“We are what we eat” – the age-old phrase often reminding us that yes, we do need to eat better. Let’s face it, when confronted with losing those last ten pounds, getting in shape for beach season, or just improving our fitness in general, nutrition consistently stands out as our number one challenge to achieving our goals. We all know the basics: eat more vegetables, consistently get your protein, and lay off the junk food/binge eating – to name a few. But what about those of us who already eat well and want to go to that next level? Or perhaps you’re wondering how to best optimize all the good stuff you already eat? It is these questions and more that we will be looking at today, namely how we can maximize our nutrient absorption, plus how, when and why to combine certain foods together to pack an even greater nutritional punch!
To begin, we can think of food synergy as the idea that food influences our health in complex and highly interactive ways. In a nutshell, think of it as nutrients working together to create amplified health effects. For example, in the past 10 years nutritional experts have begun to identify hundreds of biologically active plant-food components called phytochemicals (also called phytonutrients). A decade ago, we had very little information about these phytochemicals such as lycopene (a compound from tomatoes) or anthocyanins and pterostilbene (which are found in various fruits). Discovering these and more phytochemicals has led us to confirm through ongoing research that combining our foods is indeed going to optimize our nutrient uptake.
Where do you start though? How about with the very system that absorbs and takes in all our nutrition: our digestive tract. For starters, look for a high quality probiotic supplement (like the brand we sell at Movimento) as this can help re-populate the beneficial bacteria that’s naturally found in your gut – not only supporting digestive and immune health but also ensuring that your body is properly absorbing the nutrients needed from your food. Proper nutrient absorption will maximize the impact of any vitamins, supplements and even medications you’re taking – which will save you money and may even allow you to decrease how much you’re prescribed to take in the first place. After all, if you are combining the right foods but you are only absorbing a tiny fraction, you are doing you and your body a disservice. In short, probiotics are one of the best supplements you can take to make sure all the other beneficial foods and supplements in your diet are most effective.
So, let’s get down to (quite literally) the “meat and potatoes” of the matter and discover which combinations do what! For example, did you know that eating raw or partially cooked vegetables (such as broccoli or carrots) with healthy fats like olive oil or avocado can enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K? And do you like pepper? An ingredient in pepper, called piperine, has been shown to increase the bio-availability of nutrients by up to 2000%. It inhibits several enzymes responsible for metabolizing nutritional substances, stimulates amino-acid transporters in the intestinal lining, inhibits removal of substances from cells so they continue to be available for use, and decreases your intestinal activity allowing you to absorb more nutrients in their active form.
Now if you regularly consume alcohol, caffeine, and/or tobacco products – you might want to consider eating your meals/taking your supplements at least four hours from the time you indulge in your recreational activities – these products tend to decrease the absorption of nutrients by stirring up temporary inflammation of the intestinal lining, negatively impacting digestive enzymes and the nutrient uptake process in general). Again, limiting these items in general is probably going to do you good in the long run anyway, so look to avoid these when possible.
For those looking to decrease fatigue, perhaps you need to up your iron intake (found in foods such as red meat, seafood, beans, dark leafy greens, and dried fruits). Did you know the iron found in meat sources is usually readily absorbed, while the iron found in plant sources, such as broccoli or spinach, needs a little bit of assistance – and this is where vitamin C comes in. Vitamin C helps convert plant-sourced iron into the form that’s more easily absorbed by the body! It’s the perfect excuse to squeeze some lemon onto your next spinach salad, or perhaps have some bell peppers with your kale stir-fry.
Either way, food synergy is a very good thing. It brings us back to the basics: For good health, it’s important to eat a variety of whole foods. And while the above mentioned are some of the more popular combinations known, feel free to do some research yourself and discover which of your favourite foods can give you an even greater boost with others! After all, if a simple pairing or timing issue can be fixed to get you even greater results, you might as well utilize it!
To your best health,