Red wine and cheese, pork and apple sauce or steak and mash – some foods were simply a match made in heaven. But did you know that pairing certain nutrients can pack an even bigger nutritional punch? Here are the five top nutrient pairs that will supercharge your diet.

Probiotics + Prebiotics = Happy Tummy

Probiotics are friendly bacteria that improve the balance of flora in the digestive system. Most people know about the probiotic content of yoghurt but these healthy bacteria are also lurking in other easy-to-find foods, such as fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi), sourdough bread, tempeh and kombucha (fermented tea). However, to help probiotics survive and thrive in the gut, you need to feed them prebiotic fibre, which are non-digestible food fibres that stimulate their growth. In other words, prebiotics feed probiotics. Prebiotic-rich foods include bananas, soy beans, artichokes, whole oats, wheat, barley, garlic, flax seeds, legumes, tomatoes and green vegetables.

Teamwork: Mix your morning oats with natural yoghurt and banana, top homemade pizza with roasted artichokes, experiment with fermented vegetables as a side dish or barley risotto, and incorporate legumes in your favourite casseroles, such as beans and lentils.

Iron + Vitamin C = Energy Boost

Iron is an important mineral for many key functions in the body. However, not all iron in food is created equal. There are two types of iron: haem iron (found in flesh foods, such as red meat, chicken and fish) and non-haem iron (found in plant foods, such as some vegetables, legumes, nuts and wholegrain breads and cereals). The trouble is, it’s harder for your body to absorb iron from the plant-based sources, which is why pairing them with C is a smart move (vegetarians take note). Foods high in vitamin C like citrus, capsicum, kiwi fruit, tomato, broccoli and strawberries can increase absorption of plant-based iron up to three times more when eaten at the same meal.

Teamwork: Pair your morning glass of OJ or fruit with breakfast cereal, salad or fruit with a sandwich, bean burritos with salsa, capsicum and tofu stir-fry or snack on a handful of dried fruit and nuts.

Zinc + Sulphur Compounds = Strong Immune System

Onion and garlic do more than just add flavour to foods. Their sulphur compounds help to boost absorption of zinc, a mineral that keeps the immune system strong and helps heal wounds. Good sources of zinc are wholegrain foods including brown rice, rye and legumes.

Teamwork: Toss cooked onion and garlic in a pesto sauce drizzled over wholegrain spaghetti or top grilled chicken or steak with caramelised onion.

Vitamin D + Calcium = Strong Bones

Calcium is often considered the most important nutrient for your bones but you need vitamin D to absorb it. While 90 per cent of vitamin D is being made when the sun’s UV rays strike your skin, foods such as oily fish, eggs, margarine, milk, and some fortified products provide a small dose. Consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D, along with regular, weight-bearing exercise are important to build maximum bone density and strength, and reducing the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones). Dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, cheese) contain a high level of calcium which is easily absorbed. For people unable to digest dairy, other calcium-rich options include dark green vegetables (broccoli and kale), dried beans and legumes, canned salmon or sardines which contain bones and fortified soy, rice or almond milk.

Teamwork: Whip up a berry smoothie, snack on a tub of yoghurt or cheese and wholegrain crackers, poached eggs and avocado on sourdough toast, eat eat oily fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel) with green veg three times a week.

Good Fats + Lycopene = Healthy Heart

Lycopene is the naturally occurring pigment that gives food its bright red colour. It’s also a powerful antioxidant believed to have anti-ageing properties by neutralising free radicals in the body. In addition to its ability to attack free radicals, research has linked lycopene to heart health by preventing the blood from clotting. You can find lycopene predominantly in tomato-based products, in particular canned or tomato paste, which have higher levels compared with raw tomatoes due to the cooking process. And because lycopene is fat soluble, our bodies can absorb and use it more successfully when accompanied with fat. Not just any fat, the heart-healthy kind, such as extra virgin olive oil.

Teamwork: Drizzle oven-roasted tomatoes or bruschetta with extra virgin olive oil. If you don’t like heavy dressings, walnuts, slivered almonds or avocados are just as good.

This post was published in The West Australian Health + Medicine

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