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The latest research has revealed not only which foods you should be eating, but which you should be eating together for the best benefits
The very latest food research reveals that it’s not just what you eat, it’s what you eat it with that really matters for good nutrition.
Which means that knowing how to pair certain foods with each other can help boost your absorption of nutrients – and ramp up the health benefits.
“By becoming your own food mixologist and exploiting how this food synergy works, you can cleverly maximise the nutritional value of your meals,” explains Healthspan nutritionist Rob Hobson.
Try these dynamic duos...
Salmon and a glass of wine
We all know salmon is good for us
Why : Wine lovers rejoice – a little vino may help your body soak up the heart and brain boosting omega-3 fats found in oily fish.
Italian researchers have discovered that women who consume as little as one glass of wine a day have higher blood levels of the omega-3 fats found in fish such as trout, salmon and sardines.
Others studies have shown that men who drink two glasses of wine per day have similar elevated omega-3 levels.
However, take heed – the same results were not found for beer or spirits drinkers.
“Scientists believe that heart-healthy polyphenol antioxidants in wine might be responsible for this improved nutrient absorption,” explains Rob.
Try it: Enjoy a glass of red or white wine with a dish containing baked salmon, trout or grilled sardines.
Tomatoes and olive oil
Why: Including 3-5g of fat such as olive oil with foods rich in carotenoids – the disease-fighting antioxidants that give orange and red foods their colour – can help boost our absorption of these nutrients.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a carotenoid that research shows may reduce inflammation and cholesterol, and improve immune function.
Try it: Tuck into a tasty Greek salad drizzled with olive oil, or slow roast cherry tomatoes in olive oil for an hour for a delicious accompaniment to fish or meat.
Chicken thighs and sweet potatoes
Plate of roasted chicken, cherry tomatoes, carrot, slices of sweet potato and maize
Why: You’d be hard pushed to find a food that packs in more immune-boosting vitamin A than sweet potatoes. But absorbing it without enough zinc – found in rich supply in meats such as chicken thigh – is almost impossible.
“You need zinc to metabolise and carry vitamin A around the body,” explains Rob, “so you won’t be able to utilise all that A unless you have enough zinc to ensure it reaches where it’s most needed.”
Try it: Serve baked chicken thighs with baked sweet potato wedges or add some sweet potato to your chicken casseroles and stews.
Dairy foods are also rich in zinc so a sweet jacket potato topped with melted cheese would be a great way for vegetarians to enjoy the same powerful nutrient combination.
Blackberries and raspberries
Why: Not only do these berries taste great together, they also boost the uptake of the disease-fighting antioxidants contained in them.
One study in the Journal of Nutrition even found antioxidant ellagic acid, found in raspberries, enhanced the ability of quercetin from blackberries to kill off cancerous cells.
Try it: Add a handful of blackberries and raspberries to your morning yoghurt or porridge. Or you could stew them to make a delicious, healthy fruit crumble.
Porridge and blueberries
Why: Oats are a rich source of soluble fibre which can help lower cholesterol and prevent plaque building up in the arteries, while blueberries are packed with vitamin C making them a powerful superfood on their own.
However, research shows they may work even better together.
“A study conducted by Tufts University and published in the Journal of Nutrition found that when vitamin C was added to oat phytochemicals, it supercharged their cholesterol-lowering and artery-protective benefits,” explains Rob.
Try it: Now the weather is getting colder, start your morning routine with a warm bowl of porridge topped with a handful of blueberries.
Buying a frozen bag of berries and just using what you need each day works out far cheaper than buying them fresh. There’s no need to defrost them first – simply stir into the porridge as it cooks.
Steak and fresh herbs
Why : Kansas State University scientists found that the antioxidants in herbs, in particular rosemary, could limit the formation of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines, which are created when red meat is fried or barbecued at very high temperatures.
Try it: Leave steaks to marinade for at least an hour in a dressing made from fresh herbs, lemon juice and a little olive oil before throwing them on the grill.
“You could also make homemade burgers flavoured with fresh rosemary,” suggests Rob.
