16 Food combos to boost your health

Reader's Digest Editors 5 May 2021

Researchers are continually finding that certain foods deliver an even bigger health boost when consumed together. Make the most of these nutritious foods by teaming them up

PASTA & VINEGAR - Help prevent type-2 diabetes

Pasta types and vinegar

Make your pasta salad with a vinaigrette dressing. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which reduces the spike in blood sugar that occurs after consuming starchy foods high in carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, and bread. A steadier rise in blood sugar reduces hunger by keeping you feeling satiated, as well as helping to minimize the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Blood-sugar spikes are best avoided, so that your body isn’t secreting too much insulin in an attempt to manage them. Research in 2015 by the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Germany discovered that acetic acid activates the receptors that inhibit insulin secretion.

BEETS & EGGS - Maintain brain power

Beets and eggs

How about a lunch plate that includes pickled beets and sliced hard-boiled eggs? Choline is abundant in egg yolks (as well as in beef liver, chicken liver and veal liver); betaine is found in beets, spinach, and some grain products. A 2010 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found pairing these two nutrients was associated with lower blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid produced in the body. Elevated levels of homocysteine has been linked with declining cognitive function. The power combination may also protect against cancer, according to a review study by Nanjing Medical University in China in 2016, published in Scientific Reports.

FISH & WINEAbsorb more omega-3s

Oysters with wine

Italian researchers found that adults who consumed a glass of wine a day had higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish such as trout, salmon, herring, and sardines. (The same results were not found for beer or spirits.) The finding is from a 2008 study of 1,604 subjects from Belgium, Italy, and England between ages 25 and 65. Scientists believe that heart-healthy polyphenol antioxidants in wine might be responsible for improved omega-3 absorption. Omega-3 fatty acids are proven to reduce your risk of experiencing a major cardiac event.

GREEN BEANS & TOMATOES - Boost iron intake

Green beans and tomatoes

Iron is necessary for producing hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to muscles and the brain. Low levels of iron can lead to fatigue, fast heartbeat, headache, and more. Iron from food comes in two forms: heme (found in animal-based foods) and non-heme (found in plant foods such as green beans, edamame, leafy greens, and many others). But our bodies absorb far less non-heme iron than heme iron.

Consume those non-heme iron foods along with vitamin C, which is found in tomatoes, citrus fruit, sweet peppers, berries, etc. A Swiss study published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine reported that adding vitamin C to a meal rich in non-heme iron yielded an almost three-fold increase in our body’s ability to absorb the iron.

GREEN TEA & LEMON JUICE - Boost immunity and heart health

Green tea with lemon

Green tea has been shown to strengthen the immune system and, in animal studies, to reduce the growth rate of tumors. And the catechins found in green tea are powerful antioxidants that have a positive effect on cardiovascular health. There’s a way to further boost the power of those catechins, which are a type of antioxidant: add some citrus juice. According to a Purdue University report, adding a splash of juice from a lemon, lime, or grapefruit to green tea reduces the breakdown of its catechins in our digestive system, making them more readily absorbed.

SALMON & YOGURT - Build bone strength

Salmon and yogurt

Try mixing vitamin D-rich canned salmon with calcium-laden plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise the next time you make a salmon sandwich. Vitamin D’s best-known role is to keep bones healthy by increasing our intestines’ ability to absorb calcium. Without enough vitamin D, the body can absorb only up to 15 percent of dietary calcium, according to Harvard University research. But when vitamin D reserves are normal, we absorb between 30 and 40 percent of dietary calcium. You can get vitamin D in three ways: through your skin from sunlight; from foods including salmon, tuna, and mackerel; and from a supplement.

TOFU & JALAPENOS - Reduce inflammation, body fat

Tofu

Lab research done back in 2009 in South Korea discovered that genistein (an isoflavone with antioxidants properties that’s found in soy foods such as edamame and tofu) plus capsaicin (an antioxidant that gives chili peppers and jalapeno peppers their fiery kick) helps tame inflammation. Chronic inflammation in the body is known to be a risk factor for heart disease and cancer. And in 2019, Indian researchers at the Central Food Technological Research Institute found that combining capsaicin with genistein helps increase our body’s ability to digest fat. Spicy tofu stew, anyone?

BROCCOLI & RADISH - May help prevent cancer

Broccoli, radish

Adding a little peppery kick to your broccoli with some sliced radishes can maximize its antioxidant firepower. A 2018 Chinese study published in Food Science and Biotechnology stated that the addition of radish, arugula, and rapeseed sprouts to broccoli sprouts could promote the formation of sulforaphane, broccoli’s signature antioxidant. Foods including radishes possess the enzyme myrosinase, which works to improve the formation of sulforaphane and its absorption rate into the blood. Research suggests that sulforaphane has strong anti-cancer power, particularly by preventing the expansion of cancer cells in the body.

