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5 Ways to Support Nutrient Absorption

The amount of nutrients you consume and the amount your body absorbs can differ drastically! Learn how to maximize nutrient absorption from food and supplements with these five tips from nutritionist Mia Rigden.

by Mia Rigden Board-certified nutritionist, classically trained chef

When consuming a nutrient, whether in food or through a supplement, you’re likely only absorbing a portion of the total amount ingested. While one cup of edamame beans, for example, has about 100 mg of magnesium, you and I may absorb different amounts of this critical mineral depending on our age, digestion, and even genetics — and that doesn’t even get into any potential differences between the edamame beans themselves! 

Understand how food choices and innate characteristics can determine nutrient availability can help you maximize absorption, thus enjoy more of their benefits.

1. Optimize your digestive health

Nutrient absorption is heavily influenced by digestive health. Digestion begins when the mouth excretes salivary enzymes as you chew to prime the stomach for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. If enzyme production is insufficient (whether from improper chewing, lack of gastric acid, or reduced enzyme production), you miss out on some nutrient absorption. 

Inside the digestive tract, your microbiome not only helps you to absorb nutrients but also synthesizes certain nutrients like Vitamin K and some B vitamins. Bile helps the digestion and absorption of fats, and nutrient transporters, villi, and microvilli on the intestinal lining aid in absorption and utilization of nutrients. Damage to any of these components can impair nutrient absorption.

Nutrition and lifestyle choices can both positively and negatively affect digestive processes. A varied whole foods diet supports gut health while excess sugar, processed foods, and alcohol can impair gut health and nutrient absorption. Limiting toxin exposure, prioritizing sleep, and managing stress can support gastric motility (the movement of food through the digestive system), stomach acid secretion (which you need to extract some nutrients from food), and more. Eating fermented foods and taking a daily probiotic can also help to improve digestive health. And don’t forget to chew!


2. Understand your genetics and personal factors.

Some of us are born with genetic variations that impede our ability to absorb nutrients efficiently. The MTHFR gene, for example, inhibits absorption of folate and other B vitamins, so people with this gene are often recommended to supplement methylated B vitamins, like LivOn Labs Lypo-Spheric® B Complex Plus, to bypass the process the body can’t perform.

Personal factors and life events can affect nutrients needs and ability to effectively absorb and utilize the nutrients you consume as well. As we age, for example, we naturally produce less stomach acid and digestive enzymes, which can make it more difficult to absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. And in pregnancy, nutrient absorption can be impaired by changes in gastric motility and stomach acid production.

3. Eat whole foods.

Nutrients are best absorbed when consumed in their whole form. Try to avoid processed foods and shop the periphery of the grocery store to make sure you’re getting as many fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, and whole grains as possible. 

I love the concept of the food matrix, which accounts for not only the individual nutrients in a food, but also how the unique physical and chemical properties of that food interact with one another to increase the absorption and utilization of nutrients. In this case, eating a whole apple is better than just drinking the juice, and consuming full-fat dairy is superior to non-fat as the original components remain intact. 

4. Pay attention to the freshness of your food, where it came from, and how it was prepared. 

Generally, fresher foods have more nutrients. Broccoli that was picked today, for example, will have more nutrients than broccoli that was picked a week ago. Soil health also influences the nutrient quality of the foods that grew in it. When possible, buy locally grown food and choose foods from Regenerative Organic farms, which have healthier more nutrient-dense soil and therefore produce more nutrient-dense foods. 

How a meal is prepared also affects its nutritional value. Depending on the food, cooking can help increase nutrient availability by breaking down the structure of the food, while some nutrients are harmed in the cooking process (i.e., cooked at too high of a heat or leached out by cooking liquid). During food processing, nutrients can be stripped from their whole form (i.e., brown versus white rice) or degraded during the manufacturing process, giving us yet another reason to focus on fresh, whole foods.

5. Take quality supplements. 

When it comes to supplements, pay attention to the form of the nutrient and how it’s being delivered. Some nutrients have more active forms, like methylated B vitamins, vitamin D3 over vitamin D, and heme iron over non-heme iron. The vessel of the supplement is also important. Liposomal supplements, like those available at LivOn Labs, house nutrients inside of liposomes, a well-tolerated, stable form of supplement that helps deliver nutrients for absorption.

Mia Rigden is a Los Angeles-based board certified nutritionist, trained chef, and the author of The Well Journal (2020) and Foodwise (2023), a comprehensive, encouraging guide to healthy eating with 100 original, nutritionally-balanced and flavor-enriching recipes. Learn more about working with Mia on her website, check out an online course, and follow on Instagram @mia_rigden for science-backed, practical nutrition advice.