Power duos: Food pairings that maximise nutritional benefit

These food combos bring out the best in each other – and give you biggest bang for buck when it comes to reaping the health rewards.

We all know that some people bring out the best in us.

Nutrition researchers say the laws of harmony also apply to food, with certain foods activating compounds in each other for maximum nutritional benefit.

Princess Alexandra Hospital research dietitian Dr Hannah Mayr says food combinations are the future of good nutrition.

“We’ve really evolved with our understanding of how nutrients and food work because we used to focus a lot on individual nutrients and what effects they have on the body,” Dr Mayr says.

“Now we’ve learned we should be looking at food combinations.

“We don’t eat food in isolation. We eat foods together and they all have a different impact and benefits, depending how they’re combined.’’

The way food is cooked is also important in affecting the bio-availability of nutrients – the body’s ability to use certain nutrients or compounds in the food.

Nutrition Research Australia executive research officer Dr Kylie Abbott says the scientific evidence of the benefits of food combinations shows that variety is key to a good diet.

“There’s no one food that gives us everything we need, but different foods can interact with each other to affect how our body uses them,” Dr Abbott says.

“It’s not that hard either. People can get overwhelmed thinking about nutrients but if you just choose a rainbow of different coloured foods and something from all the food groups, you’ll be on the right track.”

food pairings

Perfect food pairings

Here are a few ideas to help enhance the nutritional benefits of your meal.

Fruits, greens and cereals

If trying to enhance iron absorption, eat fruit with greens and cereals, says Dr Abbott.

Leafy greens are high in iron so adding lemon juice, which is high in vitamin C, will increase the amount of easily absorbed iron.

Also combining fruit with grain, such as guava with rice, can increase iron levels.

Dr Abbott also says these foods are even more effective if cooked and eaten together within two hours.

Tomato super sauce

Sofrito is the superfood tomato sauce that is the base of so many Mediterranean dishes made from tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, onion and garlic.

Dr Mayr says the amount of polyphenols (the bio-active compound found in plant foods that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits) increases when cooked tomatoes are combined with olive oil.

Also, cooked onion prevents the polyphenols from being oxidised, or damaged, and instead preserves them.

She recommends eating sofrito-based meals at least twice a week.

Olive oil and vinegar

Dr Mayr says there’s evidence that combining extra virgin olive oil with red wine or apple cider vinegar in a dressing for a leafy green salad increases the level of antioxidants.

Eggs with orange and red vegetables and leafy greens

Eggs contain some antioxidants known as carotenoids and so do orange and red vegetables and dark, leafy greens.

But when combined, the amount of carotenoids in the vegetables increases three to nine fold, Dr Mayr says.

So for a nutritional bunch, try a breakfast of scrambled eggs, carrot, spinach, and lettuce.

Green tea and pepper

A cup of green tea with a meal containing black pepper will enhance the body’s absorption of catechin, found in abundance in green tea.

Catechins are polyphenols that are anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial so, together, they are believed to improve immunity.

Pepper and turmeric

Dr Mayr says a specific compound in pepper, piperine, increases the bio-availability of curcumin, which is the powerhouse active component in turmeric.

Chocolate and raspberries

In excellent news for chocolate lovers, the polyphenols in dark chocolate (stress, dark) become more active when combined with raspberries.

Salsa and vegetables

Beta-carotene, which is high in orange fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots or capsicum, is much easier absorbed when consumed with a food high in fat.

So carrots dipped with avocado is a strong nutritional combination.

Garlic and honey

Garlic and honey make a great combination.

They are both antimicrobial so help kill illnesses caused by bacteria and are more potent when combined.

Keep your garlic in a jar with honey to preserve the garlic’s shelf life and then use as a marinade for Asian-style cooking.

Written by Catherine Lambert.