We all know that eating more veggies and fruits is important. But what if you increase the consumption of these whole foods but aren’t absorbing the nutrients? Are you any better off than if you had skipped them altogether?
Well, not likely, as you are likely absorbing some nutrients. So, I would recommend that you keep eating these nutritious foods.
However, for optimal health and vitality, you need to improve your food quality and enhance the absorption of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Before we delve into the things you can do to improve your absorption, let’s take a look at the list of symptoms that might indicate that you may need help.
Note: This is not a comprehensive list, and some of these symptoms may be linked to other health issues but may also point to malabsorption.
Chew your food! Various studies have been conducted to assess the correlation between absorption of nutrients and how well food is masticated (aka chewed). Not only have studies proven that individuals who chew more absorb nutrients better (2), but they also eat less and are, in turn, leaner (3).
Eat a kiwi fruit. This may be new to you, but adding a kiwi before your meal, especially if it’s protein-rich, may help you better digest your food. A recent review of various studies found clear evidence that green kiwifruit, which contains the naturally occurring enzyme actinidin, can provide enhanced upper-tract digestion, which supports the role of the kiwifruit as a digestive aid(6).
Eat in a relaxed state. This can be as challenging as chewing well for some of us. But, it is essential for proper digestion. Eating while driving or working really hinders our ability to digest. We’re all used to multitasking in our busy lives. Unfortunately, our body isn’t. Our body can either rest and digest (parasympathetic) or fight or flight (sympathetic). It can’t do both at once, so if you have the most wonderfully healthy food on your plate. But, if you’re eating in a stressful situation, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. There is no way that your body can fully assimilate the nutrition you’re ingesting.
Another practical way to improve your absorption is to add various food preparation methods to your diet.
Smoothies: If you’re prone to wolfing your food, you can add a smoothie or two to your diet to increase the number of veggies you consume and the number of nutrients you absorb. Some nutrients, such as beta carotene and lycopene, can exist as microscopic crystals trapped within the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. Absorption of these nutrients, in turn, requires the breakdown of the cell walls. We can never chew as well as a blender. A recent study found that the absorption of these nutrients significantly increased when blended into a smoothie (compared with the whole raw food and, to a lesser extent, cooked food)(2).
Soups and stews: In addition to being comforting, soups are easier to digest, making them easier to absorb. In the study reference earlier, beta carotene and lycopene absorption was highest when blended into a smoothie. However, absorption was also significantly improved (compared with raw whole carrots) when the carrots were cooked thoroughly (2).
Eat fermented foods: As discussed in my previous article (4), Fermentation increases the bioavailability of the micronutrients in foods, including B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc, omega 3 fatty acids (playing a critical role in communication in and between nerve cells) and phytochemicals to name a few (5).
So, although eating a whole foods-centric diet is essential to feel and looking your best, it is equally important to ensure that you are absorbing all of the wonderful nutrients you’re consuming. Ultimately, we should continue to eat good, whole foods. But, we also need to consider how we are eating and include various food preparation methods in your meals.
Chew your food. Start by counting to 15 chews and increase from there, working up to 30 chews.
Try to set aside some time to eat in a relaxed environment. Relax and savor your meals.
Eat some raw green smoothies, vegetable-packed soups, and fermented foods for optimal nutrition.
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