BANANAS & WATER - Faster post-workout recovery

bananas in water

A 2018 study by Appalachian State University in North Carolina, published in the journal PLOS ONE, shows that consuming both water and bananas is just as, or more, effective than a sports drink for exercise recovery. Bananas mimic ibuprofen in reducing pain and inflammation—thanks to boosting serotonin and dopamine levels—while the water rehydrates the body.

ONIONS & CHICKPEAS - Give you more energy

Onions and chickpeas

Any dish made with chickpeas is tastier with onions, but the combination is also good for you: According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, sulfur compounds in onions, garlic, and leeks can help you absorb more iron and zinc from grains and legumes, including chickpeas. Iron is involved in the transport of oxygen in the body, so an iron deficiency can cause fatigue and “brain fog.” And as for zinc, a large body of research shows it’s effective in fighting the common cold. For example, a 2017 review study by the University of Helsinki in Finland found that the duration of cold symptoms were reduced by one third for those who took zinc.

VEGETABLES & OLIVE OIL - Increase antioxidants

Olive oil on salad

If you normally sautée vegetables in butter, consider switching to olive oil. Research from the University of Barcelona, published in Molecules in 2019, showed that when cooking onions, garlic, and tomatoes in olive oil, the oil acts as a vehicle that boosts the bioavailability of the vegetables’ components. In other words, heating this combination of ingredients, known as “sofrito” in some Mediterranean cooking, was shown to allow more of the vegetables’ polyphenols (which are antioxidants) into circulation in our body.

BUCKWHEAT NOODLES & BROCCOLI - Help protect skin

Broccoli and noodles

Rutin is a bioflavonoid, or pigment, that’s found in buckwheat, a whole grain used to make some flours and noodles (it’s also in apple skin, figs, green tea, and more). And vitamin C is, of course, found in many fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, citrus fruit, and tomatoes. A 2019 Polish lab study found that the combined antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of rutin and vitamin C can protect skin cells from the effects of UV radiation from sunlight. A bowl of soba noodles (Japanese noodles made with buckwheat) plus vitamin-C-packed vegetables makes a healthy meal.

CHICKEN & GRAPEFRUIT - Boost energy

Chicken grilled

Poultry, beef, pork, and fish are all top dietary sources of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This power source for our body’s cells plays a vital role in the production of the energy we use for everything from digesting food to running on a treadmill. CoQ10 may also help control blood pressure in those with hypertension. A 2010 Japanese study discovered that eating grapefruit allows up to 50 percent higher cellular absorption of CoQ10. Chicken roasted with sliced grapefruit, onions, and other vegetables makes for a delicious family meal. But beware of eating grapefruit if you are taking certain medications—statins is one example, but talk to your doctor—as it can cause some medications to pass into your bloodstream too quickly, which could be dangerous.

KALE & WALNUTS - Safeguard eye health

Kale and walnuts salad

Kale, as well as other leafy greens, contains a lot of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants that may protect against cataracts and macular degeneration, both leading causes of blindness. These antioxidants are deposited in the retina, where they reduce sunlight damage. You can bolster absorption of them by consuming dark leafy greens with foods containing healthy fats, such as nuts, avocadoes and olive oil. And, an animal study in 2011 showed that lutein and zeaxanthin may also reduce the effects of “bad” LDL cholesterol, thus decreasing plaque build-up in your arteries and reducing your risk of heart disease. Enjoying kale sauteed in avocado oil or sprinkled with walnuts is a winner.

PORK & MANGO - Strengthen bones

A stir-fry that includes sliced pork and mangoes is more than just delicious. The beta-carotene in orange-colored fruits and vegetables (e.g., mangoes, carrots, sweet potatoes) is converted into vitamin A in your body. In addition to its role in bone growth, this vitamin is good for maintaining the health of your skin, eyes, and immune system. But you need zinc to get the optimum benefits of vitamin A; it is necessary to make retinol-binding protein that transports vitamin A throughout your body. You’ll find zinc in pork, poultry, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, oysters, and wheat germ.

KEFIR & ALMONDS - Improve gut bacteria

Kefir and almonds

The results of a 2016 randomized, controlled British study, published in Nutrition Research, showed that consuming almonds changed levels of gut bacteria in participants: Almond skin and almonds helped healthy bacteria in the gut (probiotics) flourish. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi. Helping healthy bacteria thrive is important because once they multiply, they can outnumber illness-causing bacteria and bolster immunity. Almond muesli with kefir for breakfast? That’s powerful stuff.


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