Eating is much more than just putting food in our mouths. It is not just about how tasty the food is, but about how it benefits our bodies and makes us stronger and healthier. It is what we do beyond eating that impacts the way our bodies absorb the nutrients. Nutrient absorption is essential as, without it, our bodies will cease to function properly, leaving us prone to different kinds of deficiencies and diseases. Mal-absorption of nutrients can cause unhealthy weight fluctuations. However, if we find that our body cannot make the most of the food it consumes, we need to find ways to improve its nutrient absorption. Having said that, let’s first look at how the body absorbs nutrients and what are the factors that negatively impact absorption.
How does nutrient absorption happen?
The food that we consume undergoes a chemical and mechanical digestion process. When eaten through our mouths, they are combined with digestive enzymes that break them down into different molecules. This means that the carbs we eat break down and get converted into glucose for energy or storage, while the proteins turn into different kinds of amino acids. Thereafter, the food is taken to the small intestine and absorbed into the bloodstream. The nutrients from the food are then transported to the various parts of the body that require them, thanks to the circulatory system. Whatever doesn’t get used either gets stored in the body or considered as waste.
However, we need to have a healthy digestive system for this nutrient absorption process to work effectively. An unhealthy gut can cause the digestion and absorption of nutrients to be compromised, leading to different kinds of deficiencies and ailments.
What are the factors that are important for nutrient absorption?
The factors that are vital for nutrient absorption include:
- Adequate levels of hydrochloric acid that help break down the food properly
- Chewing your food thoroughly
- Good gut microbiota diversity
- Good cell integrity
What factors adversely affect nutrient absorption?
Several factors can negatively impact your body’s digestive system and, consequently, nutrient absorption. These include:
- Processed or high-sugar foods
- Different gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease
- Medications like antidepressants, antacids, hormone, and blood pressure medicines, among other kinds.
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Stress and anxiety
How to increase absorption of nutrients?
There are different ways to improve nutrient absorption, such as the ones given below:
- Consume a mix of different kinds of foods in one meal itself to ensure you get a wide variety of nutrients. The balanced plate approach is the perfect way of getting all your nutrients. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, one-fourth of it with proteins like lean meat, poultry, legumes, or pulses, and the other one-fourth with whole grains like brown rice and millet oats, and the like.
- Include healthy fats like flaxseed or olive oil, nuts, avocados, and seeds in your diet as you need them to efficiently absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
- Nourish your gut and replenish it with good bacteria by consuming probiotics and fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, pickles, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread, and some cheeses.
- Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine intake as they can reduce the number of digestive enzymes in the system, damage intestinal lining, and make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.
- Drink plenty of water as our digestive system is dependent on water for its proper function. Without sufficient water in our system, our blood will not transport the nutrients in our body. That is why lack of enough water or fluids in our system can cause digestive issues like constipation and acidity.