“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~ Virginia Woolf
February is American Heart Month as well as the time we celebrate lovers on Valentine’s Day. So what’s more appropriate than talking about food pairs for health! Physicians, nutritionists and dietitians alike tout the benefit of eating certain foods in combination for maximum health benefit. I’ve personally found combining specific foods satisfying as well as nutritious.
Below are some of the food combinations called “Dynamic Duos”* … for a good reason!
Green tea has been linked to a reduced risk of heart attacks, thanks to catechins, the brew’s powerful antioxidants. But studies show only about 20 percent of these healthful compounds are available for our bodies to absorb. The good news: Recently, when scientists added lemon juice to green tea, the availability of health-enhancing catechins skyrocketed to a whopping 80 percent.
Stay-Well Strategy: After brewing yourself a cup of green tea, squeeze in the juice of one whole lemon (you can also use an orange, lime or grapefruit, all runners-up in the study). Don’t want to DIY? Look for bottled green teas that list “ascorbic acid” (also known as vitamin C) among their ingredients. Scientists say the vitamin C in citrus fruits can also improve catechin absorption.
Broccoli and tomatoes are both cancer-fighting all-stars, but research reveals eating them together may offer even more protection. In a recent study, scientists found consuming tomato and broccoli at the same time was more effective at slowing the growth of cancerous prostate tumors than eating either vegetable alone.
Stay-Well Strategy: The amount of produce used in the study translates to about one and a half cups of broccoli and two and a half cups of fresh tomato (or one cup of tomato sauce). To tap into their potent powers, order a pizza generously topped with broccoli or sprinkle some florets over your next plate of spaghetti.
Red Bell Peppers + Black Beans = Improved Immunity
Eating more meatless meals lately to do your heart (and the planet) a favor? You’ll absorb more immune-boosting plant iron by adding in some red bell peppers. That’s because the iron in picks like beans exists in a form called non-heme iron that’s harder for your body to absorb than the iron found in red meat (heme iron). But, adding a dose of vitamin C-rich produce like red peppers converts the iron into a type that’s easier for the body to use, explains registered dietitian Heidi McIndoo, author of the book, When to Eat What.
Stay-Well Strategy: In one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women absorbed nearly three times more iron from their meal by adding just 63 milligrams of vitamin C. This amount translates into about a half cup of chopped red bell peppers. To tap into their healing powers, toss these health-enhancing peppers into your next pot of chili.
Want to improve the overall look and strength of your skin? Try consuming this power couple. Eggs are naturally rich in two special amino acids (building blocks of protein) that are essential for the formation of skin-plumping collagen. “And foods rich in vitamin C, like mango, work with these acids to boost collagen production. This helps build back lost stores in the body, which can significantly improve the appearance of skin,” explains Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian in New York City.
Stay-Well Strategy: To give a boost to your next breakfast, pair an omelet with a cup of fresh mango chunks, which supply nearly an entire day’s supply of vitamin C.
Green Tea + Black Pepper = A Whittled Waistline
Forget drastic diets: At your next meal, sip a cup of green tea and shake some black pepper over your entree. “A study recently found that the combo boosts the absorption of EGCG, a key antioxidant in tea tied to calorie burning, by a whopping 130 percent,” explains registered dietitian Cynthia Sass, author of the new book Cinch!: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches. Bonus: According to research published in Nutrition Journal, people who drank green tea with their meal reported feeling more full and were less likely to want a second helping than those who drank plain water. Experts say the compounds in green tea can affect the hormones that regulate hunger and fullness.
Stay-Well Strategy: Studies say as little as a half-teaspoon of black pepper can increase the absorption of tea’s beneficial compounds, so brew a cup of tea to sip, then take out your mill and get grinding!
Cup for cup, kale is the king of calcium (it contains three times more than spinach). However, food scientists say you’ll soak up even more of this bone-building mineral by combining kale with some radicchio. Why? The crimson veggie is a rich source of inulin, a carbohydrate that naturally enhances calcium absorption in the intestines, according to a recent study in the journal Nutrition Research.
Stay-Well Strategy: To shore up your skeleton, toss these tasty greens together in a salad.
You’ll absorb more skin-protecting plant compounds called carotenoids from your veggie salad by adding a little avocado. “Carotenoids reduce free radical damage to effectively protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays,” explains Glassman. In a recent study at Ohio State University, people who ate avocado in their salad of lettuce, spinach, and carrots absorbed up to 15 times more carotenoids than those who didn’t eat their salads with avocado. Studies show carotenoids require some fat to be optimally absorbed by the body, which means avocados, which contain solid stores of healthful monounsaturated fats, healthfully fit the bill.
