Deep Dive: Bioavailability

Plus: Recipes packed with nutrients to start the week.

Together with

“Food is not just fuel. It’s love, family, and connection. Choose wisely, and let it nourish not only your body but also your soul.”

Monday. And just like that, we took another step toward sci-fi becoming reality last week. Nearly 20 years after a stroke, a paralyzed woman can speak again. How is that possible? Thanks to artificial intelligence, she can communicate again simply by thinking. Where does this take us next? How long until we can all communicate using just our minds? What could possibly go wrong if your crazy aunt could hear your every thought at your next family dinner? Moving on to a less terrifying thought, have you ever wondered how much of the nutrients in your food you are actually absorbing? Let’s dive in.

Together with Inside Hotels

Hotels We Love: NoMo Soho

If you’re looking to stay in Soho but would rather not feel underdressed every time you step out of the door to your room, you need a casual-cool spot like NoMo Soho.

Chic and trendy but without the pretense of similar hotels in the area, NoMo provides guests with a cute, comfortable place to stay in the famed downtown NYC district. Those who would like some nature in the concrete jungle will love the lush, verdant Rose Garden, and the onsite restaurant, NoMo Kitchen, is an utter delight whether you’re stopping in for lemon ricotta pancakes in the morning or a late-night crème brulée.

Eat Better, Absorb Better

Believe it or not, there is more to making the right choices than just the nutrients in your food. Making healthy food choices is also about how much of those nutrients our bodies can actually absorb and use. This concept is known as bioavailability, and it’s crucial for making the most of the nutrients we consume.

Imagine you’re reading a food label that proudly advertises that the product is packed with protein, calcium, or magnesium. Solid food choice, right? Well, it might not be that simple. Bioavailability asks a crucial question: Of all those nutrients listed, how much can your body absorb and put to good use? What good is protein, calcium, or magnesium if your body can't use it?

To optimize our health, we should be looking for nutrient-dense and bioavailable foods, meaning we want to consume foods rich in essential nutrients that our bodies can efficiently absorb. Interestingly, animal sources like liver and clams excel in nutrient density and bioavailability. But before we get into the specifics, let’s lay some groundwork for this discussion.

Bioavailability is all about the percentage of a nutrient your body can absorb and retain for use after consuming it. So, when you see that “calcium from dairy is 30% bioavailable,” it means that 30% of that calcium gets absorbed in your small intestine and put to work while the rest is excreted.

However, that doesn’t mean you should triple your dairy intake to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium. RDAs do account for bioavailability, but it’s not a perfect system. Bioavailability is a complex puzzle, and while we might not have an ideal solution, understanding its fundamentals can help us make smarter dietary choices. With some basic information, we can select foods that, on average, provide better sources of specific nutrients.

The first thing to consider is the presence of anti-nutrients. Antinutrients hinder nutrient absorption and are common in plant-based foods, especially legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains. Phytic acid is one notorious antinutrient found in these foods, which can limit the absorption of minerals like zinc, iron, and magnesium.

Then, there is the presence of complementary nutrients you should consider. Food synergy comes into play here, where vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and fatty acids work better when consumed in whole foods rather than isolated supplements. For instance, vitamin C enhances iron absorption, and vitamin D enhances calcium absorption. Having one without the other makes these nutrients less bioavailable.

You also have to think about the form of the nutrient. For example, heme iron (from animals) is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron (from plants). This can impact its bioavailability significantly.

And finally, there is cooking and preparation. Cooking can increase and decrease bioavailability depending on what food we are discussing. For instance, cooking starches in foods like sweet potatoes can enhance their absorption, while boiling spinach can reduce its folate content.

So, which foods score high for nutrient density and bioavailability? In a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2022, researchers rated foods based on the density and bioavailability of six essential micronutrients: zinc, iron, folate, vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin B12.

Organ meats, especially liver and shellfish, ranked highest. Dark leafy greens were the standout plant-based source. Interestingly, many foods often touted as nutrient-dense didn’t perform as well in providing these priority micronutrients.

The key takeaway? While these six micronutrients (zinc, iron, folate, vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin B12) aren’t the only ones that matter, the overarching principle remains the same. Prioritize whole foods like meat, fish, eggs, liver, shellfish, and leafy greens. With these foods as your foundation, you’ll meet your nutrient needs and ensure that your body efficiently absorbs and utilizes these nutrients so that you feel your best and keep chronic disease and deficiencies at bay for years to come.

Tonic Shots

1. Get Some Bioavailable Animal Protein In Style!

Taco salad? Yes please. Bonus points if you swap the ground meat for an organ ground beef blend that includes a little bit of nutrient-packed liver.

2. Get Ready For Taco Tuesday

Serve up these delicious fish tacos tomorrow for Taco Tuesday! I promise you — these will be a crowd pleaser!

3. So Easy, So Good

Save this corn salsa for Taco Tuesday as well! Enjoy.

Keep Reading

Love The Daily Tonic? Here’s another newsletter you may love too:

InspireMoreWake up with a smile. Join 300,000+ subscribers and get positive stories in your inbox each morning.