By Jill Levy
No matter what your supplement routine looks like, it’s still important to make an effort to eat nutrient-dense foods every day.
That’s because when you eat nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and probiotics, you’re supporting your entire digestive system and healthy gut function, which is key for actually utilizing and absorbing the nutrients you consume in supplement form.
A variety of anti-inflammatory foods can fight against free radicals and oxidative stress, which when left unchecked can take a toll on the gastrointestinal system and interfere with nutrient absorption.
Foods that fall into this category, which we’ll look closer at below, include veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, probiotic foods, herbs and spices.
How to Eat to Support Supplementation
Supplements are intended to do what their name implies: supplement your diet. They shouldn’t take the place of eating healthy foods, so taking them is not an excuse to avoid eating things like fresh veggies, fruits, healthy fats and quality proteins— even if you’re taking the very best supplements.
Due to their positive effects on overall digestive/gut health, below are some of the best foods for supporting supplementation:
- Fresh vegetables — This includes leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), and so on. These are considered some of the best foods for overall health because they provide antioxidants and vitamins, including vitamins C, E and A, along with carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin. Additionally, veggies are an excellent source of electrolytes, which are critical for muscle, heart, nerve and cognition functioning.
- Berries and citrus fruits — Fruits like blueberries, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, lemon and limes are high in vitamin C and a variety of antioxidants, which can help support production of collagen and overall collagen levels, support vision and eye health, support skin health, and much more.
- High-fiber foods — Foods like sprouted chia seeds, sprouted flax seeds and sprouted hemp seeds are great for supporting probiotic (“good buy bacteria”) growth in the GI tract and for general digestive support. Other good sources of fiber include sprouted whole grains like quinoa and oats, fruits and veggies, and soaked legumes/beans.
- Fermented/probiotic foods — Fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir, help promote a normal balance of gut bacteria and also support digestive regularity. Natural probiotics found in fermented foods can enhance the digestion of foods and help your body properly absorb, digest and utilize nutrients. Probiotics are also capable of supporting healthy immune system function, helping to regulate your appetite, and potentially supporting a healthy body weight/healthy metabolism.
- Other brightly colored fruits/veggies — basically any herb, fruit or veggie that is deeply colored — such as sweet potatoes, green beans, papaya, mango, kiwi, melon, guava, red bell peppers, turmeric, ginger root and so on — is going to be packed with beneficial compounds. “Eating the rainbow” is a good approach to consuming a variety of nutrients that support overall health.
- Quality protein sources — Several times per week, try to have wild-caught seafood, especially salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, halibut, tuna, etc., since these are the best sources of not only protein but also healthy omega-3 fats. Other nutrient-dense protein options include organ meats like liver, grass-fed meat, cage-free eggs, raw dairy products and pasture-raised poultry.
Now that you know which foods to emphasize in your diet in order to get the most from the supplements you take, here are some other tips for maximizing the nutritional value of a healthy diet:
- Aim to have some raw foods like veggies that are uncooked or lightly cooked.
- Preserve antioxidants in your food by cutting and cooking them as close to the time you’ll be eating them as possible.
- Cook your foods at low temperatures as much as possible to avoid destroying delicate phytonutrients.
- Try to also buy organic, fresh, grass-fed and wild-caught foods as much as possible to get the highest nutrient concentrations.
- Consume foods high in vitamins and antioxidants along with healthy fats, since many of these vitamins are “fat-soluble nutrients” that are absorbed best when eaten with a source of lipids (fats). Pair nutrient-dense foods with something like omega-3 foods (like salmon), coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds for proper absorption.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help boost the bioavailability and digestibility of nutrients that you take in supplement form.
- Anti-inflammatory foods — including veggies, fruits, herbs, spices and probiotic foods — are supportive of gut health and can help to maintain integrity of the gut lining, which is exactly what supplements need for proper absorption and metabolization.
- To get the most from the supplements you take, eat a variety of whole foods, such as leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, berries, citrus fruits, fermented veggies, and proteins like wild-caught fish and yogurt.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.