Foods to Pair to Boost Nutrient Absorption

Blues Perspectives

| 3 min read

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Shanthi Appelö, registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.They discussed how certain food pairings can help increase nutrient absorption, and how to start pairing foods at home.
You’ve probably heard of superfoods, foods that bring a lot of nutritional value on their own, but pairings certain foods together can have a positive impact on how nutrients are being delivered to the body.
“There are a few food combinations where certain nutrients and certain foods help boost each other or help the absorption of each other,” Appelö said. “And a few of them are also mysteries to us. We see that certain foods have nutrients that work together, but we don't know exactly what those are.”
There are some foods that work together in combination but don’t show the same result in supplement form. It is important to get a broad range of nutrients through a varied, healthy diet, rather than relying on supplements or nutrient-boosted foods.

Food combination examples

When certain foods are broken down together in the digestive system, they can be more efficiently or easily absorbed. There are some examples of foods that work in tandem to increase nutrient absorption:

Non-heme iron and vitamin C

Iron and vitamin C may be a food pairing people are familiar with as it is a common one. Non-heme iron specifically, found in things like beans, dark leafy greens, or fortified breakfast cereals, as opposed to heme irons found in chicken, beef, and other meats. Ways to pair these include a spinach salad with strawberries, or a black bean burger with bell peppers and tomatoes.

Turmeric and black pepper

Piperine, a component of black pepper, interacts with curcumin, a component in turmeric, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. When combined, the piperine increases the bioavailability of the curcumin by 2,000%. Adding a crack of black pepper to a juice or smoothie with turmeric can greatly boost the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Tomatoes, cooked or canned

While not technically a combination of two foods, tomatoes become more nutritionally effective after being cooked or canned. Cooking tomatoes increases the lycopene bioavailability, which is the antioxidant that makes tomatoes their bright red color.

Misconceptions about pairing foods

Iron and calcium are sometimes commonly thought of as a good pairing, but those two nutrients can actually compete for space on the same transponders.
Iron supplements and antacids should be taken no sooner than 2 hours apart. Antacids increase the pH balance in the digestive system, which can cause iron to be absorbed less effectively.
In general, a common misconception is to try to shore up spots in your diet or nutrients you are missing out on or low on by using supplements. There may be easier and more effective ways to get recommended nutrients by combining foods and adding new foods to your diet, rather than looking for a supplement.

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MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association