Foods to Increase Intestinal Absorption

Sauerkraut with carrot in wooden bowl
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut can help can boost food absorption in the intestines. (Image: Elena_Danileiko/iStock/Getty Images)

The intestines are highly specialized organs responsible for the digestion of food and the absorption of its nutrients. Despite following a balanced and nutritious diet, you might still fall short of your nutrient needs if you can't absorb nutrients properly. Choosing smart food pairings can help you absorb a few key nutrients.

Fermented Foods

According to Tufts University, fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and miso contain microorganisms -- bacteria -- that aid in digestion. The bacteria help to break down the food particles, maximizing intestinal absorptive capacity. This explains why lactose-intolerant people may actually tolerate yogurt -- the lactose sugar has been partially degraded by the bacteria in them.

Prebiotic-Containing Foods

Foods like oats, seeds, legumes, garlic, artichokes and potatoes contain prebiotic fibers. These nondigestible food components promote the growth of healthy microbes in your digestive tract. Prebiotic fiber has been shown to enhance the absorption and bioavailability of iron, calcium and magnesium.

Low-FODMAP Foods

The acronym FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are all forms of carbohydrate. Certain foods contain low-fermentable carbohydrates and therefore are more readily absorbed than their high-fermentable counterparts in some people. Lactose-free dairy products, carrots, celery, bananas, citrus fruits, blueberries and strawberries are among the low-FODMAP foods. Many people with irritable bowl syndrome tolerate these foods without an exacerbation of symptoms.

Synergistic Foods

When paired together, certain foods can improve nutrient absorption. For example, eat foods with nonheme iron, such as spinach, legumes and fortified cereals, at the same time as foods with vitamin C -- like citrus fruits and bell peppers -- to increase iron absorption. Table wine and some amino acids in protein enhance zinc absorption, so pairing wine with a steak is not only tasty but also nutritious, according to United Nations University. Getting vitamin D enhances calcium absorption, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of calcium and are also fortified with vitamin D.

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