Bioavailability Explained: How Different Foods Can Boost The Absorption Of Certain Vitamins
The body requires a variety of essential vitamins and nutrients for it to run at its best. While one of the most important parts of ensuring your body is getting these nutrients is by eating a diet full of wholefoods that contain them, there is another aspect of nutrition that is often ignored. That aspect is bioavailability.
You can eat as much vitamin- and mineral-rich food as possible, take all the supplementation under the sun, but if bioavailability isn’t up to scratch, it won’t mean a thing because your body will not be utilizing these nutrients. So, what is bioavailability, exactly? And how does it affect your overall health?
What is bioavailability?
The term bioavailability refers to how well the body absorbs a certain vitamin, nutrient, or anything else that it is fed. To put it in more detailed terms, it is the measure of how much and how quickly a certain nutrient gets to where it needs to be from when it was first introduced into the body.
Each vitamin and nutrient has an intended target area, and bioavailability is essentially the body’s ability to carry as much of that nutrient to its target area as possible. Often, only a fraction of what you consume will be absorbed into your body. In some cases, that fraction is adequate, but in others, barely any of the vitamin or nutrient ends up getting to its intended target.
Bioavailability is different for everyone, and your overall health also plays a role in how well you absorb nutrients. For example, people with celiac disease have a more difficult time absorbing nutrients because of the damage their condition causes to the intestines. This is just one example of something that can cause a change in bioavailability from person to person.
Other factors that can affect bioavailability include:
- How much of the nutrient is introduced into the body
- What form the nutrient is in (i.e. is it naturally occurring in food or was it taken as a supplement?)
- If taken as a supplement, was it taken with or without food?
- Nutritional health of the person
- How much of the nutrient was excreted out of the body
- Interactions between two nutrients that can either help or hurt the absorption of both
With all these factors at play, bioavailability can be a complicated process that affects your overall health and nutrition levels. Another factor that comes into play in bioavailability and diet is food structure. Food structure in plant foods, for example, is more rigid, which makes it harder for the body to absorb the nutrients it needs from them.
Image by JJ Jordan on Unsplash: What is bioavailability of a nutrient?
How does bioavailability affect diet?
Your diet, or what you eat, varies depending on who you are, your food choices, and other lifestyle factors. Bioavailability can have an influence on diet because it determines what nutrients your body lacks and what it has enough of. Some theories suggest that craving foods could be the body’s way to correct a lack of certain nutrients, although other research has found that may not be the case. This means that although bioavailability may affect diet, it’s more likely that diet may actually affect bioavailability.
For example, certain nutrients can help or hinder the bioavailability of others. One specific case is vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin, helps the body in many ways. Adequate levels of vitamin D are needed for the body to absorb calcium. Without enough vitamin D, the body has difficulty producing calcitriol, which is often referred to as the active form of vitamin D. A lack of calcitriol means the body cannot absorb calcium from the food you eat, which causes it to take calcium from inside the body (i.e. from the skeleton). This can lead to issues with the formation of new and strong bones and also the weakening of existing bones within the body.
How do you increase absorption of vitamins?
It can be difficult to increase the absorption of vitamins, but not impossible. For people with underlying health conditions that cause malabsorption, it may be more difficult than just making a few changes. However, for healthy individuals, some easy changes can quickly help you make the most out of your nutrients.
Some things you can do to help increase the absorption of vitamins include:
- Eat a variety of foods at every meal: By eating various foods in one sitting and focusing on colorful fruits and vegetables, you can get a broad variety of nutrients in your body.
- Don’t skip the healthy fats: Many people limit their fat intake, and while that can be good, eating healthy fats is a must. Certain vitamins need healthy fats to be absorbed, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Try probiotics: Probiotics help to keep a proper balance of good bacteria within your gut. Digestive issues can hinder nutrient absorption, so making sure you’re taking care of the health of your digestive system can help with absorption.
- Avoid diuretics: Diuretics such as coffee and alcohol can reduce digestive enzymes in your system, which can lead to problems with absorption.
Image by Dragne Marius on Unsplash: Beans and rice are a great food match combination to help increase nutrient absorption.
What foods help absorb vitamins?
To help you absorb nutrients better, you can also eat certain food matches that have been shown to increase the bioavailability of nutrients. For example, it’s been shown that eating vitamin C-rich foods with plant-based iron sources such as legumes can help the body convert iron into a more absorbable form.
Other great food matches include:
- Turmeric with black pepper
- Tomatoes and olive oil
- Complimentary incomplete proteins such as legumes and nuts
- Beans or chickpeas with rice
- A fat source with a fat-soluble vitamin supplement
Bioavailability is a huge part of overall health. If you are eating foods rich in nutrients but your body isn’t taking advantage of that, there’s a big problem! You can improve your bioavailability by trying some of the techniques above or checking with your doctor to see if an underlying health condition is at play.
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