Bioavailability: How to Get More Nutrients from Your Food

By Healthy Theory on 28 October 2009 (Updated 10 November 2010) 10 comments

Not everything we eat gets absorbed and used by our body. Our cooking and digestive process destroys and degrades nutrients before our body can use it. The amount of nutrients that is actually absorbed in our system is called bioavailability. Understanding how different foods react with one another can help you get more nutrients from your meal. Here are 5 ways to get more from the food we eat.

Add lemon to your tea

Adding a squirt of lemon to green tea can increase the amount of catechins your body will absorb. Catechins are one of the many health-promoting qualities in green tea, but is unstable in environments like our intestines. Less than 20 percent remain after digestion. Adding lemon juice caused 80 percent of the catechins to remain.

Have OJ with your meal

Iron found in red meat (haem iron) is readily absorbed in the body. However, the iron found in other sources, like spinach, contains non-haem iron which is not as readily absorbed. Having something like orange juice (or anything with vitamin C) with your meal changes the non-haem iron to heam iron. It's important to know too that the phenols found in tea and coffee, and calcium in dairy products inhibit iron absorption, and shouldn't be consumed in conjunction with iron rich foods (this includes eggs).

Cook your tomatoes and carrots

Tomatoes have lycopene, a great antioxidant that is much better absorbed when cooked. Fresh tomatoes have a total antioxidant potential of about 80. But boil them, and the antioxidant potential goes up five or six-fold. This happens because the lycopene in the raw tomato has been transformed to trans-lycopene in the cooked version, and trans-lycopene is much more readily absorbed. The downside is that vitamin C is degraded when cooked. Additionally, cooking carrots makes the beta-carotene, another form of antioxidant, more available as well.

Put some fat in your salad

Fat-soluble nutrients like lycopene, beta carotene, and lutein needs a little help getting absorbed into your system, specifically from fat. This applies the most to salads because the vegetables aren't prepared with anything except the dressing, and a study shows that the best dressing to use is actually not the fat-free kind. This doesn't mean drenching your salad in fatty dressing, but making sure to use natural and healthy fats so it doesn't become a counterproductive strategy. Adding healthy fats like avocado and olive oil into your salad will raise the nutrient levels effectively without raising your weight or cholesterol levels at the same time.

Black pepper isn't just for seasoning

Sprinkling a dash of black pepper does more than please your taste buds. The piperine in it increases the bioavailability of many substances through a bunch of cool processes, which results in more nutrients reaching your cells.  Not only that, but did you know piperine can act as an anti-depressant, pain reliever, and antacid, boost brain functioning, and help you sleep?! Can someone please pass the pepper STAT!

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Guest's picture
Samira

Thanks for the tips. People tend to forget that not all nutrients are available to the body. In fact, some nutrients reduce the bioavailability of other nutrients.

Guest's picture
Matt

The bald-guy-from-another-dimension empties the whole pots of pepper into his sandwich, and he's super strong, kids!

Guest's picture
Dave

Is there any study, evidence, or proof of these claims? Some reference to that would make this article much more valuable.

Lynn Truong's picture

@Dave the links in the article refer to the sources

Guest's picture

Great simple tips. Thanks for sharing

Guest's picture
Stacey Marcos

Eating right can be such a pain. In addition to these, there seem to be so many "rules" about food optimization. I can't keep up with it all. I just end up eating fresh, often (small portions), and as whole as possible.

But that being said, I did love the article.

Guest's picture
Guest

This was a very interesting post that makes me want to know more (always a good thing!).

I love pepper & it was cool to see that it actually does something rather than just give flavor to food.

I mentioned this post & gave you a link in my blog today. Thanks!

Sheila
s/v So It Goes...
All About Boats, So It Goes

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thatmikeguy

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Don't use a microwave! It kills anywhere from 50%-90% of the absorbability of ANY food you eat! It does this by changing the molecular structure from the inside out, so that our bodies cannot attach those nutrients. Frozen foods are also not great, they usually drop around 40%-80% of their original nutrients. Fresh is best, and even though canned foods are in a plastic coated can, and are usually do not look as good as frozen foods, they usually have more nutrition in them depending on how they are cooked.

Use a toaster/convection oven! This keeps the oven bills down, and it tastes far better anyway for smaller things. Yes, you will drop some nutrition no matter how you cook, but almost everything is better than a microwave dealing with nutrition. Most people do not think about why foods can get rubbery in a microwave while they act differently in an oven.

Guest's picture
Guest

Unless you're sedentary there's more involved in you're body absorbing nutrtion and maintaining good health than ONLY bioavailability cooking and processing. Frozen is as good as canned in other research I've read. Pick your poison on how to stay fit and health. No one lives forever and escapes this existence alive, contrary to popular beliefs.

Guest's picture
N

In fact, a microwave can be an excellent way to preserve nutrition. And yes, it changes molecular structure, as does a conventional oven. It's called cooking.

Frozen foods do become more susceptible to nutrients leaching out in the cooking water (which can easily be avoided), but they retain more nutrients than 'fresh' supermarket vegetables prior to cooking.

As for foods getting rubbery in the microwave, this is the fault of the operator, not the machine.

I'd suggest sticking to .edu and .gov websites when doing future research.