6 food combinations that increase absorption: Truth or Myth?

It’s not just what we eat that matters, but also how much we absorb. The ability of our body to absorb a nutrient from a food is called the nutrient bioavailability. It is possible to use certain food combinations that increase absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. However there are lots of different food combinations out there, that simply aren’t backed up by evidence. So what are the best food combinations for nutrients?

6 of the best food combinations for nutrients:

1. Iron and Vitamin C

The absorption of non-haem (plant based) iron is enhanced by vitamin C. Iron deficiency is common in both vegan and vegetarian diets, so this food combination may be helpful.

  • Try any iron rich food such as broccoli, spinach, chickpeas and fruit such as blueberries for desert
  • Lentils or bean salad, sprinkled with sunflower seeds and a lemon dressing

Try any iron rich food such as broccoli, spinach, chickpeas and fruit such as blueberries for desert

Lentils or bean salad, sprinkled with sunflower seeds and a lemon dressing

2. Vitamin D and Calcium

Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption from your gut, and together both play a crucial role in bone health (1).

  • Scrambled eggs with spring greens such as kale
  • Salmon and almonds

3. Lycopene and Fat

Lycopene is the bright red colour found in fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes. It is a fat soluble compound and a powerful antioxidant. Evidence now suggests that lycopene supports heart health, with decreased risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure (2). There is mixed evidence to support pairing of lycopene and fat to increase absorption (3,4). The combination still tastes great, and eating lycopene is still important for your health.

  • Caprese salad of tomatoes, avocado and olive oil dressing

4. Caffeine and Iron

Caffeine can decrease absorption of plant based (non-haem) iron (5) so avoid drinking a coffee or tea after your meal.

5. Turmeric and Curcumin

Just 3% of turmeric is the active component curcumin. Curcumin has been found to be as effective as non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen for the pain of arthritis (6). The quantity of turmeric need to replicate the studies using curcumin is huge. Piperine, one of the main active ingredients in black pepper, increases the bioavailability of curcumin (7), although most studies have been performed using piperine, not black pepper. At present there isn’t evidence that black pepper can increase the bioavailability of turmeric enough to be comparable to the studies of curcumin. For more information on turmeric see here.

  • While you are enjoying your curry or lentil dahl with turmeric add in some black pepper. The health benefits are likely to be small if at all, but the risk of side effects is very low.

6. Fat Soluble Vitamins

There is mixed evidence to support the idea that soluble vitamins A, D, E and K have a greater bioavailability when combined with fat (8). It is possible that a minimum quantity of fat is needed for absorption, but beyond that, increasing the quantity of fat does not alter absorption. However, unsaturated fats are well recognised to be an important part of a healthy diet.

  • Try Carrots and olive oil hummus or guacamole
best food combinations for nutrients


Christakos S, et al. Vitamin D and intestinal calcium absorption. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. 2011.

2.             Cheng HM, et al. Tomato and lycopene supplementation and cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. 2017.

3.             Ahuja KDK, et al. Effects of a high monounsaturated fat, tomato-rich diet on serum levels of lycopene. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003.

4.             Fielding JM, et al. Increases in plasma lycopene concentration after consumption of tomatoes cooked with olive oil. 2005.

5.             Epidemiol RWP. Tea and health–a review of the current state of knowledge. 2014.

6.             W D, YangMini, et al. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. 2016.

7.             Georg Thieme Verlag et al. Influence of Piperine on the Pharmacokinetics of Curcumin in Animals and Human Volunteers. 2007.

8.             Borel, P. Factors affecting intestinal absorption of highly lipophilic food microconstituents (fat-soluble vitamins, carotenoids and phytosterols). 2003.

Have you read my tips on eating for health?

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