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They’ve got great chemistry: food pairings with benefits

Many of us have little health niggles. Perhaps we’re low on energy or our nails keep breaking. So, it’s important to understand how our bodies work and choose combinations of foods that aren’t just tasty, but work together to give us maximum nutritional benefits.  Our body’s ability to absorb nutrients is known as bioavailability and this can be improved by eating certain foods together. Read on for a few examples of great food chemistry.

Egg and cheese

We need calcium for strong bones and teeth, but we also need vitamin D as it helps our body absorb calcium from our gut. To improve calcium absorption, pair foods containing vitamin D, such as salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms, with calcium-rich foods including dairy, sesame seeds and chickpeas. 

Recipe ideas:

  • An omelette with mushrooms and cheese.
  • Smoked salmon carbonara.
  • Falafel-stuffed mushrooms with tahini sauce.
Spinach and lemon

A lack of iron can lead to iron-deficiency, anemia and symptoms such as tiredness and pale skin. Vegans and vegetarians need to make sure they’re getting enough iron in their diet as iron from plant-based sources (known as non-heme iron) is harder for the body to absorb than the iron found in meat (heme iron). However, plant-based iron, such as leafy green vegetables, lentils, chickpeas and beans, can be absorbed more easily when you consume them with food or drink rich in vitamin C1. Citrus fruit, berries, red pepper & broccoli are great sources of vitamin C.

Recipe ideas:

  • A green leafy salad with pomegranate seeds, orange segments or a citrus dressing.
  • A chickpea and red pepper salad.
  • Lentil and orange soup.
Turmeric, oil and black pepper

Curcumin is one of the active compounds found in turmeric. It’s a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that can provide a number of health benefits. Turmeric alone is not absorbed well by our bodies, but if it’s combined with an enhancing agent such as oil or black pepper, we’re able to increase absorption. Combining turmeric with oil is great as it’s fat-soluble, meaning it dissolves well in oily fats, and is better absorbed by our gut. Pairing turmeric with black pepper is also effective because it contains the compound piperine which improves absorption2

Recipe ideas:

  • Add to any curry, scrambled eggs or scrambled tofu.
  • Use as a rub on a roasted cauliflower.
  • Make a turmeric latte with a grind of black pepper.
Tomatoes and olive oil

Lycopene is an antioxidant that is said to benefit heart health3. It gives red and pink fruits such as tomatoes, guava, watermelon and papaya their rosy hues. Our body is more likely to absorb lycopene when it’s combined with a fat, such as oil or cheese. 

Recipe ideas: 

  • Add a little oil dressing to a tomato salad.
  • Feta cheese with sliced watermelon.
  • Papaya, watermelon and mango fruit salad with greek yogurt.
Watercress and seeds

As fruits and vegetables are generally low in fats, it’s useful to combine them with ‘good fats’ such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, meat or dairy. This is because the essential vitamins found in fruit and vegetables, like vitamins A, D, E and K, are fat-soluble. So, in order to increase the chances of absorbing these vitamins in our body, we should pair our five-a-day with a small amount of good fat. 

Recipe ideas: 

  • Salad with grated carrot (vitamin A), peanuts and yogurt (fat.
  • Watercress salad (vitamins A, E and K) with avocado and mixed seeds (fat).
  • Broccoli (vitamin K) and walnut (fat) pasta dish.

1 Iron and Health (2010) Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

2 Curcumin: A review of its effects on human health (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/

3 Carotenoids and cardiovascular health (2006).

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