Nature provides a cornucopia of foods, and it is important to eat a variety of meat and dairy products, whole grains, vegetables and fruit to get all your essential nutrition. Many foods should be combined because they contain nutrients that help your body absorb other essential minerals or vitamins. Using a variety of food ingredients to make your meals not only satisfies your taste buds, it also helps your body better digest, absorb and use food nutrients.
Eat more whole foods, rather than processed foods. Your body requires over 45 nutrients; whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables contain essential fiber, proteins and fats that your body needs to break down foods, produce energy and absorb vitamins and minerals. Processed foods such as white bread and white pasta are made from refined grains that have had their outer fiber and nutrient-rich germ layer removed. Whole grains such as brown rice and whole-grain bread and pasta contain fiber that is needed for healthy digestion.
Combine vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich foods. This helps your body better absorb non-heme iron that is found in plant foods. Heme iron, which is found in meat, poultry, seafood and other animal products, is absorbed two to three times more easily by your body. Your body needs the mineral iron to produce healthy red blood cells. You can add vitamin C foods such as orange or kiwi slices to to an iron-rich spinach salad or drink a glass of sugar-free orange juice with your omelette at breakfast. Other foods high in vitamin C include red bell peppers, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe and papaya.
Add vitamin D to your diet to better absorb calcium. Your body requires about 1000 milligrams of calcium a day because it is essential for bone, muscle and heart health. Vitamin D is necessary to produce the hormone calcitriol, which is needed by your body in order to use calcium from foods. Vitamin D-rich foods include egg yolks, liver, fortified milk and some types of milk.
Consume enough healthy fats such as those found in plant oils, lean meat, fish, seeds and nuts. These fats are important to help your body absorb, store and use the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Healthy fats are also an important energy source to help your body digest foods and maintain other functions. They are also needed to support brain and nerve health, control inflammation, clot blood and produce hormones and other cells.
Limit drinking alcohol as it can reduce the absorption of vitamin B12 in your digestive tract. This vitamin is critical for healthy red blood cell development and energy production. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. Calcium may also help your body absorb vitamin B12. Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese contain both calcium and vitamin B12 and should be part of your daily balanced diet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Iron and Iron Deficiency
- National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability: Factors Affecting Nutrient Absorption
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Nutrition
- National Institutes of Health: Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age
- MedlinePlus: Dietary Fats Explained
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin B12
- Avoid drinking tea or coffee with your meal as they contain substances that can hinder the absorption of iron from foods. Calcium can also decrease iron absorption. However, in most cases this affect is very low.
- It is important to eat a balanced diet; getting too much protein and sodium in your meals can lead to excess calcium loss through your kidneys. Additionally, if you are lactose intolerant, you may not be getting enough calcium. Celiac disease can reduce the absorption of vitamin B12. Talk to your doctor if you have any type of digestive disorder.
- Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can reduce the absorption of nutrients. Consult your doctor or pharmacist to find out if you are at risk of a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.