Combining Foods for Boosted Nutrition

Heather Greene

Coffee Booster Blog - Food Synergies

While I was pregnant, I learned a lot about foods I wasn’t supposed to be eating while growing a baby inside me. I spent the first trimester asking Google before I put anything in my mouth. I quickly found out that deli meats, herbal teas, organ meats (e.g. pâté), and shellfish were all off limits. But I wanted more than a list of foods to avoid, I wanted to know why.

For example, organ meats are off limits because of possible vitamin A toxicity, and sandwich meats are a no-no due to the risk of listeria (a food borne illness).

Empowered with a bit more information, I could make educated decisions. I would have a bit of pâté here and there, and there was no way I was going to give up prosciutto for the month I was in Spain while pregnant. Knowing why certain things were off limits made it easier to make decisions that were right for me and my growing baby. So when there was tuna steak on the menu, I knew the reason not to order it was risk of high mercury levels in large fish and predatory fish, not something that can be mitigated by safe food practices.

Over the course of growing a human - there were plenty of other interesting things to learn (beyond just food!) I was also introduced to the world of nutrient interactions - how different nutrients and vitamins work together, or against one another, to fuel your body. A lot of the things I learned will still be relevant long after baby is out and eating on his own.

For example, when my bloodwork came back showing my iron levels were low (very common during pregnancy), my doctor gave me a prescription for a non-heme iron supplement. Firstly…what does that mean? And secondly, why did the prescription specifically say to take at 10pm with a glass of orange juice?

Over the course of my pregnancy (and plenty of heavy googling sessions), I’ve become much more informed about the role of different vitamins and minerals in my body, and the bio-availability of those vitamins and minerals in the foods that I eat.

Here are a a couple of examples I learned about to inspire your next googling session.

Iron + Vitamin C = Good
Iron + Calcium = Bad

Eating iron rich foods with vitamin C increases absorption - and conversely, absorption is decreased if you eat calcium rich foods (read: dairy products) with iron supplements or while eating foods high in non-heme iron (usually plant sources).

What it means: Take your iron supplements on an empty stomach with a glass of orange juice - and definitely don’t have them with your morning latte as both coffee, and the calcium in milk can limit absorption.

Vitamin D + Quality Fats = Good

A lot of us who work indoors all day, and particularly in more northern parts of the country like Minnesota, don’t produce enough vitamin D from sun exposure alone. But this vitamin is important to our overall health, and particularly for increasing vitamin C absorption.

A few foods that have naturally occurring vitamin D include salmon, cheese, and egg yolks. Many food products like milk and orange juice are also fortified with vitamin D - but if those foods aren’t part of your regular diet, vitamin D supplements can be a great help.

What it means: If you need to increase your intake of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K - make sure not just to find foods with the right vitamins - but to pair them with quality fats that will increase your body’s ability to absorb them!

Quality fats like nuts, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee will help your body absorb fat soluble vitamins from foods like eggs and mushrooms (vitamin D), kale, spinach, and broccoli (vitamin K), sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash (vitamin A), Swiss chard, and asparagus (vitamin E).
Vitamin B12 + Folate (B9) = Good
Vitamin B12 is an energy precursor in our body, which is crucial for processing carbs and proteins into ATP.  If you combine B12 with a dose of Folate (another type of B vitamin, commonly found in leafy greens), you will better absorb the B12, and put it to work in your cells.
What it means: take your B12 supplement with a salad, or after your smoothie with plenty of greens in it to maximize its mileage in your body.

Digging into the research on the bio-availability of vitamins and minerals can be pretty overwhelming - most importantly it comes down to eating a variety of foods. This is especially important for those of us on restricted diets or elimination diets - or those of us growing humans in our bellies.

My biggest takeaway was, when I get the report from my doctor that I’m low on something - in addition to taking supplements, I now research not only foods that have the nutrients I need - but also food synergies that will make it easier on my body to get back into equilibrium.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Dietary Supplement Factsheets.