat fresh foods and buy local food when you can. Organic is always best but only sometimes budget-friendly. Shop your local farmers' market and grocery store sale ads. Keep in mind the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. Limiting exposure to pesticides in your food is crucial in maintaining a healthy diet.
Proper cooking techniques. Make sure to cook your food properly because overcooking can deplete nutrients. Proper cooking helps break down tough fibers and makes nutrients more accessible to the body. Steaming is best for retaining nutrient value.
Limit fluids with meals to preserve digestive juices for the breakdown of food.
Include a protein source at every meal. According to WebMD (3), protein is critical for energy production and helps carry oxygen throughout the body. Not getting enough protein can lead to health issues. The exact amount needed varies depending on your weight or any health conditions. Consult a Registered Dietitian if you are uncertain about your protein intake needs. Good sources are eggs, poultry, lean beef, fish, tofu, legumes, dairy products, and seeds.
Consider a digestive enzyme that can assist in the breakdown of food. Digestion begins with saliva in the mouth and continues down to your organs, including the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Sometimes, a digestive supplement can help because your body is not making enough on its own. Food sources that contain digestive enzymes are honey, papaya, avocados, and sauerkraut. (4)
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in your gut and help promote healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients. Eating foods high in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods, can help increase the number of beneficial gut bacteria, leading to improved absorption of nutrients. Probiotics also help support the gut wall lining and help balance the good and bad bacteria. A probiotic supplement can be a great addition if you are not eating foods with probiotic benefits.
Stress management techniques. If you are stressed when you sit down to eat, you will not have good digestion. Consider a brief meditation, short walk, breathing exercises, or light stretching.
Your overall mood can be added here too. Our mood can make or break our day which can contribute to stress and unhappiness. Including activities or hobbies that you enjoy in your day can help lift your spirits.
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol in moderation can be okay, but excess causes inflammation and stress on the liver.
Develop healthy sleep habits. Set up a schedule for bedtime and limit screen time to 1 hour before. Meditation before bed or breathing exercises can help release stress immensely. Many apps can help, like Headspace, Calm, and Breathe. Our bodies need adequate rest to heal and repair. If you are not sleeping well, I suggest journaling to assist with finding the root cause. Large meals or spicy foods can disrupt sleep, so eat a few hours before bed. A small snack with some protein is okay if needed before bed to assist with blood sugar control.
Consume foods high in fiber: Fiber helps promote healthy digestion by adding bulk to your stool and keeping things moving smoothly through your digestive system, which helps to increase the absorption of nutrients and prevent constipation. Foods that are high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Run a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis test to identify nutrient deficiencies and target the nutrients your body needs.
Eating healthy is more than consuming nutritious foods. It is also about absorbing the nutrients from those foods so your body can use them. As you see in the list above, you can make small changes and benefit more from your food choices.
If you need more help or have questions about what you can do to improve your nutrient absorption, I suggest contacting a licensed healthcare professional to assist you. Check out my website here.
In good health,
Stephanie Woods, RDN
Mineral Balancing Practitioner
Bird, J.K.; Murphy, R.A.; Ciappio, E.D.; McBurney, M.I. Risk of Deficiency in Multiple Concurrent Micronutrients in Children and Adults in the United States. Nutrients 2017, 9, 655. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070655
Kochanek KD, Murphy SL, Xu J, Arias E. Mortality in the United States, 2013. NCHS Data Brief. 2014 Dec;(178):1-8. PMID: 25549183.
Disclaimer: Stephanie Woods is not a medical doctor. No information in this blog is intended to substitute for medical treatment or diagnosis. All information is intended for educational purposes only and there is no intent to treat or cure any diseases. No information is a substitute for standard medical care.
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