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There are definitely benefits to combining certain foods. Unfortunately, not all studies directly relate to the topic of absorption.

For example, combining certain foods may change how they are absorbed by the body. When it comes to minimizing discomfort brought on by certain foods, it often comes down to simply avoiding those foods or eating less of them. And for some people, consuming alcohol or caffeine can make their heartburn symptoms worse. So, they probably want to simply avoid those foods.

But the question about combining food is a good one. So today, I want to talk about some of the benefits of combining certain foods to maximize their benefits.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 785 of the podcast  Optimal Health Daily.


How Can You Increase Protein Absorption?

First, protein. There’s a long held myth that those that follow a vegetarian diet don’t consume enough protein each day. But researchers have found that this isn’t the case. Some then argue that sure, they might eat enough protein, but it’s not HIGH-QUALITY protein. And, since it’s not high quality, they aren’t going to be able to support proper muscle growth. This is also incorrect.

That’s because plant-based foods also contain protein. Believe it or not, in addition to the obvious go-to’s like beans, nuts, and seeds, other plant-based foods contain proteins.

For example, grains and grasses like wheat, corn, and rice contain protein as well. They each contain varying amounts of protein, but when we combine these plant-based foods — like when we eat beans and rice — it provides the body with all of the essential proteins it needs to support proper growth and development. So when we eat a combination of plant-based foods, we get all the protein the body needs.

As for maximizing protein absorption, for example after a workout, you don’t want to just consume protein alone. You actually want to combine it with some carbohydrates, because protein is absorbed better in the presence of carbohydrate. So after a workout, don’t just eat protein! Have a little carbohydrate with it, too.

How Do You Prevent Blood Sugar Spikes?

Speaking of protein, when we consume protein-rich foods with carbohydrate-rich foods, we can slow down the absorption of certain foods. By delaying the absorption of these foods, we can prevent spikes in our blood sugar levels. This can be really helpful in the prevention of diabetes. Or, if someone has already been diagnosed with diabetes, consuming some protein anytime they eat a carbohydrate can help manage their blood sugar levels. For example, if you want to snack on some crackers, have some cheese with them. Or if they’re graham crackers, top them with nut butter.

absorption

How to Absorb Iron Better

Next up is iron.

Within the scientific community, there appears to be a consensus that many folks are iron deficient. While usually not life threatening, low iron levels can lead to feelings of fatigue or weakness. So, maximizing iron intake can help prevent this.

Animal products are typically good sources of iron, but they aren’t the only sources. Some plant-based foods like spinach are a decent source, but the iron found in these foods is not easily absorbed. But, with a little help from vitamin C, the body can better absorb these plant-based iron sources. This is because vitamin C breaks down iron into a form that’s easier for the body to absorb.

So if you’re eating a spinach salad, use a citrus-based dressing (which will be high in vitamin C because of the citrus) to help your body absorb the iron in that spinach a bit more easily.

How Can I Improve Vitamin Absorption?

Speaking of vitamins, is there a way to absorb those better?

There's a group of them called “fat soluble” vitamins that many of us don’t consume enough of each day. Luckily, there are only four known fat soluble vitamins — these are vitamins A, D, E, and K. Many adults are deficient in vitamins A and D, specifically. But, we can help the body absorb these vitamins by pairing them with fat. This is because these vitamins are “fat soluble” which means that actually like fat — no scratch that, they are obsessed with fat. Wherever fat goes, they go. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin A, so if we cook them with a heart-healthy fat like olive oil, we can improve the absorption of vitamin A.

What Increases Turmeric Absorption?

Lastly, I want to mention turmeric which I get a lot of questions about regarding its health benefits.

Let's discuss how we can maximize turmeric's absorption. Researchers have found that consuming turmeric with black pepper dramatically increases its rate of absorption. Consuming turmeric with fat also seems to help with its absorption, so adding it to a dairy or non-dairy based milk would make sense.

Turmeric appears to have some powerful anti-inflammatory effects which is partly why it’s becoming the new health craze. In fact, last weekend, a family member was asking me about something called “golden milk.” Golden milk is a mixture of turmeric with some other spices, often cinnamon and ginger, which is then added to a dairy-based or non-dairy based milk and then consumed. When I looked at the ingredients on the golden milk package, I noticed black pepper was missing. Since the golden milk mix didn’t contain any black pepper, I told my family member to go ahead and sprinkle some into their dairy-based drink to help with the turmeric absorption.

So as we can see, combining certain foods can help to support optimal health and wellness.

mm

Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik leads the Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness program and teaches core courses at Bastyr University California. He has a Doctorate in Public Health from Loma Linda University and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist from the American College of Sports Medicine. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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