Have you ever thought about what it really means to get nutrients from our food and supplements? It turns out that even though we may be consuming nutritional substances, we don’t always absorb them properly.
What is nutrient absorption?
The digestive process starts the moment we take our first bite of food. Most foods need to be chewed for a longer period of time in order to adequately break down and process nutrients. Once our food is properly chewed to break down its essential nutrients with the help of digestive enzymes, it passes through the small intestines and is ultimately absorbed into the blood system. After it becomes part of the circulatory system, nutrients are distributed to various body parts and functions that need them, while excess are either stored as fat or flushed out of the body.
When we're digesting vitamins in particular, it's important to understand the difference between those that are water-soluble and those that are fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin C and the B vitamins, dissolve in water, and are therefore absorbed by the body more quickly. Excess water-soluble vitamins are then flushed out through the body. Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are absorbed by fat globules that travel throughout the body. Excess vitamins are stored in liver and fat tissues. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble.
If we don’t properly approach our digestion with the intent to maximize how we digest our nutrients, we can be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals key to our health and wellness. If this is the case, it could potentially result in nutrient deficiencies. When we have nutrient deficiencies, we experience symptoms such as exhaustion and a weakened immune system.
How do we optimize nutrient absorption in the body?
There are numerous ways we can maximize our digestion for optimal health of the brain and body.
1. Avoid Caffeine
Avoiding caffeine such as tea or coffee, particularly around the time of meals, is helpful as caffeine consumption can inhibit the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals.
2. Stay Hydrated
When we are dehydrated, our blood can’t adequately deliver the nutrients throughout our circulatory system to the parts of the body that need them.
3. Pair Your Foods Accordingly
We can get the most out of our nutrients when we pair them with other foods that support the digestive process. When we consume carotenoids (like lycopene, found in fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, asparagus, and guava), it’s best to pair them with healthy fats in order to reap all their benefits. Calcium is best absorbed when paired with Vitamin D, so taking a Vitamin D supplement or getting outside can be helpful ways to boost both important nutrients. Plant-based iron substances such as legumes and tofu are best paired with Vitamin C-rich foods for best digestion. Avoiding processed foods are also key to this process, as they are harder to break down and lower in nutritional value.
4. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol consumption can negatively impact nutrient absorption, as it is linked to a reduction of digestive enzymes that can prevent the proper breakdown of nutrients in the body.
5. Manage Stress
Managing stress is key, as high stress levels also hinder nutrient absorption. High cortisol levels slow down digestion and leave nutrients undigested.
Can nutrient absorption be too much of a good thing?
If we have excess amounts of nutrients in our system (such as when we significantly surpass our recommended daily value of vitamins), it can encourage a negative response in the body – with symptoms such as a weakened metabolism, weight gain, and nutrient toxicity. While we usually flush our excess vitamins, sometimes we can still have too much and these excess levels of nutrients can be harmful. It’s best to check with a physician to ensure that this doesn’t occur.
Ensuring we get nutritional absorption is key to the health and functioning of all our organs — heart, brain, kidneys, and more. Eating healthy, taking proper supplements, and ensuring they are absorbed properly are all key to supporting our overall wellbeing.