6 Gut Health Diet Food Combos for Maximum Nutrient Absorption

You might think you’re following a healthy gut diet plan. Unfortunately, you may not be getting the most out of nutrients that happen to be the best foods for gut health. While the human body is designed to handle everything from cell production to muscle gain to the digestion of food, sometimes it needs help. This is especially true when it comes to maximizing nutrient absorption.

A Rise in Nutrition Deficiency

When it comes to nutritious foods, many are unaware that combining nutrients can have beneficial effects. Unknowingly, this lack of knowledge is ruining the gut health diet of millions. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that two billion people worldwide suffer from nutrient deficiency. They call this unknown phenomenon “Hidden Hunger [1].”

While it may not come to a shock to some that countries stricken with poverty are rich in nutrient deficiencies. However, those who follow a gut health diet may also be feeling the adverse effects of these dietary mistakes.

Lack of Nutrition in Weight Loss Diets

Many who follow a healthy gut diet plan turn toward whole foods, gluten-free grains, and probiotics foods to get their microbiome in check. While these foods are chock full of vitamins and minerals, you may not be absorbing all that these healthy foods have to offer.

There are at least 13 essential nutrients that a human body needs to function. To run optimally, it needs 27. We as humans are barely getting any of these micronutrients, let alone all of them [2].

nutrition essential for human body
13 Essential Nutrients for Human Body to Function

These concerns are especially true if you are following a popular healthy diet.

Research looked at the average nutrient consumption among people enrolled in the following diet plans:

  • Atkins For Life – Low-Carb Plan
  • The Best Life Diet – Mediterranean-Style Plan
  • DASH Diet – Low-Fat Plan
  • South Beach Diet – Reduced Blood Pressure Plan

The results were not only shocking, but downright alarming,

“It was found that all four diet plans failed to deliver 100% sufficiency for the selected 27 essential micronutrients, based on RDI guidelines, when followed as recommended by their suggested daily menus using whole food alone [3].”

J Int Soc Sports

A low intake of micronutrients can actually counteract your progress. Furthermore, it may weaken bones and fail to convert fat to muscle. While you may drop pounds, you aren’t going to look very healthy. The reason for this is that a lack of nutrition disrupts healthy intestinal flora growth in your gut biome.

Poor Nutrient Absorption in a Gut Health Diet

If you are going to get your gut health into shape, you need nutrients. They make things happen. A lack of nutrients does the complete opposite. In fact, skimping out on vitamins and minerals can severely impact your intestinal flora.

One study compared the gut biome of mice who were fed a diet void of the following essential nutrients [4]:

fruits and veggies
Nope, none of these
  • Vitamin A
  • Folate (Vitamin B9)
  • Iron
  • Zinc

After the nutrient deficiency, the mice were assessed. They were then fed a vitamin-rich diet and assessed once again.

While beneficial intestinal flora decreased for all four during the nutrient deficiency phase, harmful bacteria increased as well. This discovery was far more prevalent in the mice who had Vitamin A deficiencies.

As the analysis stated,

“Vitamin A deficiency elicited a larger number of significant alterations in the meta-transcriptome than any of the other acute deficiency states…B. vulgatus, a species positively correlated with host growth in preclinical models of gut microbiota development (16), was one of the few age- and/or growth-discriminatory taxa that exhibited significant changes in abundance as a function of any of the acute dietary micronutrient deficiencies applied; its proportional representation in the community increased significantly during the vitamin A deficiency phase and decreased significantly when mice were transitioned back to the sufficient diet.”

Sci Transl Med.

Bacteroides vulgatus is an opportunistic pathogen and harmful for those who are following a gut health diet. Research indicates that an abundance of Bacteroides vulgatus can cause the body to develop Crohn’s Disease [5].

How to Boost Nutrient Absorption for a Gut Health Diet

Since so many people are deficient in specific vitamins and minerals, encouraging them to mix and match foods can be an excellent way to increase nutrients.

Thryve Gut Health Nutrition Program
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It’s also a handy way to diversify the foods in your gut health diet. Here are some great food combos to boost nutrient absorption.

Fiber and Protein

Fiber is something that most people in the US need a lot more of. According to a 2017 study from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, only about 5% of people consume enough fiber [6]. This statistic is unfortunate because fiber acts as prebiotics for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

All about that fiber

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is rich in macronutrients. If you choose lean protein like salmon, poultry, or plants then issues like feeling constipated are rarely an issue. However, diets rich in saturated fats can cause severe gastrointestinal distress.

Consuming fiber helps eliminate the bloating. Not to mention, fiber also fills you up. If you eat your lean protein with fiber, you will consume less.

FIBER AND PROTEIN FOR ELDERLY GUT HEALTH DIET

Seeing as our body can’t break down fiber, it will satiate your gut biome and slow down the digestion of food. Thanks to fiber, your body has a longer time to absorb the nutrients in the protein.

