Guacamole with salsa, tomatoes with olive oil, tea with lemon: they’re the power couples of food.
They taste better when they’re eaten together, and they’re also better for you. One plus one does not always equal two when it comes to food pairings—certain foods eaten in combination can make the sum of a meal healthier than the individual ingredients. The fatty acids in guacamole make you absorb five times more of the healthy beta-carotene and lycopene found in salsa; olive oil pulls key carotenoids from the tomato skins; and the vitamin C in lemons increases the absorption of tea’s natural antioxidants.
Ceasar salad is another naturally synergistic combination. Olive oil and a bit of cheese boost the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients found in romaine lettuce—and it has to be a full fat dressing to work (how’s that for good news?!). Sushi is a good-for-you pairing because the vinegar used in the rice neutralizes much of the glycemic impact of the carbs; you’ll feel fuller longer without the spike and plummet of your blood sugar levels. And sauerkraut has a natural affinity for hot dogs where it improve the absorption of animal proteins and bolsters digestion-friendly probiotics.
It’s no coincidence that those foods taste so good together.
It seems that nature has arranged things so that many of our favorite complementary flavors are also the best for us. As subjective as taste can be, food scientists and science-minded chefs know that when foods are compatible on the plate, there’s chemical compatibility at a molecular level, and that synergy can translate to higher quality nutrition.
Here are some other high-impact food pairings that we crave naturally:
- Rosemary + Steak: The acids in rosemary prevent the formation of carcinogens on grilled meats.
- Eggs + Cheese: The vitamin D in eggs optimizes the absorption of calcium from the cheese.
- Beer + Nuts: A beer or two plus a handful of nuts can reduce your risk of heart attack.
- Spinach + Lemon: You’ll absorb six times as much iron from the spinach.
- Garbanzos + Beet Greens: The vitamins in the beans maximize magnesium absorption from the greens, and we could all use a little extra magnesium; the mineral is responsible for modulating anxiety levels, and nearly three-quarters of us are depleted.
- Orange Juice + Oatmeal: The real breakfast of champions, the combination doubles the artery-cleansing powers of either on its own.
You’ll find more power food strategies in Web MD’s Top 10 Food Synergy Super Foods.