Dynamic Duos: Food Pairings for Better Health

“Spinach…it’s loaded with iron. Unfortunately, most of it is unavailable—unless you eat your spinach with a high-vitamin-C food like an orange. ”

Superheroes almost always have a sidekick for double the fighting power. And the same is true of certain foods. Consumed on their own they are nutritional powerhouses, pair them up and they are an even greater force for good health. Let’s take a look.

Eggs and Veggies

Eat eggs and veggies together and you’ll absorb more carotenoids from the vegetables according to a small recent study,  in which researchers found that adding cooked egg to a salad of romaine lettuce, baby spinach, tomatoes, shredded carrot, and goji berry increased the absorption of carotenoids significantly. 

Why do we care about carotenoids, which include the nutrients alpha- and beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin? Several studies suggest that people who eat a lot of carotenoid-rich vegetables and fruits (carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, kale, cantaloupe, tomatoes and watermelon) have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, though researchers are still working to determine if carotenoids specifically are responsible for the protective effect.

Also, scientific evidence suggests that eating foods rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in people over 50. 

In the kitchen: Add chopped hard-boiled egg to salad or chopped veggies to your omelette. “Our study only looked at cooked egg and raw vegetables, so we need to be cautious in our conclusions, but we believe adding vegetables to an omelette or a baked egg dish would have similar results,” says study researcher Jung Eun Kim, Ph.D., R.D.

Salad and Vinaigrette

Pump up the nutritive power of your salad with a canola oil-based dressing.

Several studies indicate that eating fat with veggies increases absorption of certain nutrients but researchers at Purdue wanted to find out what type and amount of fat was best, so they conducted a study in which they asked people to eat salads tossed with different dressings made with saturated fat (butter), polyunsaturated fat (corn oil), and monounsaturated fat (canola oil). All three dressings boosted carotenoid absorption from the veggies, and the higher the fat content the better--except for the dressing made with monounsaturated fat, which boosted carotenoids equally when made with 3 grams of canola oil or 20.

In the kitchen: Toss together dark greens, tomatoes, and carrots or other carotenoid-rich veggies and/or fruits (watermelon or cantaloupe are a refreshing alternative to tomatoes in a summer salad) and dress with canola oil-based vinaigrette.

Avocados and Carrots

Carrots are one of the best food sources of beta-carotene, which your body transforms into vitamin A--important for healthy skin, bones and muscles, and good vision, especially in low light. Avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats. Combine these two foods, and you’ll absorb more beta-carotene from the carrots and convert more of it to vitamin A, suggests a study published last year in The Journal of Nutrition.

In the kitchen: For a healthy snack or appetiser, prepare your favourite guacamole recipe and serve with baby carrots or carrot sticks—no, chips, please. Reminder: guacamole is high in kilojoules, so pay attention to portion control.

Spinach and Oranges

Ah, spinach…it’s loaded with iron. Unfortunately, it’s less easily absorbed —unless you eat your spinach with a high-vitamin-C food like an orange. Your body can’t absorb iron from plant foods as well as it can iron from meats, but vitamin C—abundant in citrus fruits—links up with iron and escorts it into your body, making it available for your good health. Beans and lentils are also rich in iron. Consider pairing them with high-C foods, too, including citrus fruits, broccoli, green and red chillies and tomatoes.

In the kitchen: Toss orange slices into a spinach salad. Squeeze a little lemon juice over cooked spinach.  Use spinach in tomato-based sauces or combine with red capsicums, which are also good sources of vitamin C.

Experiment with your recipes, play around with these food pairings in your cooking, and enjoy them in good health.