Hard boiled egg + salad
Out of all the numerous topping options at the salad bar, pick up a hard boiled egg. The fat in the egg yolk helps your body best absorb carotenoids, disease-busting antioxidants found in veggies, according to 2015 research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Count it as one more reason you should definitely eat the yolks.
Fries + veggies
You don’t want to have to choose between the steamed veggie or fries as a side. Why not get them both? Pairing a nutritious and less-nutritious food choice (officially called a ‘vice-virtue bundle’) can help you stick to your health goals, suggests research in the journal Management Science. One tip to balance the calories—keep your portion of fries/dessert/onion rings small or medium, suggest researchers. If you can order only one size and it’s jumbo, ask for half to be packed upie immediately in a to-go box—or portion out half the plate for a companion. The researchers found that people didn’t actually want to eat enormous piles of treats anyway.
Marinade + steak
Grilling is a quick and healthy way to get dinner on the table, no doubt. However, cooking meat at high temps (a la grilling) creates potentially cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). The delicious solution: marinate your meat. Especially when you use certain herbs and spices in your marinade, including rosemary, it can reduce HCAs by up to 88 percent, according to a study from Kansas State University.
Olive oil + kale
Even though the buzz around heart-healthy fats like olive oil is good, you may still be trying to cut down on oil in an effort to save calories. But it’s time to start sauteeing your veggies again. ‘Vegetables have many fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K, which means they need fat to be absorbed,’ explains culinary nutrition expert and healthy living blogger Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, of Nutritioulicious. In addition to kale, make sure you cook carrots, sweet potatoes, and broccoli with a little fat too.
Almonds + yogurt
Vitamin D is credited with so many health benefits, including boosting your bones, mood, and immune function. Many yogurts supply one-quarter your daily need for D per cup. To make the most of it though, toss some slivered almonds on top before digging in—especially if you’re eating non- or low-fat yogurt. The fat in the nuts helps raise the levels of D found in your blood 32 percent more compared to having no fat at all, reveals research in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Sardines + spinach
The fatty fish is abundant in vitamin D, while spinach offers magnesium. In 2013 research, magnesium was shown to interact with the vitamin to boost levels of D in your body. Long-term, this may even help reduce risk of heart disease and colon cancer.
Turmeric + black pepper
You’ve no doubt heard the buzz around the anti-cancer properties of curcumin, the molecule in turmeric that gives the spice its yellow hue. Problem is, it can be difficult for your body to absorb and truly reap the benefits. Combining turmeric with black pepper—which isn’t hard to do in cooking—is a great way to up your body’s ability to use it by 2,000 percent, research shows.
Avocado + toast
If you’re participating in ‘Toast Tuesdays,’ you might have tried the much-obsessed over avocado toast. And it is delicious, FYI. The foods are a perfect match not just for their taste but because the fat from the avocado will slow the rate at which carbs are broken down, absorbed, and converted into sugar, points out Levinson. It’s simple: just spread avocado on whole grain toast and top with some sea salt and pepper (and even lemon juice or hot sauce) and you’re good to go. Add a fried egg for an extra protein boost.
Tomato sauce + spinach
Might as well pack more veggies into the sauce, right? Spinach contains iron, something you may need more of if you’re not eating meat (which is the most abundant source of the mineral). The catch? Iron is not easily absorbed from plant sources, so to tip the scales in your favor, you need to eat these plants with a source of vitamin C, according to Levinson. In this case, tomatoes provide the kick of vitamin C you need to best absorb your spinach. Try her recipe for tomato sauce with spinach, or opt for these other power duos: spinach salad with strawberries, beans and bell peppers, or tofu and broccoli.
Brown rice + lentils
If you’re vegetarian, you may have heard that you should eat certain foods together to ensure you’re getting a complete protein. It’s actually more important that you get a variety of plant proteins throughout the day rather than in one specific meal, says Levinson. Still, some combos are classics for a reason—together, they form a complete protein. Try a brown rice and lentil bowl, beans wrapped in corn tortillas, or nut butter slathered on whole grain bread.
Salmon + leafy greens
Greens to the rescue once more! Vitamin D and calcium are typically found together in dairy, and for good reason: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, both of which are critical for bone health, points out Levinson. But if you don’t eat milk or yogurt, what do you do? Buy salmon and eat it atop a bed of cooked greens of your choice (sauteeing them cooks them down, making it easier to eat a bigger serving).
Brown rice + garlic + onion
Here’s a reason to make a stir-fry tonight: Garlic and onion help increase the availability of iron and zinc in whole grains, according to Levinson. You can thank the sulfur-containing compounds within the stinky alliums (garlic and onion) for the mineral boost, say researchers.
Carbonation + water
Think we’re getting one by you? If you have trouble getting yourself to drink plain H20, hear us out about why bubbles and water make an ideal match. One German study found that people who made carbonated water at home (think SodaStream), drank more water than those who didn’t—and bonus!—consumed less fat during the day, too.
Red wine + black pepper
The spice does it again. Black pepper contains a compound called piperine, which may help improve the bioavailability of resveratrol (the disease-busting antioxidant in red wine) to tissues, suggests an animal study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. While it doesn’t seem like a natural pairing, simply drink a glass of vino with dinner, and keep the pepper mill handy. Bon appetit!
Green tea + lemon
When you give your cup a squirt of citrus, the vitamin C preserves green tea’s antioxidant catechins, helping them survive the harrowing journey through your digestive tract to where your body can absorb them—so you can reap the benefits from the brew—reveals Purdue University research.
Guacamole + salsa
Pass the chips, please. This is another perfect example of how the antioxidants in certain produce, like tomatoes, need a little fat in order to be absorbed. In fact, a study in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating avocado with salsa improved the absorption of lycopene and beta-carotene in the tomatoes by 4.4 and 2.6 times, respectively. It’s the perfect excuse to go for Mexican tonight.
Pistachios + raisins
When you think about it, trail mix makes lots of sense. Eating dried fruit and nuts together can help improve your metabolic health to help decrease your diabetes risk, suggests a review published in Nutrition Journal. Together, they supply fiber, vitamins, and minerals—and the fat from the nuts helps keep your blood sugar at an even keel. Try making your own custom trail mix instead of paying a premium for the pre-packaged kind.