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Nutrients: Power Couples

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Some foods work better when they’re eaten together, writes Karen Fittall. Try these pairings to absorb more nutrients and avoid common health issues.

PAIR: YOGHURT AND HONEY
TO: KEEP YOUR BONES STRONG.

When you eat honey alongside a serve of yoghurt, you’ll absorb up to 33 per cent more of the dairy food’s calcium. Researchers say honey contains a unique combination of carbohydrates, including glucose and one called raffinose, which may alter the large intestine’s population of gut microflora to make it more efficient at absorbing calcium.

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PAIR: EGGS AND SPINACH
TO: HELP MAINTAIN YOUR EYE SIGHT.

Egg yolks and spinach are both rich sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that play a key role in protecting the health of the eye’s macula. But when you eat them together, you’ll absorb up to eight times the amount of the spinach’s carotenoids.

Because carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients, they’re much more easily absorbed when they’re digested at the same time as a healthy fat, like the unsaturated fatty acids eggs contain.

When you eat brown rice and onion, you’ll absorb up to 50 per cent more of the rice’s zinc as a result.

PAIR: TOFU AND RED CAPSICUM
TO: LOWER YOUR RISK OF HEART ATTACK

The tofu delivers a hit of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that can mimic the action of oestrogen, and the capsicum is a rich source of vitamin C. On their own, phytoestrogens inhibit the oxidation of LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, but the effect is significantly greater when they’re eaten with a source of vitamin C. That’s good news for your cardiovascular health, because when LDL becomes oxidised it contributes to the hardening of the arteries, one of the biggest risk factors for heart attack.

PAIR: ONION AND BROWN RICE
TO: IMPROVE YOUR IMMUNITY

Brown rice is a good plant source of zinc, a nutrient that’s essential for a healthy immune system, while onions contain compounds called organosulfurs. On their own, organosulfurs have been shown to help prevent cancer, but they also make a couple of the nutrients that brown rice is rich in, including zinc, more ‘available’ to your digestive system. When you eat brown rice and onion together, you’ll absorb up to 50 per cent more of the rice’s zinc as a result.

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PAIR: SARDINES AND COOKED TOMATOES
TO: LOWER YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE

Sardines and cooked tomatoes each contain different types of hearthealthy nutrients – omega-3 fatty acids from the fish, and the antioxidant lycopene, in cooked tomatoes. But eat them together and the protective effect for your heart is bigger.

Women who drank tomato juice in combination with omega-3s for two weeks as part of a study had lower levels of cardiovascular disease markers than the women who drank the juice on its own. Why? One explanation is the omega-3 fatty acids make the lycopene more digestible.

Due to vitamin C’s acidity, it triples the amount of iron from the chickpeas that your body can absorb.

PAIR: LEMON JUICE AND CHICKPEAS
TO: FIGHT FATIGUE

Chickpeas are a rich source of fatigue-fighting iron. They contain the same amount of iron per 100g as lamb, but it’s a variety called non-haem iron, which is harder to absorb than the type of iron that meat contains.

The solution? Pair it with a source of vitamin C – such as lemon juice. Thanks to a chemical reaction that occurs due to vitamin C’s acidity, it triples the amount of iron from the chickpeas that your body can absorb.

PAIR: APPLES AND DARK CHOCOLATE
TO: LOWER YOUR STROKE RISK

Apples contain quercetin and dark chocolate is a rich source of catechins – both powerful antioxidants on their own, but together they’ve been found to prevent platelets in our blood from clumping. This synergistic effect, also seen in red wine, is beneficial for our cardiovascular health because when platelets stick together they can form a clot, increasing our risk of a stroke.

Marinating lamb with rosemary can reduce the formation of HCAs by more than 90 per cent.

PAIR: AVOCADO AND CARROT
TO: BOOST YOUR VITAMIN A LEVELS

Put these two foods together and you’ll absorb up to six times the carrot’s betacarotene, which your body converts into vitamin A – essential for healthy skin, vision and a robust immune system. Why does avocado help? Beta-carotene is another fat-soluble nutrient, so your body can ‘use’ it better when it’s eaten with a food that’s a source of healthy fat, like avocado.

PAIR: CURRY AND BLACK PEPPER
TO: PROTECT AGAINST DIABETES

If the curry contains turmeric, it’ll deliver a healthy dose of curcumin. That’s an antioxidant that can reduce your body’s post-meal insulin response by up to 20 per cent, helping to lower your long-term diabetes risk. But curcumin isn’t very well absorbed or utilised by the body. The fix? A few grinds of black pepper. It contains piperine, a compound that increases curcumin’s ‘accessibility’ by as much as 2000 per cent.

PAIR: RED MEAT AND ROSEMARY
TO: PROTECT AGAINST CANCER

Red meat is a good source of nutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin B12, and if it’s grass-fed, omega-3 fatty acids. But, when it’s cooked at high temperatures, like on a barbecue, cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amino acids (HCAs) can form. Marinating lamb with rosemary can reduce the formation of HCAs by more than 90 per cent.

It’s because rosemary contains at least three different compounds that physically block HCAs from forming as the meat is cooking.

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