The Uncertainty Of Nutrient Absorption


IMG_2935From Bix, the Fanatic Cook…

It is just about impossible to anticipate how much, say, calcium we will absorb from a meal or a pill. It depends upon a number of variables which themselves can be difficult to measure, including but not limited to: our calcium status, how much calcium is in the meal or pill, what the calcium is bound to, how acidic the internal environment is, what our vitamin D status is, how much of the calcium binding protein is in place, how much of and what type of fiber is present, the presence of other divalent cations like zinc or magnesium, the condition of the intestinal brush border.

The amount of calcium (or any nutrient, I’m using calcium as an example) consumed and the amount absorbed is not a linear relationship. That is, eating 100 mg of calcium does not mean 100 mg gets absorbed. One thing that is known – the more calcium we eat, the less we absorb; and the less we eat, the more we absorb.


Compounding the uncertainty, nutrient content varies within food – the same type of food. In this study:

Calcium and Magnesium Concentration of Inbred and Hybrid Broccoli Heads, Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, 2000

Farnham et al. found significant variability among broccoli varieties for calcium and magnesium. Broccoli purchased at random across the US varied by as much as 2-fold for these elements.

Here’s a study that shows almost a three-fold difference in calcium content among several varieties of kale and collards. It also shows significant year-to-year variability for the same variety:

Variability In Elemental Accumulations Among Leafy Brassica Oleracea Cultivars And Selections, Journal of Plant Nutrition, 2005

And yet, data bases and nutrient tables give calcium content in a cup of cooked kale to 2 decimal places!

Source: The Uncertainty Of Nutrient Absorption | Fanatic Cook

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