Food Pairings for Maximal Absorption

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

I got another great question on food pairings. In general for the average healthy adult, a varied and balanced diet provides adequate food synergy for health. However, there is some science behind which nutrient pairings can help with maximum absorption of foods. 

1. Vitamin D for calcium: the main transport system for calcium absorption is regulated by an active form of vitamin D, called calcitrol. There are also several vitamin D dependent channels, binding proteins and energy mechanisms required for calcium to get from your gut into your bloodstream. This is often why calcium needs are higher in the elderly, as their vitamin D stores decline, impacting how much calcium they are really getting from their food. Examples of pairings include salmon sushi + edamame, or a stir fry with mushrooms and edamame for those who are plant based. Mushrooms are a great plant based source of vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

2. Vitamin C for iron: the combination of vitamin C and iron forms a complex that allows for increased solubility of iron in the small intestine. This therefore leads to increased uptake of iron from the small intestine into the blood stream. This is especially helpful for iron coming from plant sources, as their bio availability can be lower than iron coming from animal sources. An example is adding lemon juice into your salad dressing to top your dark leafy greens. 

3. Fat for vitamins A, D, E and K: these four vitamins are known as fat soluble vitamins because their absorption, transport, and storage all require a form of lipids-- the fancy term for fat. This is why I don’t typically advocate for fat free salad dressings! If you do use them, top your salads with avocado, nuts or seeds to get your fat fix and get the most nutrients out of your salad.

Keep in mind the context of your entire diet and lifestyle. Different nutrient needs depend on age, gender, dietary restrictions, activity levels, health status etc. Nutrient needs differ across the lifespan as well. Checking in with a registered dietitian can help educate you on your unique and individual needs. However, there is no need to stress or obsess over food pairings. The bottom line is to prioritize eating a well balanced diet. My usual plug!

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