10 food pairs to supercharge your diet

Consuming specific healthy foods together can pack an even bigger nutritional punch. Here are 10 foods pairs that will supercharge your diet

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healthy kitchen

Two is better than one

Laurel and Hardy, Thelma and Louise, Brad and Angelina. Some pairs are just meant to be (although the Brangelina pairing may be up for debate). Various nutrients go well together, too. ?As a registered dietitian, I know combining certain foods can up their nutritional value, and help your body absorb and utilize all of their benefits more effectively. And research is revealing new pairings all the time. “It’s like adding 1 plus 1 and getting 4 instead of 2,” says Elaine Magee, a registered dietitian and the author of Food Synergy. “The total is greater than the sum of the individual parts.” Want to get more nutritional bang from your meals? Try out these 10 power-food combinations.

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tomato green bean salad

Beans and tomatoes

Dynamic duo because: Combined, they help boost your iron intake for better brain and muscle function.

Our bodies absorb up to 33 percent less non-heme iron (found in plant foods such as beans, edamame, leafy greens and fortified cereals) than heme iron (found in animal-based foods such as beef, fish and chicken). “You can significantly increase your absorption of non-heme iron by consuming it with a source of vitamin C, including oranges, tomatoes and berries,” says Magee. Vitamin C helps change non-heme iron to a form that is more easily absorbed by our bodies. Iron is necessary for producing hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to muscles and the brain. Low levels of iron can lead to fatigue, weakness and poor concentration.

Try this: For a quick salad, mix iron-loaded beans such ?as kidney and edamame with vitamin C-packed tomatoes, chopped red bell peppers and steamed broccoli.

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Green tea and lemon juice

Dynamic duo because: Consumed together they help you get more from antioxidants.

Catechins, found in green tea, are powerful antioxidants. And a 2006 study of more than 40,000 Japanese adults found that those who enjoyed at least one cup of green tea daily were less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t. According to a separate 2007 Purdue ?University report, adding a splash of citrus juice from a lemon, lime or grapefruit to green tea reduces the breakdown of its catechins in our digestive system, making them even more readily absorbed by the body.

Try this: For a refreshingly healthy twist on iced tea, squeeze the juice from one lemon into 2 cups (500 mL) of brewed green tea. Chill, then add 1 cup (250 mL) of club soda and some fresh mint. Makes half a pitcher.

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Yogurt and bananas

Dynamic duo because: These repair muscles after a workout.

“Research shows that consuming these two macronutrients together shortly after exercise speeds muscle recovery,” says Monique Ryan, a sports dietitian and the author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. Combining carbs and proteins increases levels of insulin. “More insulin allows muscles to quickly soak up repair nutrients like amino acids and glucose after a workout so they become stronger.” 

Try this: Make a post-workout shake: Blend together 1/2 cup (125 mL) each of low-fat milk and protein-rich yogurt with a carb-dense banana, 1/2 cup (125 mL) frozen blueberries and 1 Tbsp (15 mL) honey ?or maple syrup.

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Fish and wine

Dynamic duo because: The wine helps soak up healthy omega-3 fats from fish.

Italian researchers recently found that women who consumed as little as one glass of wine a day had higher blood levels of the omega-3 fats found in fish such as trout, salmon and sardines. The same results were not found for beer or spirits. Scientists believe that heart-healthy polyphenol antioxidants in wine might be responsible for improved omega-3 absorption. These much-lauded disease-fighting fats may also be associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration-the leading cause of blindness. Whether you prefer Chardonnay or Merlot, you can still get the same health benefit. According to a study in the  Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, white wine contains its own distinct polyphenol compounds that give it the same heart-protective qualities as red. But drinking too much alcohol is associated with increased breast cancer risk, so limit wine consumption to one or two glasses per day. ‘

Try this: Besides enjoying a glass with a fish entrée, you can make a marinade. Here’s how: Combine equal amounts of olive oil, soy sauce and a dry wine like sherry in a large bowl. Add rainbow trout fillets, or another type of fish that’s high in omega-3 (skin on or off), and marinate for one hour in the fridge before cooking.

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apple raspberry

Apples and raspberries

Dynamic duo because: Together they improve the disease-fighting powers of antioxidants.

If apples could speak, they would tell raspberries, “You complete me.” A study in the Journal of Nutrition determined the antioxidant ellagic acid (found in raspberries, pomegranates, walnuts and cranberries) enhanced the ability of quercetin (an antioxidant found in apples, grapes, onion and buckwheat) to kill off cancerous cells. Food scientists have discovered thousands of such bioactive phytochemicals in fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. “Researchers are now discovering that these chemicals often work better in pairs or groups, proving that supplements with single nutrients just can’t match the healing power of whole foods,” says Magee.

Try this: Make an antioxidant dessert: Combine diced apple, grapes and ?raspberries, and top with pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

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avocado edamame salad

Salads with healthy fat

To get the full benefit from your salad, skip the fat-free dressing. Instead, try dressing your salad with an olive oil and vinegar mixture, ?or add in some diced avocado. Fat-soluble carotenoid antioxidants, such as lycopene in tomatoes and eye-protecting lutein in leafy greens, are better absorbed if some healthy fat is present.

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healthy eating restaurant sushi

Sip tea at the sushi bar

The next time you crave sushi, order a cup of tea to go with it. Purdue University researchers discovered that combining green or black tea extract with fish may block the toxin mercury, found in some seafood, from entering your blood.

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salmon sandwich

Make a bone-building sandwich

Try mixing vitamin D-rich canned salmon with calcium-laden plain yogurt instead of mayo when making salmon sandwiches. “Vitamin D improves the amount of calcium that gets absorbed in the intestines, ?so it’s a necessary component of calcium’s bone-building function,” says Elaine Magee. Or try mixing yogurt into egg or sardines, which are also good vitamin D sources, for more sandwich options.

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cooking hamburgers

Add rosemary to rubs or marinades

Kansas State University scientists found that antioxidants in rosemary limit the formation of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines, which can form when beef patties are fried.

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Iced Coffee

Order a cup of joe with your post-exercise snack

Australian researchers found that subjects who combined carbs with caffeine after an exercise session replenished their muscle energy stores faster than people who ate only carbohydrates.

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food cures

More fantastic foods

To learn more about foods that boost your health, pick up a copy of Food Cures-the definitive guide to help heal, ease, or prevent 57 ailments with common foods and nutritional supplements. Settle nausea with ginger. Give your memory a boost with oatmeal. Lower your blood pressure with bananas. You’ll find dozens of detailed food “prescriptions” to help treat everything from allergies to migraines to ulcers and more.

Available now in the Best Health store.

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