Due to their health benefits, plant-based diets are becoming very popular, and many people are switching to them. However, one of the main issues with eating plant-based food is that they are low on certain essential nutrients that are common in animal foods. This is mainly due to two reasons, they are either absent or their bioavailability is less. Hence, nutrient bioavailability is an important factor that must be considered when switching to a plant-based diet. Read on to know more about nutrient bioavailability and management in a plant-based diet.
What Is Bioavailability?
Bioavailability is the amount a nutrient is absorbed from the food and made available for body functions. Every food that we eat is digested in the intestine, and the nutrients are absorbed. But the presence of certain compounds in plant-based food makes this process difficult. For example, oxalic acid is produced by plants to bind extra calcium and helps with their proper functioning. It makes the digestion and absorption of calcium difficult when we eat plant-based food, resulting in its low bioavailability.
Shared below are the details about bioavailability and management of two essential nutrients.
Only a fe plant-based foods are naturally rich in bioavailable calcium. Foods like legumes, broccoli, kale, spinach, and fig are commonly recommended for dietary calcium. However, their bioavailability, and hence the amount of calcium available for the body is lower than that of calcium-fortified foods and dairy products. As already stated, this is due to the presence of oxalic acid in these items. But turnip greens are an exception because their oxalate content is low. Legumes and grains have high amounts of phytates that bind to calcium and they are insoluble, and this reduces their calcium bioavailability.
Improving Calcium Bioavailability
You can improve the calcium bioavailability of grains and legumes by reducing their phytate content. The other important factor that affects calcium absorption is vitamin D levels in a person’s body. Cooking or processing plant-based food increases their calcium bioavailability. Besides, it is recommended that people who follow plant-based diets like vegans take calcium supplements and fortified foods.
Vitamin D is acquired by the human body through two methods; it is produced in the body when exposed to the sun and by dietary intake. Moreover, there are two types of vitamin D, vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Plant-based vitamin D2 is considerably less bioavailable than vitamin D3 produced by the skin on exposure to UV light from the sun. Vitamin D3 is also available from animal products. So, vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of developing vitamin D deficiency due to the low bioavailability of vitamin D2. The best way to avoid this is to eat fortified foods and take dietary supplements.
So, when switching to a plant-based diet, cook the food properly to ensure that the nutrients are easily absorbed by the body.