Combining these foods maximizes their nutritional benefits; two are stronger than one!
Zinc is vitamin A’s right hand man. Vitamin A, the antioxidant found in sweet potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe that boosts immunity, improves vision and gives your skin that glow, requires zinc for its absorption, transport and utilization. What’s more, zinc, which is high in meat, eggs, seafood and seeds, is needed to convert retinol to retinal, a key molecule for vision. If you’re not getting enough of either, it could mess with your dark adaptation, your eyes’ ability to adjust to the dark.
Eat this with that: At Thanksgiving, make mashed sweet potatoes to serve with the roasted bird. The rest of the year, try adding sweet potato to turkey chili. For other zinc and vitamin A pairings, try eggs with spinach, roasted pumpkin topped with pumpkin seeds, or stir-fry beef, carrot and broccoli and top with sesame seeds.
Chomping on naked veggies? Sure, crunching carrots sticks, celery and red bell pepper strips will give you plenty of fiber, but to get the most vitamin bang out of your crisper, invite healthy fats to the party. A study by Iowa State University found that beneficial carotenoids are better absorbed from salads with full-fat dressings rather than the low-fat stuff, while researchers from Purdue University found that adding an egg to salads resulted in the absorption of three to nine times more carotenoids.
Eat this with that: Some easy ways to get a healthy fat and carotenoid combo: top spinach salad with avocado, Boston lettuce with toasted almonds, and pair crudité with tahini pesto dip.
Between beans, grains and leafy greens, you may think you’re eating oodles of iron (on paper), but there’s a reason the recommended dietary allowance for vegetarians is almost double that of meat eaters. That’s because heme iron (meat sources) is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme (plant sources). The solution: More vitamin C. “Vitamin C transforms non-heme iron into a well-absorbed form and prevents the impact of nutrients that can inhibit iron absorption,” says Tara Coleman, CN, a clinical nutritionist in San Diego. In one study, eating vitamin C improved iron absorption by 35%.
Eat this with that: Add sliced strawberries to spinach salad. For other non-heme iron and vitamin C combinations, try adding a squeeze of citrus to sautéed greens, or pair red bell peppers with black beans in tacos.
There’s a lot to love about calcium. The essential mineral is key for healthy teeth and bones as well as muscle and nerve function—and foods containing the fiber inulin, can increase its absorption. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that young adults who regularly consume inulin had better calcium absorption and bone mineral mass. Bonus: Inulin, found in onions, artichokes, bananas and wheat, also acts as a prebiotic to balance the “good” bacteria in your digestive system.
Eat this with that: Top your breakfast bowl of Greek yogurt with slices of banana. For other calcium-and-inulin combinations, pair string cheese and jicama, top sprouted wheat bread with tuna, or sauté broccoli with onions and garlic.
If you’re drinking green tea for the benefits—it’s packed with good-for-you antioxidants called catechins that can fight disease and fire up your metabolism—but don’t love the bitter taste, we have good news: a spritz of citrus can offset the mouth pucker and up the antioxidants. A study in Molecular Nutrition & Food by Purdue University researchers found that adding citrus juice to green tea increases the body’s ability to absorb the tea’s antioxidants by more than five times.
Eat this with that: If you like adding a squeeze of lemon to hot green tea, try adding lime to iced green tea. For a more substantial combination of antioxidants and vitamin C, whirl together a matcha mango smoothie.
Related: 10 Instant Mood-Boosting Foods
Permission to eat chocolate fondue, granted! That’s because when you pair quercetin (an antioxidant found in red apples, grapes, onions, garlic and parsley) and catechins (an antioxidant found in red wine, dark chocolate and berries), they can further help prevent heart disease. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found pairing these foods may inhibit blood clots and boost heart health. Plus they’re pretty great on their own: Quercetin can relieve allergy symptoms and protect against cancer, while catechins can reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Eat this with that: More quercetin and catechins combinations: Red wine sangria made with apples and berries, bruschetta plus red wine and chicken salad with grapes, apples and shallots.
You already know that whole grains like oatmeal and fruits like strawberries and blueberries are stockpiled with phytochemicals to fight inflammation and disease, but they may work ever better together. A study by Tufts University researchers found that when vitamin C was added to oat phytochemicals, the amount of time LDL was protected from oxidation increased from 137 to 216 minutes. On the flipside, eating dietary fiber with your fruit will lessen the blood sugar spike and keep you full longer, adds Coleman.
Eat this with that: Oatbran blueberry muffins, raspberry smoothie with oats and yogurt parfait with granola and sliced strawberries.
Related: Exactly What You Should Eat In A Day To Reduce Your Risk Of Cancer
The article 8 Foods You Should Always Eat Together originally appeared on Rodale’s Organic Life.