When I work with patients to design the best possible treatment plan, I take care to consider which dietary ingredients, nutritional supplements, and even prescription medications will work well together. In traditional medicine, doctors prescribe a medicine to subdue the symptoms, but in Functional Medicine we’re looking to treat the cause of the dis-ease. So, one pill just doesn’t cut it.
We usually start with the elimination diet to figure out which foods are causing digestive issues, inflammation, and other health-related conditions. Foods like gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, corn, and alcohol are removed from the diet for some length of time. They are then reintroduced one at a time to see which foods may be causing certain reactions.
Clearly, food and nutrition are a hallmark of Functional Medicine. I am very interested in what my patients eat and how well their guts function. Food provides our bodies with nutrition—it keeps us going, it keeps us alive. The macronutrients, like protein, carbs, and fats, give us energy in the form of calories. The micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, aren’t sources of caloric energy, but are vital to maintaining healthy bodily functions.
I always recommend eating a variety of whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains because certain nutrients aren’t available in all foods. In fact, some foods pair so well together because they offer complementary amounts of nutrients. In addition, certain nutrients enhance the effects or absorption of others—like vitamin C and iron. This relationship is called “food synergy.”
Vitamin C and Iron: I’ve already mentioned that vitamin C helps the body better absorb iron. You can pair foods such as leafy greens, broccoli, citrus, or tomatoes with sunflower seeds, beef, and beans.
Sulfur, Iron, and Zinc: Sulfur can increase the body’s absorption of both iron and zinc. This is an important combination because iron and zinc are often found in foods, such as whole grains, that contain substances that bind the nutrients and make them harder to absorb. Onions and garlic are two sulfur-rich foods to add to your diet.
Healthy Fat and Lycopene: When eaten together, healthy fat like olive oil or avocado increases the antioxidant activity of the lycopene in tomatoes. Enjoy a fresh tomato salad with a drizzle of olive oil!
Vitamin B6 and Magnesium: Vitamin B6 helps the body absorb magnesium. In fact, you’ll often see magnesium supplements with added B6 to ensure absorption. But, if you want to get these nutrients through your diet, try pairing seeds, nuts, poultry, or spinach for B6 with whole grains, yogurt, dark chocolate, or fish for magnesium.
Calcium and Vitamin D: The mineral calcium can only work efficiently when paired with vitamin D. The body absorbs calcium more efficiently when it has enough vitamin D. Calcium can be found in dairy foods, such as milk and cheese, and green veggies like broccoli and kale. Vitamin D can be found in fish, like salmon and tuna, egg yolks, and mushrooms. Your body also makes vitamin D from sunlight, but sunscreens and other sun protection measures will block that from happening.
Healthy fats and Vitamin K: Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning you need to eat fat along with it in order for it to be absorbed by the body. Vitamin K can be found in Brussels sprouts, miso and other fermented foods like sauerkraut, lamb, and dark poultry meat. Pair with healthy fats like seeds, avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
Getting your nutrients through food is one of the best ways to get on and stay on the road to wellness. It’s important to not only eat a balanced diet, but also one that pairs the right foods to maximize taste and health. Bon appetite!