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We all have those foods that we love eating together: peanut butter and jelly, watermelon and feta, yogurt and berries. But it turns out there may be a reason to combine certain foods in one sitting beyond simply the taste.
How you combine foods can majorly impact the benefit you get from them: increasing the absorption of important nutrients and boosting the effectiveness of antioxidants. See which surprising food combos nutritionists recommend the most.
1. VITAMIN C AND PLANT-BASED IRON
To best absorb non-heme iron, aka plant-based iron, you need to give it a little boost by pairing it with a source of vitamin C. The vitamin C helps break the iron down into a form that the body can more easily absorb. It’s not enough to eat a daily diet that contains both nutrients — absorption of the iron will be much greater if the nutrients are paired in a single meal, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Add a squeeze of lemon or orange juice to a spinach salad, or toss diced apples into a lentil dish.
2. TOMATOES AND OLIVE OIL
In each red gem of a tomato, you’ll find lycopene, an incredible disease-fighting antioxidant. Lycopene may help prevent prostate cancer, for starters. “Cooking the tomatoes, as well as serving them with a bit of olive oil, has shown to enhance the body’s absorption of the photochemical,” says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. Whip up a tomato sauce with olive oil, or drizzle oil onto baked tomatoes. Or combine the ingredients in a summer grain bowl or a tomato naan pizza.
3. TURMERIC AND BLACK PEPPER
Spicy stir-fry, anyone? “Turmeric has been used as a flavoring agent for centuries, but it also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Stephanie McKercher, RD, a culinary nutritionist in Denver, Colorado. The spice can help relieve symptoms of arthritis and may also benefit kidney health, according to a review study published in Redox Biology. While there haven’t yet been enough human studies to fully understand how it works, preclinical studies show a slew of promising benefits that make it worthwhile to integrate a little turmeric into your diet. “Black pepper makes the beneficial compounds in turmeric more bioavailable, so I like to combine both spices in one dish for maximum benefit,” says McKercher. “They happen to taste delicious together, too — I use both in my recipe for golden milk muffins.”
4. VITAMIN D AND CALCIUM
This vitamin-and-mineral combo will help keep your bones healthy. “Vitamin D helps bring in more calcium from the foods you eat and the supplements you take,” says Ginger Hultin, RD, a Seattle-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The two work together because the active vitamin D form causes a cascade of effects that increases the absorption of dietary calcium in the intestines. To get this pairing right, eat foods offering vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna, egg yolks or fortified foods like milk and non-dairy beverages such as soymilk and orange juice. Eat a variety of calcium-providing foods, including collard greens, broccoli, dried figs, oranges and dairy foods.”