Food pairings that maximise absorption

Become your own food mixologist with the help of Rob Hobson’s list of food pairings that increase nutrient absorption.

Food pairings

Do you know exactly what nutrients are present in the foods you are buying and how well these are being absorbed by the body? Or, do you know how to pair certain foods with others to increase the absorption of nutrients by combining certain foods?

By becoming your own food mixologist and exploring more about food synergy you can ramp up the nutritional value of your food.  It’s a bit like adding 1 plus 1 gets 4 explains Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition.

Key things to think about before you start

If you are eating a wide range of highly nutritious foods then the chances are you will be getting what is required but there is still the issue of absorption, which is affected by age, diet, stress, life stage and gut health, particularly in the case of conditions such as coeliac and Crohn’s disease that affect digestion and absorption of nutrients from the diet.

More about bioavailability

Bioavailability is the broad term used to define the proportion of a nutrient that is absorbed from the diet and used for normal bodily functions. When food is eaten, the processes of chewing and the action of enzymes liberate nutrients. Once released into the gut, further enzymes are involved to help with nutrient absorption into the bloodstream, where they are then delivered to the body’s tissues. Not all nutrients can be utilised to the same extent, meaning they differ in their bioavailability.

Cooking and food preparation also helps make nutrients more readily available to the body.  For example, whilst raw carrots may be an excellent source of fibre, cooking them allows the body to glean a larger percentage of the carotenoids present (beneficial plant compounds that give the vegetable its orange colour).

Smoked salmon bagel

Salmon and crème fraiche

Salmon is one of the few foods that contain vitamin D. Whilst the best source of this vitamin is sunlight, food sources are still a useful addition to help keep you topped up. Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium, which is found in dairy foods such as crème fraiche that can be combined with lemon and herbs to make a tasty sauce for salmon.

Olive oil and tomatoes

Research has shown that including 3-5g of fat with foods rich in carotenoids can help with their absorption. These compounds found in orange and red foods have antioxidant properties that help to protect the body from disease.

Turmeric and black pepper

Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that has been shown to possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed but this can be increased in the presence of piperine, which is found in black pepper. If you want the health benefits that can be gained from turmeric really the only way to do this is to supplement with it try Healthspan Opti-turmeric have been formulated to help maximise curcumin absorption by increasing its solubility.

Beans and cauliflower

Beans contain non-haem iron and are often a key source for people following a plant-based diet, such as vegans. Combining a rich source of vitamin C with non-haem iron foods can help to increase the absorption of this mineral.  Cauliflower is a very good source of vitamin C and works well with beans and pulses in dishes such as curries, soups and stews.

Banana and yogurt

Banana and yoghurt

Yoghurt like other dairy foods is a rich source of calcium, which is required for healthy bones, teeth and muscle function. Research shows that combining foods rich in calcium with those rich in inulin (fibres that belong to a group called fructans) such as bananas can increase the absorption of this mineral.

Milk and honey

There is something in the old wife’s tale about inducing sleep with hot milk and honey. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is used to make both serotonin and melatonin in the brain (hormones that control mood and sleep).  Carbohydrates such as those found in honey help with uptake of tryptophan as the release of insulin lessens the competition from other amino acids.

There are many factors that can affect the nutrient content of the foods we buy and sometimes what it says on the packet may not fully reflect what is actually contained.  Including plenty of highly nutritious foods into your daily diet can ensure you are getting above and beyond what is required for good health. Bioavailabilty of nutrients from food can impact on your nutritional intake and whilst you cannot control many of the internal and external factors such as age, clever food partnering can go some way to helping your body get the most from the foods you eat.

Rob Hobson is a registered nutritionist and Healthspan’s head of nutrition. His book ‘The Detox Kitchen Bible’ is available on Amazon or visit for more recipe ideas.

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 4:22 pm Nutrition