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Nutrition Bioavailability - An Overview

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Read the article to learn about the different factors affecting nutrient absorption and how they can impact a person’s diet.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Balreen Kaur Bali

Published At June 27, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 22, 2024


Nutrient absorption into the body is a complex process that not only yields energy and boosts individual immunity but is also responsible for maintaining important metabolic functions to keep the organ systems healthy. There are several factors that can positively or negatively impact the nutrient absorption and nutrient status of the body.

What Is Nutrient Bioavailability?

Bioavailability mainly refers to the proportion or, rather, just a simple fraction of a particular nutrient consumed in a dietary form. Only through the diet can the body absorb and utilize nutrients. The bioavailability of nutrients is, in fact, influenced by several factors. These include:

  1. Dietary Sources: There are multiple diet-related factors that can affect foods, including the chemical form of nutrients. It is interesting to know that because different nutrients have different forms associated with them, they enter a complex world of interaction with the body cells in order to produce cellular energy. The rigid cell wall of plant cells is what is responsible for often reducing the bioavailability of nutrients during the intake of plant-based food diets. Nutrients from plant foods or vegan foods are more easily digested than complex structures like meat. Recommendations for iron intake are usually more for vegetarians by nutrition experts because the needs are higher than for those who eat meat because the non-heme iron in plants is less bioavailable.
  2. Medications: Medications definitely can alter one's nutrient absorption capacity. Nutrient needs are also additionally altered in patients who are on long-term medications. Patients taking anticonvulsant therapies (Phenobarbital for epilepsy), antacids, anti-inflammatory drugs, and laxatives commonly interfere with calcium and vitamin D absorption. This can completely negatively affect bone metabolism, especially in people suffering from spinal injuries, arthritis, or osteoporosis. It is thus essential to remember to discuss your medication history with your nutritionist, dietician, or healthcare provider before you include certain foods in your daily diet.

  3. Interactions With Compounds in Foods: Antioxidants like phytates or polyphenols only bind with certain other micronutrients in the human gastrointestinal tract. These should not interact with minerals like zinc, calcium, or iron, which would potentially prevent their absorption in the intestines. Polyphenols are other important antioxidant compounds found in plants that also interfere with mineral absorption in the intestines.

  4. Life Stage: The stage of life a person is in affects their absorption and bioavailability status. This depends commonly on the impact of aging in an individual as the capacity to digest and assimilate certain nutrients often reduce with increasing age or health conditions. Nutritionists always consider the general health status first and assess them for acute or chronic health conditions. This factor certainly affects nutrient absorption in the body.

How to Avail Nutrient Bioavailability?

The following measures can be implemented to increase the bioavailability of nutrients in foods:

  1. Chopping or Mincing: The most common tip that is recommended by health experts is that when using rigid tissue structures like plant-based foods, always chop them or mince them prior to consumption. For example, to gain more folate that is a rich water-soluble B vitamin from a healthy all-around green like spinach, always mince or chop the leaves before consumption.

  2. Meeting the Dietary Needs: If a person follows a vegan diet and does not consume foods containing heme iron that is commonly found in fish, meat, or poultry. Then the need for dietary iron is more. Hence a vegan person should increase their consumption of foods that provide non-heme iron. For example, non-heme vegan sources of iron commonly are nuts, beans, green vegetables, and other fortified grain products like fortified cereals.
  3. Balance in Raw and Cooked Foods: Most processed or treated foods leads to reduced micronutrient or antioxidant content found in them. For example, antioxidants like phytates and polyphenols may be slightly lost during the processing or treatment phases. A typical example is the pounding of grain to remove its bran. While these antioxidants are crucial to daily dietary needs, always try and consider balancing the consumption of raw and cooked foods. Balancing the raw and cooked foods in good measure is considered a good tip by nutritionists to ensure maximum micronutrient absorption.

  4. Increasing Fiber Uptake: Health experts always advocate increasing fiber intake. Fiber intake not only prevents constipation and aids in promoting digestion by encouraging a gut-healthy microbiome but can also reduce hunger cravings and keep a person more satiated. The additional benefit of foods with more fiber consumption is that one can significantly prevent or reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Always consult with nutritionists about which fibrous foods one can incorporate into the diet based on daily work regimens, dietary patterns, and individual needs. The Focus should be on consuming more whole grains, moderate servings of fruits and vegetables, brown rice or pasta, and high-fiber cereals like bran and oatmeal.
  5. Combining Nutrient Sources: Some nutrition experts also recommend eating a combination of certain foods to absorb whole macronutrient proportions because of the synergistic effect the food components produce. At the same time, some food components in association hinder the absorption, for example, the enhancement of iron absorption, which is much better on consuming it along with vitamin C. A common example of this is the nutrient-dense black bean or bell pepper salads which can yield better iron when ingesting them with spinach or a dash of lime juice on these salads. Research also shows that by consuming more dietary fat and some carotenoid-rich vegetable sources, such as carrots or other red and orange fruits in nature, one can better absorb these healthy carotenoids in the body.


Understanding the bioavailability of foods and an idea of daily nutrient intake is an essential key to a healthy life. Hence, the focus should always be on meeting the daily dietary requirement of essential micronutrients. One should proportionately consume them by eating healthy and consulting or planning with a nutritionist or dietician.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop



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