Turmeric and black pepper
Why : Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric – the super spice health experts are obsessing about that’s been shown to possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
“Unfortunately, it’s a nutrient that the body finds very hard to absorb,” says Rob. “However, throw in some piperane and you’ll instantly increase your uptake. Piperane is found in black pepper so it’s easy to source.”
Ground Black pepper
Try it : Tucking into regular curries will help, but unless you’re a real spice addict you will not get enough benefit. The best way to enjoy the optimum health kick from turmeric is by taking a daily supplement such as Healthspan Opti-turmeric (£15.95, from healthspan.co.uk )
Salad leaves with almonds or avocados
Fresh avocado salad with orange pulp and feta cheese
Why : Brightly coloured vegetables are rich in plant pigments known as phytochemicals that may help fight heart disease, eye cataracts and cancer.
However, they need to be eaten with a small amount of absorption-boosting monounsaturated fat, such as that found in nuts or avocados.
A study from Ohio State University found that the phytochemicals from a mixed green salad were absorbed up to three times more effectively when eaten with just one and a half teaspoons of fat-rich avocado, compared to when eating the leaves alone.
Try it : Add whole or sliced almonds and/or avocado slices to liven up a bowl of salad leaves.
Sprouts and butter
Why : These Christmas favourites are nutrition powerhouses – packed with goodness including high levels of vitamin K, which regulates blood clotting in our bodies and is important for bone health.
“Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it’s best absorbed in a meal that contains fat,” explains Rob.
“This is where the butter comes in – it also has the benefit of making Brussels sprouts a whole lot tastier, but don’t overdo it as butter can still be fattening in large amounts.”
Try it: Steam the sprouts and then melt over a teaspoon of butter. Throwing in some chopped chestnuts, which contain heart-healthy fats, will further enhance your nutrient absorption and boost the flavour of your meal.
Red pepper and kidney beans
Why: When eaten together, pepper and kidney beans help boost your body’s intake of energy-boosting iron from veggie sources.
Normally our bodies absorb around a third less of the iron type found in plant foods such as beans, leafy greens and fortified cereals, compared with the iron in red meat.
“However, you can significantly increase your absorption of this kind of plant-based iron by consuming it with a source of Vitamin C, such as tomatoes or red peppers,” explains Rob.
“The vitamin C works to turn the iron into a form that’s more easily absorbed by our bodies.”
Try it: Make a flavoursome chilli con carne: Add one chopped red pepper and a can of kidney beans to 500g of minced beef that’s been browned off (soya mince is an alternative) with one chopped onion, one chopped garlic clove, a teaspoon of chilli powder and half a teaspoon of cumin.
Toss in a tin of tomatoes and simmer for an hour. Serve with brown rice.
Milk and bananas
Why: Milk is a rich source of calcium – important for healthy bones, teeth and muscle function.
Research shows that combining foods rich in calcium with those rich in a type of healthy fibre known as inulin, found in bananas, onions and wheat, can increase the absorption of this mineral.
Try it: Blend together a glass of milk with a large ripe banana to create a delicious smoothie.
Broccoli and eggs
Omelete, tomatoes, and wheat crackers
Why: Research shows that when you add a food containing a reasonable amount of vitamin D to a calcium-rich food, you absorb about 60% more of the calcium.
“Broccoli along with other green leafy veg are one of the richest plant-based sources of calcium, while eggs are one of nature’s best sources of vitamin D – a nutrient that is hard to get from food alone,” says Rob.
Try it: Add green vegetables such as broccoli to a simple omelette. Chuck in some cheese for a further calcium boost.
Apples and dark chocolate
Why: When nibbled together, dark chocolate and apples have the potential to boost heart health. This is because apple skin contains the flavonoid quercetin, which acts like an anti-inflammatory in the body.
Meanwhile, the cocoa in dark chocolate is rich in catechins, an antioxidant that helps prevent the hardening of arteries.
“When paired, studies have revealed that they could help break up blood clots,” says Rob.
Try it: Dip apple slices into melted chocolate. You can use milk chocolate, but the darker variety contains up to six times more of the health-boosting catechins
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