Five solutions for getting more nutrients from your food


You’d think that nutrition would be a pretty simple science. After all, we know what nutrients we need, and we have a pretty good idea what foods we can eat to get enough. But, like I mentioned in my last post, it can be hard to get all those nutrients from the food into your body.

Hopefully you didn’t despair too much after that article. I do my best to not leave you hanging for too long. There’s value in giving you space and time to think through your own situation, so I want to honor your own information processing.

Here’s a few ideas on ways you can maximize the nutrients getting into your body, so you can rest easier knowing that you’re getting what you need.

Increase absorption by combining foods

Food synergy is a hot topic among nutritionists and dietitians right now. They’re working on a lot of studies to show how eating certain foods together will increase your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Vitamin C and iron are perhaps the first nutrients we discovered work best in pairs. You need both of these nutrients together to allow your body to process the other. That’s why having fajitas is such a great idea! Vitamin C from the peppers and iron from the beef or chicken.

Black pepper is one of the hidden gems of nutrient absorption. You’ve probably heard about how well it helps turmeric absorption. Black pepper is also important to stimulate something called thermogenesis, which helps to heat up your digestive tract to be able to break down macro and micronutrients in other foods. The component piperine found in black pepper is now being used in a variety of nutritional and herbal supplements to increase the availability of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. So use black pepper freely and liberally to increase your nutrient intake!

Eating some fat along with vegetables helps to absorb nutrients like lycopene and lutein. This is why a bit of salad dressing makes your salads much more nutritionally dense. A good quality olive oil, some avocado, or fresh nut oils will add flavor, texture, and loads of nutrients. Use the oil alone, or add in some vinegar for zest (and dash on black pepper, too!).


here’s two phytochemicals getting a lot of research lately. The first is quercetin (found mainly in apples, onions and berries). Quercetin is often used in herbal remedies as an antihistamine. Catechin is an antioxidant (found mainly in apples, tea, broad beans, dark chocolate, and grape juice). When quercetin and catechin are consumed together, they’ve been shown to help stop platelet clumping. Platelets are a component in blood that play an important role in forming clots. Platelets' clumping together is one of several steps in blood clotting that can lead to a heart attack. Platelet clumping is also one of the suspected causes of migraines. So, if you have high cholesterol or other cardiovascular risks, or you get regular migraines, consider that apple a day!

Meal sequencing

There’s more nutrition to be gained by considering how you’re eating. We give a lot of thought to nutrient content, calories, and balance in our diet. We don’t always put a lot of thought into the process of eating.

he first, and most important thing you can do to absorb nutrients is to chew more. When I was at the Air Force Academy, we were trained to chew each mouthful of food only seven times. The point of the exercise was to keep us from taking such large bites that we would choke or look like rude chipmunks while dining. It seemed reasonable at the time, but this kind of thinking shifts your focus to seeing chewing as something that has to be done as quickly and minimally as possible. Nothing could be more wrong!

aliva contains IMPORTANT digestive enzymes that are only found in the mouth. Without these enzymes fully doing their job, much of the food you eat passes through undigested. Chewing also breaks up food into smaller particles so you get more nutrition as it passes through the small intestine. Shoot for 40 times per mouthful. Not only will you get more nutrition, but you’ll eat less...and maybe lose a bit of weight (if that is your goal).

void sympathetic stress before and during mealtimes. The fight-flight-freeze nervous system response shuts down the non-essential body functions like digestion. So, while it seems mindless to flip through the news feed or read your email with your meal, the anxiety and emotional response it creates is actually restricting your digestion. Start each meal with a deep breath, a smile, and maybe even an expression of gratitude. It will shift you back into parasympathetic mode and your digestion will be much more efficient.

at food you like - you get more out of it! There was a groundbreaking study in 1977 that found we absorb more nutrients from foods we enjoy and fewer from foods that we feel are less yummy. Our bodies tend to crave the kinds of foods we need, so it’s beneficial to listen to the cravings and feed our body what it needs, rather than trying to stick to a rigid diet plan that we force ourselves to follow. Now, before you go out and buy up all the donuts, remember that there are some foods that create addictive responses - sugar, dairy, and fats. So while you may have a craving for pizza, the goal here is to enjoy in moderation. Extra bonus points for expanding your food repertoire to include fresh, whole foods.

ood storage/processing

In my last post, I talked about the importance of eating local food. The longer it’s been since the food was harvested, the more nutrients have been lost. While it would be amazing to always have fresh food in your back yard, the reality is that we have to preserve food to eat later. Generally speaking, frozen and canned foods have about the same levels of nutrients. They’re less than cooking from fresh, but still valuable nutrient sources. I caution against canned vegetables that have BPA liners. BPA can leach into your food and get into your bloodstream. It’s been shown to cause diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other diseases.

enerally speaking, cooking foods releases more nutrients. The cooking process breaks down the cell walls in the foods and allows more nutrients to be released. Over cooking can destroy the nutrients, so cook lightly. Nutrients are also affected by how you cook. Cooking vegetables in the microwave preserves antioxidants better than boiling or pressure cooking. There’s no single foolproof preparation method that preserves or releases all the nutrients in foods. It’s best to remember that the best way to prepare vegetables is the way you most enjoy eating them.

Eat high nutrient foods, rather than wasted calories

Makes sense...foods high in simple carbs and sugars are less nutritionally dense. They take up space in your calorie count, and space in your belly. Foods like organ meats, cruciferous veggies, leafy greens, potatoes, peppers, oily fish, and eggs have a great deal of nutrition per unit of weight, so you need less of them to fulfill your nutritional needs.

Eat smaller foods

This might be counterintuitive. We’re naturally drawn to the amazing looking larger fruits and vegetables. We believe that larger animals are more healthy. But the opposite approach might yield better nutrition. Smaller plant-based foods don’t contain high levels of water that are present in larger foods, and by weight, will have more nutrition. Two small oranges will have more vitamin C than a single large orange of the same weight. Micro greens have more b-vitamins by weight than their larger siblings. With meats, smaller (and healthy) animals often don’t have as much fat and may not have been fed a grain-heavy diet to encourage fast growth. So think small and reap the benefits!

he most important thing about getting nutrients from your food is to simply eat more foods that are ingredients and fewer foods that have ingredients. The less processing and handling your food goes through, the more nutritious it will be. Don’t get hung up on always ‘doing it right’ and enjoy your food. The more you know about how to get good nutrients, the more you’ll get.

Make sure you watch the replay of my free class on Nutrients - how to know if you’re getting enough. This is a pitch-free class to learn ways of assessing your nutrient status so you can make better choices about your food. You can find the replay in my Free Resources section

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