Nutrient Synergy — Why You Should Eat Some Fat With Your Veggies
Certain nutrients are more effectively absorbed or utilized when consumed together. One of the best examples of this concept of nutrient synergy is with the fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins and related precursors in plants (like beta-carotene) are normally not absorbed well because they are soluble in fat and the environment in our gut is mostly water. And of course, water and fat don’t mix. By consuming vegetables with fat, we can improve absorption of important fat-soluble nutrients.
This has been shown to be true for absorption of fat-soluble compounds called carotenoids. Carotenoids include molecules like lutein, zeaxanthin, and the vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene. A study done by Dr. Mario Ferruzi’s lab (previously at Purdue University) showed this concept quite nicely in a study measuring carotenoid absorption from a mixed salad with 20g of various oils added to the meal. Canola oil was more effective at improving carotenoid absorption than soybean oil or butter. Solid fats like butter may not be quite as effective due to longer-chain saturated fatty acids being less absorbable.
One reason why having fat in the meal helps is it provides a medium for the fat-soluble nutrients to enter the body. When we consume fat, the gallbladder releases bile which helps emulsify the fat in our meal with the water in our gut. This solubilizes dietary fat and increases fat absorption in the intestine.
So when cooking or eating our own food, how can we take advantage of this knowledge? When it comes to salads, the solution is common sense: Have some salad dressings. I always recommend making your own vinaigrette with extra-virgin olive oil. Many of the industrial vegetable oils found in commercial salad dressings have some very real negative implications on human health and I wrote about this previously on medium and on my blog. Another great way to fatten up your salad is by adding some avocado or boiled eggs. Both of these solutions are tasty and will improve the nutritional quality of your meal!
Make your own vinaigrette
Making your own vinaigrette (or homemade ranch if you are feeling more adventurous) lets you be control of how much sweetness to add and what other flavors you might want to include. Garlic, sesame oil, and a hint of soy sauce make a great pan-Asian style vinaigrette. Mustard and honey is a more French take. Feel free to be creative, herbs are a great addition and I find dill to be particularly delicious in a vinaigrette.
More examples of nutrient synergy
Our ancestors had a reason for consuming fat in their diets. They knew it was a carrier for these beneficial nutrients. Another nutrient synergy found in the kitchen and used traditionally in cooking is tomato + olive oil . In fact, this combination is through to be one of the major contributors to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Tomatoes contain high concentrations of the fat-soluble compound, lycopene which is being studied as an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer molecule. Many bioactive compounds like lycopene are not easily absorbed so consuming them with fat helps them cross the intestinal barrier, similar to what we observe with the fat-soluble vitamins.
Some of my favorite nutrient synergies to take advantage of are the same ones that cooks naturally gravitate to; for some reason, eating these foods together creates something that is even more delicious than the sum of the individual parts. See the short list below for some ideas and stay tuned for future posts on other exciting examples of food and nutrient synergies!
- Finish pasta with marina sauce with extra-virgin olive oil on the plate
- Drizzle a homemade vinaigrette over your salad (improves fat-soluble vitamin absorption)
- Top carne asada tacos with guacamole
- Sautee sliced carrots in butter
- Adding spices, like cinnamon, to dessert
1. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C, Failla ML, Ferruzzi MG. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012 Jun;56(6):866–877.
2. Kim JE, Gordon SL, Ferruzzi MG, Campbell WW. Effects of egg consumption on carotenoid absorption from co-consumed, raw vegetables. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jul;102(1):75–83.
Originally published at https://realfoodexplored.com on November 9, 2020.