What is nutrient bioavailability?

22nd June 2020 | Lidia Gled

The human body is a sophisticated machine that processes and breaks down the foods we eat so we can absorb the nutrients we need. As you prep, bite, chew and digest, you create a series of mechanical and chemical changes that affect the food’s nutritional content and each nutrient’s bioavailability – the proportion of a nutrient that’s absorbed from your diet.

Nutrient bioavailability is governed by external factors – the structure of the food you eat and the chemical form of the nutrient in question – and internal factors such as gender, age, health status, nutrient status and pregnancy.

Even the way you prep your food can alter how its nutrients are absorbed.

Here’s how to increase nutrient bioavailability:

FOOD PREP: Cutting up fruit and vegies makes nutrients more available by breaking down the rigid plant cell walls. Soaking or sprouting nuts, grains and beans reduces the anti-nutrient phytic acid, which may block the absorption of some minerals.

EAT LOCAL AND IN SEASON: Eating locally grown food maximises nutrients, as the produce isn’t harvested prematurely and nutrient value isn’t depleted during transport and storage.

FOOD STORAGE: Heat, light and oxygen can degrade nutrients. Store all veg except root veg in the fridge. Keep all fruits except berries at room temperature, away from direct light.

COOKING VEG: Some foods deliver the most nutrients when cooked. For example, cooking tomatoes significantly increases the bioavailability of lycopene. Beta carotene bioavailability significantly increases when you cook carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach.

PAIRING FOODS: Eating foods that contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K with fats helps with absorption. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain vitamin A, which could be paired with healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil or butter. Iron-containing foods should be paired with those containing vitamin C to help increase iron absorption – think a spinach salad with strawberries and a squeeze of lemon.

EAT FERMENTED FOODS: The fermentation process helps break down sugars, starch, indigestible fibre and proteins. Fermentation also enhances the antioxidant activity of phenolic compounds and lowers the negative impact of anti-nutrients.

Lidia Gled BHSc, ND (Australia), RNCP has been involved in the natural healthcare industry since 2004. She’s also an expert for Whole Earth & Sea.

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