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Food combining can do more than soothe a fussy tummy.
Pairing certain nutrient profiles has the potential to add up to improved absorption—and better health (while some pairings can worsen digestion). Follow these formulas for maximum nutritional benefits at every meal.
1. HUMMUS + RED PEPPER = BOOST FOR LOW IRON
“The majority of dietary iron comes from nonheme, or plant, sources, but unfortunately, it’s not usually well absorbed,” says Peggy Kotsopoulos, a New York City–based holistic nutritionist. However, vitamin C helps improve the absorption of nonheme iron. The iron-rich chickpeas in the hummus and vitamin C–rich red pepper make a great snack for women, who often need more iron, she says.
2. TOMATO + AVOCADO = IMPROVED EYE HEALTH
Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a key nutrient for eye health that also gives the fruit its red hue. This antioxidant is fat-soluble, though, so it assimilates better in the body if it’s eaten with some fat. “Research suggests you absorb more from the carotene-rich food when you eat it with a smart fat, like avocado,” says Elaine Magee, a Boise, Idaho–based registered dietitian. There are so many ways you can pair these two powerhouses, but we love avocado toast with sliced tomatoes.
3. COTTAGE CHEESE + PINEAPPLE = POSTWORKOUT MUSCLE REPAIR
It’s important to refuel the right way following a serious Spinning class or an intense jog. After your workout, have a snack that includes protein (like cottage cheese) and a high-gastrointestinal carbohydrate (like pineapple). “Together, they replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores and cause an insulin release, which in turn helps push amino acids straight to muscle cells, which helps build and repair exactly where you need it,” says Kotsopoulos.
4. KALE + MUSHROOMS + OLIVE OIL = BETTER BONE DENSITY
Among the many nutritional benefits of kale is vitamin K, which helps transport calcium from your blood to your bones, acting as the glue that makes bone-enriching calcium stick. Studies have shown that a combination of vitamin K and vitamin D (found in mushrooms) helps prevent bone fractures, even in people already experiencing bone loss. Add some olive oil to a meal with these fat-soluble vitamins (an omelette, perhaps) and—bingo—major bone-health benefits. But not just any olive oil will do; opt for the extra-virgin version. “You’ll get more of the 30-plus phytochemicals from an olive oil that’s minimally processed,” says Magee.
5. SALMON + ALMONDS = HEART HEALTH
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially those found in cold-water fish, like salmon, may reduce the risk of blood clots, promote normal blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease. If you pair salmon steak with ground almonds (or another nut, such as walnuts), a plant-based source of essential fatty acids, you’re packing a more powerful wallop for cardiovascular health. “And they naturally go together,” notes Magee. (Think almond-crusted baked salmon!) There’s a lot of wisdom in cuisine from certain cultures, especially from areas of Asia and the Mediterranean, where these types of pairings often come up, she says.
Did you know?
The components in some foods work in combination with themselves when eaten whole, says Magee. “Apples are a good example where the compounds in the skin complement those in the flesh,” she explains. “You’re much better off to eat them with the skin on.” Same goes for ground flaxseeds and oats. “You’re missing out on so much if you eat only flax oil or oat bran—your body wants it all!”