Maximizing the Nutrients in your Food

maximize food pairingsYou may be looking for high-quality foods to improve your nutrition, but did you know that when certain foods are eaten together they enhance the nutritional impact on your body? This concept is known as food synergy.  Many food combinations do not just enhance one's health, but the flavor as well. Here are some tasty combinations to consider when planning meals and snacks.

Turmeric with black pepper and oil: Turmeric contains a powerful antioxidant, curcumin, which may reduce inflammation. However, on its own, curcumin is quickly metabolized and eliminated by the body, making it difficult to soak up the benefits. When curcumin is paired with Piperin, a phytonutrient found in pepper, it becomes more bioavailable. When fat is eaten at the same time, Curcumin will bind with it and increase the amount absorbed from the meal. Roasting turmeric also increases its bioavailability.

Food Pairing Ideas: 

  • Sprinkle black pepper and turmeric on vegetables and roast with olive oil.  
  • Scramble eggs with turmeric and black pepper.  
  • Add turmeric and black pepper to soups and rice.

Iron rich foods and vitamin C: Iron is a mineral the body needs for growth and development.  Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Your body also uses it to make some hormones. Certain groups of people have trouble getting enough iron in their diet. Adding Vitamin C can boost the amount of iron absorbed from a meal. Foods such as broccoli, bell peppers, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, oranges, lemons, mango and strawberries are considered excellent sources of vitamin C and should be eaten with iron containing foods for maximum iron absorption. Iron can be found in meats, beans, lentils, spinach, nuts and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Soaking beans for 12-36 hours before cooking will remove the phytic acid which can limit the absorption of iron and zinc. 

Food Pairing Ideas:

Lycopene and fat: Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that is beneficial for the skin, heart health and cancer prevention. Lycopene can be found in tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit and guava. Heat can be used to increase the bioavailability of lycopene. Serving lycopene rich foods with fat, such as olive oil or fresh avocado, can also increase how much is absorbed. 

Food Pairing Ideas:

  • Roast tomatoes with canola oil. 
  • Tomato & Watermelon Gazpacho with avocado chunks.
  • Roasting grapefruit halves with 1 teaspoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of ginger

Vitamin A with fat: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for vision, the immune system and reproduction.  When fat is present at a meal it can help with the absorption of vitamin A found in carrots, red peppers, sweet potatoes and winter squash.  Cooking these vegetables will also make the beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) more bioavailable. 

Food Pairing Ideas:

Vitamin D with Calcium: Vitamin D binds with calcium to bring more calcium in from foods and supplements. Vitamin D and calcium helps prevent osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens the bones. Your body also needs Vitamin D and calcium to make muscles move, and carry messages via nerves between your brain and body.  Your immune system uses Vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Calcium also helps blood vessels move blood throughout your body and releases hormones to help your body function better.

Food Pairing Ideas

  • Vitamin D rich foods such as salmon, tuna, egg yolks and fortified foods like milk, soy milk and orange juice (check non-milk and juices for fortification) should be enjoyed together with calcium-providing foods including collard greens, broccoli, dried figs and dairy foods.

Vitamin D and Magnesium: Vitamin D increases intestinal absorption of magnesium, a mineral involved in cell repair and regulating heart rate.  Magnesium needs to be present for the skin to make vitamin D from sunlight.  

Food Pairing Ideas:

Optimal Plant-Based Protein Combinations: Protein is made up of different amino acids that help to build, maintain and repair muscles. Our bodies are able to make some of these amino acids, but a few Essential Amino Acids need to be obtained from our food. Only soy and animal products like meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs provide all of the essential amino acids your body requires. Eating a variety of plant-based proteins like nuts, legumes, grains and vegetables throughout the day will provide your body with all of the amino acids it requires.  

Plant-Based Protein Pairing Ideas:

Beans or chickpeas with grains: The fiber and protein found in beans and chickpeas help to regulate the carbohydrates found in starchy grains like rice.  This helps to prevent blood-sugar spikes and energy crashes after meals.

Food Pairing Ideas:

Carbohydrates and protein: Pairing carbs with protein can improve the absorption of foods in your gut. When you eat carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables and grains, they are broken down into glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. This causes the blood sugar to rise, which is a natural and normal response.  It can, however, become a problem when your blood sugar increases too rapidly, causing blood sugar spikes. Overtime, this can lead to insulin resistance, which can increase your risk for prediabetes and diabetes. Proteins are digested at a slower rate. When consumed together, protein will slow the rate of carbohydrate metabolism, which helps to stabilize blood sugars. Not only does pairing carbohydrates with proteins help to regulate blood sugar, it increases satiety (feeling of fullness) and helps to maintain energy.

Carb and Protein Pairings Ideas: 

  • Oatmeal with Greek yogurt/side of eggs
  • Apple slices/whole wheat toast with nut butter
  • Grapes with cheese

The ultimate food synergy may be a balanced plate. Focusing on overall diet quality is more important for health than emphasizing specific amounts of single nutrients. Enjoy adding flavor and optimizing nutrition in your diet.

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