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10 Powerful Healthy Food Pairings

Food Pairings to Elevate Your Meal's Nutrition

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Peanut butter and jelly, tomato and basil, wine and cheese—some foods were simply made for each other. But did you know that pairing certain fruits, vegetables, and produce together can actually make your meal more nutritious? With the right powerful combo, you won't just enjoy your meal more, you'll take in more vitamins and minerals too!

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Eggs and Salad

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Scientists have discovered an easy way to make sure you absorb even more nutrients from your raw veggies: put an egg on top. In a study from Purdue University, people who ate a salad topped with three scrambled eggs absorbed three to nine times more carotenoids—including lycopene and beta-carotene, two antioxidants that may reduce cancer risk, slow down cognitive decline, and prevent heart disease—than those who ate an eggless salad. These nutrients are fat-soluble; the fat in eggs helps make them more available for absorption.

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Roast Vegetables and Olive Oil

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Eggs aren't the only healthy fat source. “In general, eating vegetables with added fats helps improve the absorption of beta-carotene in the vegetables,” says Rosanne Rust, founder of Rust Nutrition Services. The classic example of this is roasted vegetables (or raw ones, like tomatoes) and olive oil, but butter or even avocado will also work, she notes.

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Steak and Broccoli

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You may not think of beef as a healthy food, but red meat does deliver an energizing punch of iron. And that's where the broccoli comes in. “Iron-rich foods are absorbed into the blood more readily when a food that's high in vitamin C is eaten at the same time,” explains Sarah Krieger, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Simple, pan-seared steak and roasted broccoli are classic together, but if you want to mix it up, try this Stir Fry Ginger Beef Broccoli and Mushrooms.

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Tofu and Bell Peppers

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You can get iron from more than red meat! Tofu contains a generous 6.6 milligrams per 1/2 cup. To help your body take in all of that goodness, try pairing the vegetarian staple with bell peppers, which have more vitamin C than an orange, with a meal like this Tofu Living Salad with Sesame-Lemon Dressing. Don’t like tofu? Beans or lentils work as well, Rust says.

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Garlic, Onions, and Wild Rice

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When researchers added garlic and onion to whole grains, they found that the zinc and iron in the grains became more bioavailable (meaning they were easier for the body to absorb), according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. Add the pungent spices to cooked wild rice, top your next whole-grain sandwich with onions, or toss them with whole-grain spaghetti.

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Strawberries, Iron-fortified Cereal, and Low-fat Yogurt

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Say good morning to your best breakfast ever. The vitamin C in the strawberries will help you take in more iron from fortified cereal (OJ also works), says Krieger. And the fat in the yogurt boosts your absorption of the nutrients in the strawberries. (Stock up on The Healthiest Cereal Choices to Help You Live Longer.) 

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Kale and Salmon

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“We need vitamin D to better absorb calcium,” notes Rust. Some foods, like cheese, contain both. But calcium-rich greens like kale need an extra vitamin D boost—and oily fish like salmon, sardines, or trout are great sources.

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Avocado and Tomatoes

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The fat in the avocado will help your body absorb the carotenoids, yes. But it also helps you convert a specific carotenoid known as provitamin A to the form of vitamin A your body can actually use, according to recent research in the Journal of Nutrition. That's a good thing, since the nutrient is healthy for your vision, immunity, and more. To benefit, slip some avocado into your usual BLT or Caprese salad.

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Nut Butter and Banana

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This simple pairing of protein and healthy carbs is a surefire post-workout winner: The combo has been proven to aid with muscle recovery. To up the fiber count (making the snack more satiating), add a slice of whole grain toast to the mix. Or if it's protein you're after, try this trainer-approved Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie.

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Curry and Black Pepper

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Turmeric, the yellow spice used in many curries, is an emerging darling of the nutritional world, with research linking it to everything from happier moods to reductions in chronic pain. And research shows that a compound in black pepper, known as piperine, significantly improves the bioavailability of the superfood. 

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