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Any nutritional and/or health authority constantly stresses on the importance of having a “balanced diet”, and with good reason. We can’t get all the nutrients we need from just one type of food. Consuming as wide a range of nutrients as possible creates a ‘food synergy’, where they work together to enhance the nutritive value of our meals.

Here’s a list of food pairings that are especially healthy when consumed together.

1] Mushroom & Broccoli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why

Many have heard of the significant roles that vitamin D and calcium play when it comes to bone health. However, there’s another vitamin that doesn’t get the attention it deserves: vitamin K.

While our body needs vitamin D in order to effectively absorb calcium, certain proteins require vitamin K in order to embed the calcium in our bones. Otherwise, the calcium can be sent to parts of the body where it is not only unneeded, but, in fact, can cause damage. When calcium is deposited in soft tissue like blood vessels, organs and joints, it hardens the tissue, leading to problems like blockages.1, 2

Consuming broccoli, which is a good source of vitamin K, will work together with the vitamin D content of mushrooms, for better bone health.

It’s important to note that menopausal women should be particularly careful about their bone health, because bone problems are common when oestrogen, the female hormone that is essential for healthy bones, begins to decline.3

Other sources

Vitamin D: Although sunlight is the best source, small amounts of vitamin D (especially D3) are also found in cheese, egg yolks, fatty fish and beef liver, apart from mushrooms.

Vitamin K: All green leafy vegetables are great sources of vitamin K. Cereals, fermented foods, eggs, meats and fish also contain vitamin K, but in smaller amounts.

 

2] Oranges & Almonds

 

Why

A breakfast that includes both oranges and almonds helps our body protect itself from the damage caused by free radicals; that’s because the oranges’ vitamin C and the almonds’ vitamin E make up our body’s natural antioxidant system, which neutralises free radicals.

Our cell’s membranes are made up of layers of fat, while the inside of cells and the spaces between them are predominantly made up of water. Since vitamin C is soluble in water and vitamin E is fat-soluble, together, they keep free radicals from damaging our cells both inside and out.

The fact that they work in different ways means that they are more effective in promoting skin health as well as our general health when they’re together.5,6

Other sources

Vitamin C: papayas, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, oranges, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower

Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, avocados, peanuts, turnip greens, asparagus, beet greens and mustard greens

 

3] Spinach and Bell Peppers

 

Why

Our body needs iron for the development of normal red blood cells and for healthy immune function. In India, iron deficiency is a major issue, with many people suffering from anemia.7

Making sure that we get plenty of iron from our food is, naturally, important. While non-vegetarians can turn to meat as a rich source of iron, there’s something vegetarians should know –

The form of iron that’s found in meat is much easier for our body to absorb, as compared to the one found in vegetarian sources like vegetables and legumes. But, vitamin C can break down the iron found in vegetarian sources into a readily absorbable form, giving us twice the iron content we would otherwise!

So the next time you’re adding iron-rich dark leafy greens like spinach to a salad, don’t forget to throw in some vitamin C rich sources like bell peppers as well.

Other sources

Iron: red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, dark leafy vegetables (like spinach), dried fruits (like raisins and apricots), peas

Vitamin C: papayas, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, oranges, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower

 

4] Dal and Rice

 

Why

This classic Indian pairing is actually an example of the way civilisations across the world have intuitively combined grains with pulses. The reason? The synergy of proteins.9,10

A high quality source of protein is one that gives us all the amino acids (building blocks of protein) that we need (and cannot make) in the right quantities – and is often missed in vegetarian diets.

The best solution is to combine two different sources of amino acids, such as legumes (like dal) and grains (like rice), each of which offers an amino acid that’s lacking in the other.

Legumes provide an amino acid called lysine, which is deficient in many grains. Grains offer cysteine and methionine, two amino acids which (as you may have guessed) are missing in legumes. Together, these two food sources provide us with all the nine ‘essential’ (must be derived from food because we can’t make them) amino acids we need.

Having said that, this pairing also gives us a high amount of carbs (quantities of which often need to be controlled), so we should look to other sources of protein as well. Also, while the rest of the nutrients in this list are best consumed together in order to reach maximum efficacy, it’s completely alright if this combination is spread across the day (example: grains for lunch and legumes with dinner).

Other sources

Legumes: peas, beans, soybeans, peanuts, tamarind, clover

Grains: rotis, bread, pasta, oats

 

5] Spinach and Cheese

 

Why

Anyone who has difficulty falling asleep (which is quite a large number of people) knows how much insufficient sleep affects our daily life.

And, although it could seem wholly unrelated to the food we eat, our sleep quality is closely associated with nutrition.

Our body needs magnesium for about 600 reactions to occur internally, including the secretion of the hormone that makes us fall asleep and regulates our sleep cycle, called melatonin.11,12

Taurine is an amino acid that helps our body absorb magnesium better, which also explains why several magnesium supplements are found in the form of magnesium taurate (which is basically magnesium that’s bound to taurine).13

When it comes to our food, eating a food that contains taurine like cheese would work well with a magnesium-rich food like spinach.

Other sources

Magnesium: fish (halibut and mackerel), dark leafy greens (like spinach), almonds, cocoa, cashews

Taurine: shellfish, fish, meat, eggs, dairy, seaweed

 

Additional Tips

1] Consuming good fats (like olive oil) along with vegetables helps our body absorb both their protective compounds called phytochemicals and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, E, D and K.14

2] Many phytochemicals seem to work more effectively when consumed together, so the more colourful the salad, the better.15,16

3] Piperine, a compound in black pepper, increases the absorption of nutrients from our food; simply adding this to our dishes can help manage mineral/vitamin deficiencies.17

These pairings are only a few examples among many; the more we delve into the fascinating world of nutrition, the clearer the need for a well-balanced diet becomes.

For those planning to start eating healthier for whatever reason – looking better, feeling better or even overcoming a health issue – trying out these food combinations can make for a great first step towards a healthier lifestyle.

References:

 

1.         Schurgers LJ, et al. Blood 2007, 109(8): 3279-3283.

2.         Shearer MJ, et al. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal 2012, 3(2): 182-195.

3.         Hugueniot O. Women’s Health Medicine 2004, 1(1): 1-3.

4.         Briganti S, et al. Pigment Cell Res 2003, 16(2): 101-110.

5.         Quevedo WC, Jr., et al. Pigment Cell Res 2000, 13(2): 89-98.

6.         Salonen RM, et al. Circulation 2003, 107(7): 947-953.

7.         Anand T, et al. Nutrition30(7): 764-770.

8.         Hallberg L, et al. Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl 1989, 30: 103-108.

9.         Jacobs DR, Steffen LM. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003, 78(3): 508S-513S.

10.       Young VR, Pellett PL. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1994, 59(5): 1203S-1212S.

11.       Peuhkuri K, et al. Nutrition Research 2012, 32(5): 309-319.

12.       de Baaij JH, et al. Physiol Rev 2015, 95(1): 1-46.

13.       Yamori Y, et al. Journal of Biomedical Science 2010, 17(Suppl 1): S6-S6.

14.       Unlu NZ, et al. The Journal of Nutrition 2005, 135(3): 431-436.

15.       Pignatelli P, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2000, 72(5): 1150-1155.

16.       Canene-Adams K, et al. Cancer research 2007, 67(2): 836-843.

17.       Meghwal M, Goswami TK. Phytother Res 2013, 27(8): 1121-1130.

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