The Power Couples of Food

happy food pair image via Man/Beer Love


It’s not that you are what you eat so much as you are what you digest.
There’s synergy in the foods we eat. The more we learn about that synergy, the more we understand that the sum of what we eat is not just the total of our individual food choices. One plus one does not equal two when it comes to health, well-being, and nutrition.

Food Pairing is the name of this game.
Guacamole with salsa, tomatoes cooked in olive oil, tea with lemon; some foods taste better when they’re eaten together. In the same way, certain foods eaten in combination can make the sum of the meal healthier than the individual ingredients.

Taste can even unwittingly be a factor. It seems that nature has arranged things so that many of our favorite complementary flavors are also the most powerful food pairings. Guacamole’s fatty acids make you absorb five times more of the healthy beta-carotene and lycopene found in salsa; olive oil helps the body absorb 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. When’s the last time a nutritionist has shared that bit of good news? Other natural affinities that happen to be good-for-you pairings include sushi, where the vinegar in the rice neutralizes 35% of the glycemic impact of the carbs in the rice, so you’ll feel fuller longer without the spike and plummet of your blood sugar levels; and hot dogs with sauerkraut. Fermented vegetables, like the cabbage in sauerkraut, improve the absorption of animal proteins and bolster digestion-friendly probiotics in your body that help build up your immune system.

Here are some other high-impact food pairings:

  • 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.

Get more mileage out your food. Elaine McGee, author of Food Synergy, teaches power food strategies in Web MD’s Top 10 Food Synergy Super Foods.

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