Power Couples

How to pair foods for extra nutrition

Power Couples

Scientists call if food synergy: combining two or more nutrients to produce greater health benefits. So try these five good-chemistry food couples.

Thelma and Louise, Batman and Robin, ice wine and tutti-frutti desserts. Some pairs are just meant to be. According to the latest studies, the same holds true for nutrients. Scientists call it food synergy: two or more nutrients come together smashingly to produce a greater health benefit.

Here are five good-chemistry couples that prove when it comes to food, one plus one equals three.

Two have always been better than one. Magnify your health to the power of two by taking companion nutrients.

Dynamic Duo #1: Iron and Vitamin C

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you absorb iron only from plant foods such as beans, leafy greens, and seeds. However, trading in red meat for tofu comes with a Catch-22: you forgo some of the saturated fat but gain much less of the iron. Plant sources provide nonheme iron, which is absorbed into the bloodstream less easily compared to the heme iron from animal sources. Enter a helpful assistant. By altering its structure, vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables helps maximize the absorption of nonheme iron.

Synergy in Action

  • fortified cereal (iron) topped with strawberries (vitamin C)
  • spinach (iron) mixed with tomatoes (vitamin C)
  • kidney beans (iron) mixed with red bell pepper (vitamin C)
  • pumpkin seeds (iron) tossed with dried blueberries (vitamin C)

Dynamic duo #2: Fat and Carotenoids

In what may seem the most unlikely hookup since Alice in Wonderland sat down with the Mad Hatter, fat and veggies create a nutritional bang together. Studies from both Ohio State University and Iowa State University show that adding a good fat such as olive oil to your salad bowl can increase the benefits of cancer-fighting, heart-protective antioxidant carotenoids such as lutein, lycopene, and beta carotene. That’s because these chemicals, along with vitamins E and K, are fat soluble. Without a bit of fat in the fold, their absorption is lacklustre at best.

Synergy in Action

  • scrambled eggs (lutein) mixed with diced avocado (fat)
  • dark greens (lutein, beta carotene) topped with walnuts (fat)
  • baby carrots (beta carotene) as a snack with almonds (fat)
  • oatmeal tossed with ground flaxseed (fat) and diced dried apricots (lycopene)

Dynamic Duo #3: Calcium and Vitamin D

For calcium to be properly absorbed, vitamin D must also be present. Think of vitamin D as the key that unlocks the door, allowing calcium to leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream. The sunshine vitamin also goes to work in the kidneys to reabsorb calcium that would otherwise be excreted, giving your skeleton a bigger shot of this bone-building mineral.

Synergy in Action

  • canned salmon (vitamin D) mixed with yogourt (calcium)
  • scrambled eggs (vitamin D) topped with shredded cheese (calcium)
  • cod (vitamin D) served with steamed broccoli (calcium)
  • tuna sandwich (vitamin D) and a glass of milk (calcium, vitamin D)

Dynamic Duo # 4: Folate and Vitamin B6

Folate and vitamin B6, along with vitamin B12, appear to workas one to curtail rising homocysteine levels. Homocysteine isan amino acid, metabolic byproduct that contributes to heart disease if it is allowed to build up. Folate and vitamin B6 break down this unwelcome guest. Data from the Nurses’ HealthStudy II, which followed 32,826 women from 1989 or 1990 to 1996, determined that higher intakes of folate and vitamin B6 were associated with a lower occurrence of heart disease and breast cancer.

Synergy in Action

  • fruit salad with banana (B6) and papaya (folate)
  • turkey breast (B6, B12) served with a side of asparagus (folate)
  • halibut (B6, B12) topped with steamed broccoli (folate)
  • salmon burgers (B6) topped with guacamole (folate)

Dynamic duo #5: Ellagic acid and Quercetin

Thousands of bioactive phytochemicals have been identified in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Researchers are now discovering that these disease-fighting nutrients work better with a companion nutrient rather than on their own. One such example of two-heads-are-better-than-one is ellagic acid and quercetin. A Journal of Nutrition investigation determined that ellagic acid enhanced quercetin’s effect on killing cancer cells. Similarly, matching quercetin with the flavonoid catechin (found in grapes, red wine, and green tea) makes blood platelets less sticky. That means they’re less likely to clump together and cause gridlock in your arteries.

Synergy in Action

  • grapes (quercetin) mixed with walnuts (ellagic acid)
  • apple (quercetin) in a fruit salad with raspberries (ellagic acid)
  • buckwheat (quercetin) mixed with dried cranberries (ellagic acid)
  • spinach (quercetin) topped with pomegranate seeds (ellagic acid)

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