Bioavailability: How to maximize your nutrient intake (Part I)

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

Pairing foods to unlock hidden nutrient benefits.

It kind of sounds like a video game right? Trying to find the right combination of foods to unlock their maximum potential could take you forever.

As a chef there are just certain things you do without question. For example seasoning food is another way to develop or enhance flavor. The tricky part that takes some experience is when and how much do you season.

In some cuisines we toast the spices in a dry saute pan, while in others we steep in oil before a hot stir fry. Sometimes seasonings are added at the end to add fragrance or sweet floral notes.

I needed to break this post up into two parts as there is just so much to cover. Beyond spices there are many other naturally delicious combinations of food. You will definitely see combinations that you've used before, except now you'll know why they've always had an eye for each other.

1. Tomato (Lycopene) + Avocado (Good Fats)

In each red gem of a tomato, you’ll find lycopene, an incredible disease-fighting antioxidant. Lycopene may help prevent prostate cancer, for starters. Cooking the tomatoes, as well as serving them with a bit of olive oil, has shown to enhance the body’s absorption of the phytochemical. To take it a step further I like to pair oven dried tomatoes with freshly smashed avocado on whole wheat toast with the olive oil drizzled over it. It's not just any fat that will do though avocado and olive oil share healthy mono + polyunsaturated fats.

2. Turmeric (Curcumin) + Black Pepper (Peperine)

Curcumin is the most active polyphenal, a compound found in the Tumeric spice. What are polyphenals? I know there are so many questions once you fall down the rabbit hole of nutrition. Polyphenals are complex chemical compounds found in plants that act as antioxidants. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Sounds great right? except the body doesn't easily absorb this compound. It needs help in the form of Peperine which is found in black pepper!

Peperine is an Alkaloid and Alkaloids are plant compounds that help regulate plant growth. In our body this Alkaloid helps prevent enzymes responsible for breaking down the curcumin before our body can successfully absorb it.

3. Cocoa + Baking Powder / Soda

Cocoa powder is made by crushing cocoa beans and removing the fat or cocoa butter. There are many benefits to this bitter friend and most are linked to the improvement of our body's nitric oxide levels which increase positive blood flow. Better flow allows for more efficient body, brain and heart functions. So then brownies are cool to eat right? Close but not exactly, heating the cocoa powder can reduce the level of bio-available antioxidants, which is why added baking powder or baking soda can help protect these antioxidants from diminishing. It's not like these acid salts are preventing the damage of, instead they are preventing the baking solution from becoming to alkaline. I'm sure you've heard of Dutch cocoa? Dutching the cocoa is a way to remove the bitter taste by increasing the cocoa's alkalinity. This process may make the cocoa more palatable it also reduces much of it's natural antioxidant ability. Moral of the story is find a true dark cocoa that features a dark bitter bite. In Part II of this post I will include some of my recipes for each of these incredible pairings!

Sweet + Sour Tofu | Chickpeas | Brown Rice | Sesame Broccoli

4. Beans (Legumes) + Rice

This match is a little easier to recognize, but if you look beyond the rice and beans you'll see two incomplete proteins. Only together can they supply us with all of the essential aminos needed to be considered complete. Other combinations you might see are Peanut Butter + Wheat Bread, Whole Wheat Crackers + Hummus and Lentils + Barley.

5. Lemon Juice + Spinach (Iron)

To best absorb non-heme iron, aka plant-based iron, you need to give it a little boost by pairing it with a source of vitamin C. The vitamin C helps break the iron down into a form that the body can more easily absorb. I've been more plant based for months now and not eating a lot of meat is how I stumbled upon this pairing as I was looking for ways to ensure that I was getting all of the iron possible out of our #plantbased meals.

6. Wild Salmon (Vitamin D) + Oranges (Calcium)

When I first think about Vitamin D I naturally think of the sun and Calcium is totally Milk. Well I live in Cleveland where we don't get a whole ton of sun and I haven't had cow's milk in years. Something about drinking milk from another mammals udder is something that I'm ok with being without. As you dig deeper into nutrition you'll find that Vitamin D is actually one of the most important Vitamins your body needs! Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which gives you your first clue to the proper preparation and if you choose a nice line caught salmon then baking with a little citrus and grass fed butter would help you maximize this combinations bio-availability.

What a cool topic right? and one that I will continue to dig into for us. I will actually be speaking at the Cleveland Clinic on this topic on December 12th! In Part II of this post I will share some great recipes to take home to help bring this article to life.

In good cooking,


#healthfood #bioavailability #nutrients #food #healthychef #titangames

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