4 Nutrient Pairings for Increased Nutritional Benefits

When considering the health benefits of a particular food, we often focus on each nutrient that it contains independently. This gives us a better understanding of how that specific food can help us reach our daily nutritional requirements. However, the way our bodies digest and absorb food is a much more complicated process. Once consumed, many of the nutrients found in food interact with each other. They can work together, against each other, or compete for the same enzymes in metabolic pathways.

At Functional Fueling Nutrition, we believe in a foods-first approach. Dietary supplements are great when diet alone is insufficient to provide adequate amounts of certain nutrients. However, when we eat food, we benefit not only from the individual nutrients, but also the interactions between the various nutrients.

Below we dive into four nutrient pairings that work together to increase absorption and help you get increased nutritional benefit from the food you eat!

Iron + Vitamin C

During exercise, your working muscle cells need a regular supply of oxygen to produce energy.

Iron plays a crucial role in transporting and delivering oxygen to these cells. However, not all iron is equal.

There are two types of iron, heme and non-heme.

Heme iron is generally found in meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, and is over 10X better absorbed by the body.

Non-heme iron sources include dairy, egg yolks, and plant-based sources, such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. This type of iron is inhibited by certain phytonutrients, such as tannins and phytates, and not as readily absorbed.

Here's where Vitamin C comes in to save the day. Vitamin C helps break down the barrier from the phytonutrients and increase the absorption of iron from non-heme sources. For those eating a mostly plant-based diet, it is important that Vitamin C be paired with non-heme iron sources to maximize absorption. Food sources rich in Vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, lemons, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

Food Pairing Examples

  • Spinach + Lemon Juice

  • Oatmeal + Strawberries

  • Quinoa + Bell Peppers

Folate + Vitamin B12

Folate, a B vitamin, is found in leafy green vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It relies on Vitamin B12 for absorption, storage, and metabolization. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs, milk, and other foods of animal origin. Certain foods are also fortified with both B vitamins. Therefore, deficiency of either vitamin is rare if eating a well balanced diet.

Vegans or individuals with gastrointestinal issues may have trouble obtaining sufficient B12 from diet alone.

When folate and vitamin B12 are paired together, they help metabolize homocysteine, an important amino acid in predicting heart disease risk.

Food Pairing Examples

  • Asparagus + Salmon

  • Avocado + Eggs

  • Flaxseed + Yogurt

Calcium + Vitamin D

Calcium is found in dairy products, dark leafy greens, beans, and fortified foods and is great for building and maintaining strong bones. Once digested, calcium is absorbed in the small intestine with help from Vitamin D and its metabolites. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, and mackerel), beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and fortified foods, such as dairy products, orange juice, and soy milk. DYK? If drinking cow's milk, whole milk is more nutritious because the fats present help with absorption of Vitamin D and Calcium.

Food Pairing Examples

  • Broccoli + Salmon

  • Kale + Eggs

  • Cheese + Tuna

Zinc + Sulfur

Zinc is a trace mineral that plays important roles related to energy metabolism, nervous system function, and the development of healthy muscle tissue. Deficiencies in zinc have also been associated with muscle cramps. It's found in grass-fed beef, poultry, dairy, and fortified foods. Phytates, which are found in whole grains, cereals, and legumes, can bind to zinc and inhibit its absorption, which makes zinc less bioavailable in grains and plant foods.

However, sulfur compounds can help block the effects of phytates and boost the absorption of the zinc found in whole-grain foods. Sulfur-containing amino acids are mostly found in garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables.

Food Pairing Examples

  • Brown rice + Garlic

  • Black Beans + Onions

Note: many of the above nutrient pairings can also be applied to vitamin supplementation. However, we advise consultation with a health professional before beginning any supplement regimen.

do you eat any of these nutrient Pairs together?


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Fuel More Functionally, Erika

#nutrients #absorption #vitamins #iron #calcium #zinc #bonehealth #anemia #vegetarian #vegan


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