Ironically, consuming heavy granola and salad is tantamount to living a healthy lifestyle; otherwise, everyone Nowadays, most people have a pretty good knowledge on the value of consuming organic food items. It has become rather a trend. There’s no denying that organic food is the perfect choice for nutrition which is sans all the harsh chemicals and toxic residues. But, just eating loads of organic foods or stacking your refrigerator with everything labeled “organic” in the supermarket is not going to give health benefits as much as you would imagine.
Every food item we eat; be it organic or inorganic, has a specific hierarchical microstructure. A number of molecules, organelles, cells, and tissues collectively form the ultimate food product. There are basically four “Natural” food structures. They can be fibrous (meat), a fleshy material composed of hydrated cells (fruits/vegetables), encapsulated embryos of plants (grains, pulses), and a unique complex fluid-structure called milk.
Every nutrient of a food item is within the food microstructure. These nutrients are bound to various structures like plant organelles in vegetables or granules in grains. This is the basis for the concept of “food matrix”. Our body can absorb these nutrients, only if they are released from the food matrix during digestion.
There’s no point if nutrients hidden inside the cells of organic fruits and vegetables do not get absorbed into your body. It is similar to try filling a cup which has a hole inside with water. Whatever comes in the mouth goes out with feces, no matter how valuable it is. The real goal is to retain as much as nutrients we can within the body. For that, one has to pay attention to the bioavailability of nutrients.
What is Bioavailability?
Bioavailability is simply the degree to which a certain nutrient is absorbed and made available for normal bodily functions in the body. It varies due to a number of different factors. The variations in bioavailability of a certain nutrient can be due to the chemical form of the nutrient, the degree of release from the food matrix, efficiency in digestive processes or digestive enzymes, efficiency in nutritional uptake and transport, or due to changes in the metabolic or storage processes. The age and gender of a person can also affect the bioavailability.
Usually, the macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids have a very high bioavailability. On the other hand, micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals significantly vary in the degree of bioavailability they manifest. It’s the micronutrients that are responsible for the majority of organic food nutrient content.
Some food nutrients display a higher bioavailability when taken in the raw form while others have to be processed by grinding, cutting, crushing, heating, fermenting, or taken alongside other food items in order to obtain the maximum bioavailability.
According to scientific data when plant products are processed before consumption, the bioavailability of their nutrients significantly increases. For example, the human body can absorb a larger amount of β-carotenoids, a fat-soluble red pigment important for preventing diseases, from cooked or pureed vegetables like carrot, than when consumed raw. In the same way, Lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes that can fight cardiovascular diseases, is also more available when processed by cooking or heating as it induces the release of nutrients from the cell walls.
Folate is another nutrient which is important for cell growth and development especially in the nervous system. Green leafy vegetables including spinach, beans, and peas are natural sources rich in folate. In these natural sources, folate is found bound to macromolecules. Studies reveal that the bioavailability of folate significantly reduces in the presence of folate-binding proteins. In addition, the nature of the food matrix itself can affect the folate bioavailability.
Sometimes the interaction between different nutrients can be used to increase the bioavailability of at least one of them. For example, the bioavailability of non-haem iron which is found in abundance in green leaves can be greatly increased by mixing with fat/oil or adding a bit of vitamin C (in the form of lime/lemon drops).
On the other hand, some can act as inhibitors for the bioavailability of certain nutrients. Phytic acid which is found in abundance in grains, pulses, and cereals combine with minerals like calcium or iron and interrupt the processes of digestion and absorption of other nutrients of these food sources into our body. As a result, they are often subjected to fermentation, soaking, or germination first in order to get rid of the Phytic acid content.
Any food item, including organic foods, has to be consumed in such a way that its nutrient content is put into maximum use. They have to be subjected to processing or eaten raw depending on the type of food. Then only your body will be able to properly digest and absorb as much as nutrients it can, keeping you healthy and free of diseases.