Stay-Well Strategy: To nab this nutrition perk, slice a half of an avocado into your next green salad.
Yogurt + Bran Cereal = Better Digestion
This breakfast is a natural immunity booster. Full of good bacteria, yogurt acts as a probiotic. It encourages healthy bacteria to flourish in your digestive tract, keeping sickness-causing bugs at bay. But probiotics work even better when paired with the prebiotics found in wheat bran. Why? Prebiotics act as nourishment for probiotics, helping them better thrive in the gut so they can do their immunity-boosting magic, says registered dietitian Dave Grotto, author of the book, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life.
Stay-Well Strategy: To get in on this good-gut action, first look for probiotic-rich yogurts that sport the label “live and active cultures.” Then, mix one cup of this yogurt with three quarters of a cup of wheat bran cereal.
Apricots + Almonds = A Tip-Top Ticker
This power pair helps prevents LDL “bad” cholesterol from oxidizing, a process that happens whenever LDL reacts with free radicals. “And oxidized LDL is harmful because it encourages dangerous plaque build-up in the arteries,” explains registered dietitian Elaine Magee, author of the book, Food Synergy. But, in a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers found that the phytochemicals in almonds reduced LDL oxidation when paired with the antioxidant vitamins E and C, both of which are found abundantly in apricots.
Stay-Well Strategy: For a satisfying, heart-healthy snack, combine a quarter-cup each of dried apricots and raw almonds.
Spoon up this tasty snack after a sweaty workout. The reason: Research reveals blueberries possess brain-boosting benefits to keep you better focused during your fitness routine, while yogurt’s hefty stores of protein help repair the little tears in your muscles that naturally occur during exercise. As if that’s not enough, the carbs in both the yogurt and fruit naturally replenish your muscles with glycogen, a stored form of energy (dipping too low in glycogen can quickly trigger fatigue). Yogurt’s protein also stimulates a hormone that transports those energizing carbs into your muscles to give your next workout more get-up and go.
Stay-Well Strategy: If you’re doing intense exercise and need to be at the top of your game, be especially speedy about eating this recovery snack. Why? Your body’s most efficient at stashing away glycogen in the first 15 minutes after your workout, says Magee
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil + Tomatoes = Disease Defense
Tomatoes boast all four major carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene) plus three potent antioxidants (beta-carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C) that may help fight cancer and heart disease. “You’ll absorb more of these protective chemicals if you eat them with olive oil,” says Magee. “It’s high in healthy monounsaturated fats and slows digestion so you can soak up more of them.”
Stay-Well Strategy: Mix a little olive oil in your next marinara. You’ll get a bigger phytochemical punch with cooked tomatoes (leave the skin on, since it’s loaded with them). Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed form, so it contains the most beneficial compounds, says Magee. Just store it away from heat and light to prevent it from going rancid.
Oats contain two important phytochemicals called avenanthramides and phenolic acids. These compounds have been shown in research to work synergistically with vitamin C to reduce the harmful effects of “bad” LDL cholesterol and help prevent the plaque build-up that can lead to heart attacks, says Magee.
Stay-Well Strategy: Enjoy a half cup of sliced strawberries with your morning bowl of oatmeal.
Cinnamon + Whole Grain Toast = Increased Energy and Speedier Slimming
Sprinkling on this spice may help keep your blood sugar at a healthier level, which prevents dips in your energy and spikes in your hunger level, says Sass. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, cinnamon was found to slow the rate of stomach emptying after meals and reduce the rise in blood sugar after meals to negate more noshing later.
Stay-Well Strategy: For a healthier version of that childhood staple, cinnamon toast, use whole grain bread, trans-free margarine and a study-backed teaspoon of cinnamon. Note: Experts say you’ll nab more protective compounds if your cinnamon is fresh: Whole sticks last up to a year, ground cinnamon for six months.
These aromatic veggies both contain a number of organosulfur compounds; heart-healthy plant chemicals that help keep arteries flexible and free of plaque, says Magee. Some of these compounds have even been studied for their power to detoxify carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) in the body. Eating both at the same time means you’re “covering your bases” and boosting your chances of getting more of these healthful compounds, she says.
Stay-Well Strategy: Cooked together, they make a delicious base for soups and sauces or simply sauté veggies like broccoli in a mix of olive oil, garlic, and onions.
Enjoy your “coupling” … you’ll love the results!
*Material reprinted from ivillage.com by Sally Kuzemchak, M.S., R.D.