You are what you absorb. That includes the good (vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients) and the bad (environmental toxins, food additives, etc). Let’s focus on the good; that is, effective ways to better absorb vitamins and minerals.
The amount of vitamins and minerals you absorb from the foods you eat can range from 10 percent to 90 percent. Why is the range so large? Several factors have an impact on the percentage of nutrients you actually get from your food, including (but not limited to): how the food is prepared, any drugs or supplements you may be taking, your age, health status, time of day, and other foods you are eating at the same time.
To make it even more confusing, the amount of vitamins and minerals in any given food can vary greatly, depending on the variety, weather and growing conditions, storage conditions, and natural variation.
For example, although the National Nutrient database reports that a medium banana contains 422 milligrams of potassium, that figure is just an average determined from 14 samples. The actual range of potassium found in those samples was 364 mg to 502 mg per banana, as noted in a recent Scientific American article.
Taking all of these factors into account, you might be thinking it’s difficult to know if you are getting enough nutrients. Actually, the recommended intakes for vitamins and minerals and the dietary guidelines allow for the fact that we don’t absorb everything from our food.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do all you can to help ensure you do absorb the maximum amount of nutrition. One way, of course, is to choose fresh, unprocessed, organically grown foods whenever possible.
Here are five other ways to better absorb vitamins and minerals from your food:
Digestive enzymes are active protein (amino acids) compounds that assist with digestion and metabolism. Common digestive enzymes, including amylase, lactase, lipase, and protease, are produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Their task is to metabolize food into digestible nutrients for absorption and use by the body.
Although digestive enzymes are produced in the body, they are also found in unprocessed, raw foods such as bromelain (in pineapple) and papain (in papaya). Digestive enzymes sold as supplements, however, are subjected to your gastric enzymes and therefore are probably not going to help enhance vitamin and mineral absorption.
Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) produce many different enzymes, including types that can help with digestion and absorption. Beneficial bacteria are available in supplement form and in fermented foods, such as kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut, yogurt, and tempeh.
If you combine certain foods, you can boost your absorption of specific nutrients. For example, foods that are high in vitamin C can enhance your ability to absorb iron, especially from plant-based foods. One example would be to drink orange juice with an iron-fortified breakfast cereal or a handful of raisins. B vitamins are better absorbed when they are consumed along with vitamin C and dietary fat.
Coconut oil, which has a large proportion of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), helps with the absorption of antioxidants and other nutrients from your food. MCFAs are smaller than the fatty acids found in most other oils, which means they are better able to enter cell membranes.
The B vitamin folic acid, which is the form added to foods, is typically more bioavailable than the form of the vitamin found in food (folate). To boost absorption of this B vitamin, foods rich in folate (e.g., green leafy veggies) can be consumed along with foods that are fortified with folic acid.
Prebiotics are essentially carbohydrates (soluble fiber) that your body cannot digest. However, they are super “food” or nutrients for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Therefore, these prebiotics stimulate the growth and activity of probiotics and make it easier for you to absorb vitamins and minerals from your food.
Prebiotics have names that don’t roll off the tongue too easily; namely, oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides, xylooligosaccharides, and inulin, among others. The good news is that you can probably get all the prebiotics you need by eating plenty of fresh veggies rich in soluble fiber, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, chard, and other leafy greens, as well as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and bananas.
You may know aloe vera as a handy plant to have in your kitchen to handle minor burns and cuts. However, this succulent also can help with vitamin absorption. In a study from the UC Davis Medical Center, researchers evaluated the use of aloe vera inner leaf gel and whole leaf gel in healthy volunteers to see how they affected the bioavailability of vitamin C (500 mg) and vitamin B12 (1 mg). Water was used as a control. Both aloe vera gels significantly increased levels of both vitamins and enhanced their bioavailability and antioxidant potential.
In another study, use of a polysaccharide-enhanced aloe vera juice product showed that study participants experienced a 20-fold increase in their absorption of vitamin C supplements when they consumed 2 ounces of aloe vera juice. The research was conducted by Lily of the Desert (Naturally Savvy’s sponsors).
You are what you absorb. If you begin with natural, fresh, organic foods, you are off to a running start. Then you can enhance the nutritional benefits by boosting the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from those foods.
Deborah Mitchell is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored and co-authored more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. This article was first published on NaturallySavvy.com.