Power couples: Double your nutrition with these dynamic duos

Picture this: You’re about to pop something “healthy” into your mouth, perhaps some broccoli flowerets or roasted chickpeas. What if you could significantly boost the nutrients your body is about to receive? You can! A growing number of foods have been shown to have a “one-plus-one-equals-three” nutritional effect when eaten together.

For example, combining foods that contain carotenoids with a healthful fat makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients more readily. Some classic — and delicious — examples of this include tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, or a crisp, green salad with added avocado or oil in the dressing.

Does your family enjoy guacamole? This popular dip is brimming with boosted nutrition. The fat in the avocado makes the lycopene in the tomatoes, the limonene in the lime, and other nutrients more bioavailable to you.

Let’s look at some additional dietary duos your family can begin incorporating today:

Whole grain bread and nut butters. Whole grains are a good source of vitamin E, which helps to prevent cell damage from free radicals. Adding a healthy fat such as peanut or almond butter assists the body to absorb this fat-soluble vitamin.

Banana and yogurt. Everyone knows yogurt contains probiotics, the good bacteria our bodies need for digestive and immune health. But these bacteria need “food” to munch on, which is where the prebiotics found in plant fibers come in. Bananas are rich in prebiotics, as are many other fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.

Black beans and salsa. Garbanzo or kidney beans with bell peppers. Vegetarian chili with red bell peppers. Breakfast cereal with strawberries or kiwis. Spinach salad with mandarin orange. Spinach with lemon. These are all examples of pairing plant-based iron sources with vitamin C. The body can absorb only two to 20 percent of the non-heme iron found mostly in plant-based foods. Luckily, vitamin C boosts iron absorption by three- to six-fold.

Beef and broccoli for Chinese takeout. Roasted Brussels sprouts with crushed Brazil nuts. These are two examples of combining sulforaphane, a plant compound found in cruciferous vegetables, with the mineral selenium. When sulforaphane enters the bloodstream, it can inhibit the growth of tumor cells. Selenium, a mineral found in fish, meat, eggs, nuts (especially Brazil nuts) and mushrooms, binds with proteins in our bodies to form antioxidant enzymes, which protect us from free radicals. Together, they’re up to four times more effective than as single nutrients.

Garlic and chickpeas. Adding even a tiny amount of fresh garlic to these popular beans boosts the amount of iron the body can absorb by about 17 percent.

Tea with a squeeze of lemon. This classic combo is delicious hot or cold. Lemon boosts tea’s levels of catechins — found in green, black, and white tea — that are available for your body to absorb, helping to stop cell damage.

Spice-rubbed grilled meat. Grilling over high heat brings out sublime meat flavors. But it also results in the fat forming a compound called malondialdehyde, linked to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests adding an antioxidant-rich blend of oregano, rosemary, black pepper, paprika, and garlic as a rub on lean steaks or mixing it into burgers significantly reduces these damaging compounds.

Can’t remember all of these pairings? No worry! The best way to spot synergy on your plate and to ensure a nutritious meal is to make sure it has a minimum of three colors and contains healthful fat from foods such as avocado, a healthful oil, or nuts.

Christine Palumbo, is a Naperville, Illinois-registered dietitian nutritionist and fellow of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her favorite dietary duo is spinach sautéed in olive oil with a squeeze of lemon juice and a touch of garlic. Find her at Christine Palumbo Nutrition on Facebook, @PalumboRD on Twitter, or ChristinePalumbo.com.