Balanced protein and fiber

Consuming protein and fiber together for a gut health diet is essential for the elderly. Muscle mass depletes gradually 30%-50% after our thirties [7]. Therefore, they need to absorb as much protein as possible to fight off osteoporosis or bounce back from falls.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Approximately 65% of people having a Vitamin D deficiency [8]. That statistic makes sense as we spend the peak sunlight hours inside our offices. However, it’s also scary because we need Vitamin D for so many essential functions.

vitamin d
Preserve that Vitamin D

Research shows that Vitamin D and calcium are both essential for the body to absorb the other nutrient. A study following up on the original hypothesis further confirmed that Vitamin D assists with calcium absorption in the small intestines.

Most notably, Vitamin D transported calcium to the third section of the small intestines, the ileum, where it absorbed 70% to 80% of the essential nutrient [9].

Seeing as we don’t go outside as much as we should, we need to go the extra mile in preserving out calcium levels. That way the calcium can aid our body in whatever Vitamin D we are able to sneak in. Therefore, you should steer clear of oxalates that may hinder calcium absorption.

OXALATES AND CALCIUM FOR VEGANS

Oxalates, or oxalic acid, are molecules that bind to calcium, preventing them from being absorbed into the body. Because of this, getting calcium from certain greens, such as spinach, can be very difficult. In fact, despite spinach being high in calcium, only about 5-6% of it is absorbed into the body [10].

If you are focusing on greens for calcium intake in your gut health diet, find greens that are low in oxalates.

Foods low in oxalates include:

Beet it
  • Rhubarb
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Okra
  • Leeks
  • Collard Greens
  • Beets

Consuming low oxalate greens can naturally boost calcium absorption in a gut health diet. Research shows that 50% of the calcium in kale and 60% of the calcium in broccoli tend to be absorbed by the body [11].

Phytic Acid and Distilled Water

Phytic Acid is most commonly found in nuts, seeds, beans, and grains. Like lectins, phytic acids are known as antinutrients. In high amounts, phytic acids can prevent the absorption of iron and zinc from these foods.

Cut down on phytic acid

If you are eating a whole foods vegan diet, this can be an issue. These foods have the highest amount of plant protein nutrients, but for some, they may cause intense gastrointestinal distress.

The best way to reduce the amount of phytic acid in these foods is to either mill, soak, or ferment these foods [12].

MILLING PHYTIC ACIDS

Milling breaks the outer endosperm of the grain. That is where the majority of antinutrients live. Of the methods of reducing phytic acid, this is the most effective. Studies show nutrients were most bioavailable after this more labor-intensive method [13].

SOAKING PHYTIC ACIDS

Whereas, soaking in distilled water allows the phytic acids to leach onto the water. Place the legumes into the water for at least thirty minutes and you should increase bioavailability and decrease gastrointestinal distress.

Soaking legumes is why tofu is okay for a gut health diet but soy milk might not be. The tofu block no longer has a high level of antinutrients. Instead, the water it’s packed with does. Whereas, soy milk is the water the antinutrients were soaking in.

FERMENTING PHYTIC ACIDS

Lastly, fermenting foods works two-fold. For one, the antinutrient-rich food is sitting a brine. Therefore, the antinutrients leach onto the liquid.

However, probiotic bacteria also consume these acids and other sugars that may be troublesome for your GI problems. Therefore, the phytic acids are lessened when you eat fermented vegetables.

Iron and Vitamin C

These two may seem to be opposites in terms of taste, as many people consider foods with Vitamin C to be sweet, while foods high in iron to be more savory. But, how do a lentil and red pepper veggie fajita sound? How about a stir-fry with free-range chicken and greens, topped with pumpkin seeds? That’s iron and Vitamin C together, and that will do wonders for the body.

Bring color to your dark plate

While people tend to get enough vitamin C, iron can be an issue for many people. This is often due to people suffering from anemia, are menstruating, or don’t consume enough iron in their diet.

Research shows that Vitamin C helps with iron absorption in the small intestines [14]. Furthermore, the analysis shows that Vitamin C is far more necessary to absorb iron from a plant source than meat.

Vitamin A and Fat

When people hear about Vitamin A, they might think about carrots. However, many people do not know is that sweet potato and squash actually have a lot more vitamin A.

One thing that we have to consider is not Vitamin A itself, but what is referred to as Retinal-Equivalent Vitamin A, or the Vitamin A that is actually absorbed into the body and is used. Boost your Vitamin A intake by adding fats to your meal.

An analysis looked at how your body absorbs Vitamin A from a salad using three different types of salad dressing [15]:

  • Fat-Free Salad Dressing
  • Reduced-Fat Salad Dressing
  • Full-Fat Salad Dressing

The results found,

“After ingestion of the salads with fat-free salad dressing, the appearance of α-carotene, β-carotene, and lycopene in chylomicrons was negligible. After ingestion of the salads with reduced-fat salad dressing, the appearance of the carotenoids in plasma chylomicrons increased relative to that after ingestion of the salads with fat-free salad dressing (P < 0.04). Similarly, the appearance of the carotenoids in plasma chylomicrons was higher after the ingestion of salads with full-fat than with reduced-fat salad dressing (P < 0.02).”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

You don’t need o only make salads to get your Vitamin A and fat on. Try sauteeing sweet potatoes with some coconut oil. Roast carrots with some extra virgin olive oil. Since making sure that enough Vitamin A is absorbed is vital to your health, taking care to simply add some healthy fats can help boost your nutrition.

