The Art of Eating for Maximum Nutrition

May 19, 2020
| Created by Harmons

The following blog post was written by University of Utah Dietetic intern, Miley Nguyen.

As we all know, eating wholesome foods with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and protein is important to staying healthy. But did you know pairing certain foods together can maximize nutrient absorption and help rebuild the muscle after exercise?

Iron and Vitamin C

Vitamin C, which occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, has several different names on an ingredient list: ascorbic acid, ascorbic palmitate, and calcium ascorbate. Despite all the names, it acts the same. Vitamin C has an antioxidant effect in preventing chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. As an essential and water-soluble vitamin, the body constantly needs to replenish vitamin C through the diet. Foods like broccoli, citrus fruits, kale, and bell peppers will help you meet your daily recommendation.

Iron deficiency is more common in children, vegetarians, and more likely in women of childbearing age due to menstrual blood loss. There are two forms of iron. Heme is found in animal products such as meat and seafood. Non-heme iron is primarily found in plant-based items such as fortified cereals, beans, and dark-green leafy vegetables. Plant-based iron is not well-absorbed by the body; this is where vitamin C comes to the rescue! Vitamin C increases the solubility and thus, absorption, of iron in the intestine.


  • Drizzle your favorite lemon vinaigrette over a spinach and berries salad.
  • Add tomatoes to bean soup.
  • Cook your favorite meals using a cast-iron skillet. This also contributes some iron to your dishes.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium can be obtained through seeds, cheese, salmon, bean, lentils, and some leafy greens. You have probably heard calcium is good for bone health, but calcium can only do its best job when the body has enough vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body effectively absorb calcium. Sunlight is an abundant source of vitamin D. However, using skin protection such as sunscreen (although a must to prevent the risk of skin cancer) reduces the body’s ability to create vitamin D from sunlight. To compensate for what we miss out on from the sun, foods such as fish, vitamin D-fortified milk, and juice can be alternative sources to get enough vitamin D.


  • Pair salmon with a side of collard greens, broccoli, and lentils.
  • Make sure your milk alternatives are fortified with both calcium and vitamin D.

Beans and Rice

Beans and chickpeas are super affordable and packed with protein and fiber. On their own, beans count as both a protein and a vegetable. Beans alone are incomplete proteins due to their lack of the essential amino acids. However, it’s easy to get those missing amino acids by also consuming whole grains, which are rich in amino acids beans don’t have. As long as you’re eating a well-rounded plant-based diet that includes both beans and whole grains, you’ll consume all of the essential amino acids your body needs from food. Although it’s not necessary to eat both rice and beans in the same meal to reap their benefits, the classic combination is an easy addition you can make to a variety of meals. Flavor with herbs and spices to fancy-up your lunch or dinner!

Although it is fascinating to examine specific ways to increase absorption of certain nutrients, the main take-home message is variety. If you are including multiple different food groups at each meal and throughout the day, your body will have a better chance of utilizing the maximum amount of nutrients. If you would like more information or further guidance on this topic, contact your Harmons dietitian at