Vitamin B12 and Folate

Vitamin B12 and Folate (Vitamin B9) are like friends when it comes to nutrition. You cannot have one without the other. In fact, the two are essential in creating purines and pyrimidines [16]. These are critical in the formation of DNA.

Vitamin B9 and B12 on a hang

Folate is unable to be absorbed into the body without the help of Vitamin B12. Both of these nutrients are found in animal products, but despite this, many people, including vegans, are low in B12.

A good way to get both of these nutrients is by consuming a typical multivitamin. Folate is easily found in just about any food that has protein in it as well. Being low in B12 can lead to severe nerve damage, so making sure that get enough is vital to your health.

Finding Food Combos That Work For Your Gut Health Diet

Each one of us has a different way of eating and different foods that we like to enjoy. Some are low-fat, while others are low carb. Some may be pescatarian, vegan, Paleo, or even Paleo vegan.

So, the most important thing in any diet or lifestyle is finding foods that you are willing and able to eat. If you feel as if you are forcing yourself to eat something simply for the nutrients, you are not likely to stick to that way of eating for long.

As a member of the Thryve Gut Health Program, we can help you find foods you enjoy that are in line with your gut health diet. Since we know the stomach bacteria in your gut due to microbiome testing, we know which foods will drive the harmful bacteria out.

Thryve Probiotics Gut Health

Resources

[1] “WHO and FAO Announce Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2).” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 12 Nov. 2014, www.who.int/nutrition/topics/WHO_FAO_ICN2_videos_hiddenhunger/en/.

[2] Fitzpatrick, T. B., Basset, G. J., Borel, P., Carrari, F., DellaPenna, D., Fraser, P. D., … Fernie, A. R. (2012). Vitamin deficiencies in humans: can plant science help?. The Plant cell24(2), 395–414. doi:10.1105/tpc.111.093120

[3] Calton J. B. (2010). Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition7, 24. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-24

[4] Hibberd, M. C., Wu, M., Rodionov, D. A., Li, X., Cheng, J., Griffin, N. W., … Gordon, J. I. (2017). The effects of micronutrient deficiencies on bacterial species from the human gut microbiota. Science translational medicine9(390), eaal4069. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aal4069

[5] Bamba, T, et al. “The Pathogenic Role of Bacteroides Vulgatus in Patients with Ulcerative Colitis.” Journal of Gastroenterology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 1995, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8563888.

[6] Quagliani, D. (2017, February 1). Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit. PubMed Central (PMC). Retrieved from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124841/

[7] Faulkner J.A., Larkin L.M., Claflin D.R., Brooks S.V. Age-related changes in the structure and function of skeletal muscles. Clin. Exp. Pharmacol. Physiol. 2007;34:1091–1096. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1681.2007.04752.x

[8] Carrillo-Vega, María Fernanda, et al. “Vitamin D Deficiency in Older Adults and Its Associated Factors: a Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Mexican Health and Aging Study.” Archives of Osteoporosis, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28028727.

[9] Wasserman RH. Vitamin D and intestinal absorption of calcium: a view and overview. In: P JW, Feldman D, Glorieux F, editors. Vitamin D. Acedemin press; San Diego, CA: 2005. pp. 411–428. 

[10] Batra, Sukhsatej. “The Bioavailability of Calcium From Spinach.” Healthy Eating | SF Gate, 2 Dec. 2018, healthyeating.sfgate.com/bioavailability-calcium-spinach-1796.html.

[11] Nutrition, D. (n.d.). Calcium and Bioavailability | Dairy Nutrition. Retrieved from dairynutrition.ca/nutrients-in-milk-products/calcium/calcium-and-bioavailability

[12] Gupta, R. K., Gangoliya, S. S., & Singh, N. K. (2013). Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains. Journal of food science and technology52(2), 676–684. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-0978-y

[13] Suma PF, Urooj A. Nutrients, antinutrients and bioaccessible mineral content (invitro) of pearl millet as influenced by milling. J Food Sci Tech. 2011

[14] Lynch, S R, and J D Cook. “Interaction of Vitamin C and Iron.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1980, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6940487.

[15] G, Mario, et al. “Carotenoid Bioavailability Is Higher from Salads Ingested with Full-Fat than with Fat-Reduced Salad Dressings as Measured with Electrochemical Detection.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Aug. 2004, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/80/2/396/4690323.

[16] O’Leary, F., & Samman, S. (2010). Vitamin B12 in health and disease. Nutrients2(3), 299–316. doi:10.3390/nu2030299