7 Health-Boosting Food Pairings

Eating the right foods together can result in better health, quicker weight loss, and a super energy boost.


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Bread + Vinegar = Easier Weight Loss

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Love bread, pasta, and potatoes but fear they'll go straight to your hips? Sprinkle them with a little vinegar. "In most instances, when we eat high-carb foods like bread, the amount of glucose in our blood rises rapidly. But very quickly it plummets, triggering feelings of hunger that cause us to eat even more," says Carol S. Johnston, PhD, RD, director of the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University in Mesa.

"The good news is that vinegar moderates that spike in glucose, so you feel full longer," Johnston explains. In fact, in a recent study people who consumed 4 teaspoons of apple-cider vinegar along with some bagels and juice ate 200 fewer calories throughout the entire day than those who feasted on the exact same meal minus the vinegar.

Tip: Take small steps to cut 200 calories a day from your diet and you'll lose 21 pounds in a year.


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Tomatoes + Olive Oil + Broccoli = Fewer Colds

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In addition to being loaded with vitamin C, broccoli and tomatoes are also prime sources of beta-carotene, which further strengthens your immune system. But you must consume beta-carotene with fat for it to be well absorbed. That's where olive oil comes in. According to a recent study, adding just 1/2 teaspoon of monounsaturated fat (the good fat in olive oil) allows the body to get five times more beta-carotene from the vegetables you eat.

Tip: Steam your veggies for immune-enhancing benefits. Heat loosens beta-carotene from the vegetables' cells, so you soak up even more of it.


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Spaghetti + Roasted Peppers = More Energy

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Iron is a must for staying energized, yet 12 percent of women don't get enough. "Iron helps carry oxygen through your body," says American Dietetic Association spokesperson Keri M. Gans, RD. "If you're lacking this element, your brain won't get the oxygen it needs to function, and you'll end up feeling tired and have trouble concentrating."

But not all iron is created equal. For instance, iron from plant foods like grains, vegetables, and beans isn't absorbed by the intestines very readily. Adding something rich in vitamin C, like red peppers, to a pasta plate causes a chemical reaction in your body that helps convert the iron in the grains to a form that's easier to absorb.

Tip: About 10 percent of your daily iron requirement can be found in 1 cup of cooked spaghetti.


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Bananas + Yogurt = Less Tummy Trouble

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Good bacteria help ward off gastric upsets by bolstering your digestive system's immune defenses. "Increase the activity of this beneficial bacteria by eating both probiotic and prebiotic foods," says Magee. Most yogurts contain healthful probiotic bacteria, but once consumed the bacteria need food of their own to thrive. Bananas supply inulin and oligofructose, prebiotics that the probiotics in your gut like to feast on—helping those good bugs fight off stomachaches.


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Salmon + Bok Choy = Less PMS

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Many experts believe PMS is actually a symptom of low calcium and low vitamin D levels. When Harvard Medical School researchers tracked the eating habits of more than 3,000 women, they found those whose diets included plenty of calcium and vitamin D (an average of 706 IU of vitamin D and 1,283mg of calcium per day) were 30 to 40 percent less likely to develop PMS.

Salmon with a side of bok choy provides the necessary one-two punch. Just 4 ounces of sockeye salmon, one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, provides 739 IU of vitamin D (many experts now recommend 1,000 IU a day). Two cups of bok choy has 148mg of calcium. That's about 15 percent of the 1,000mg of calcium you need in a day.


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Brown Rice + Peas = A Faster Metabolism

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Most women assume gaining weight as they age is just a fact of life, but it isn't. "As we get older we lose lean muscle, which is a natural metabolism booster that helps us burn calories," says Gans. A good way to maintain that beneficial muscle is to lift light weights and make sure that between 25 and 35 percent of your calories comes from protein. Red meat and poultry are great options, but they can contain a high amount of saturated fat. Plant foods like rice are loaded with protein. But when eaten alone, many of them lack a few of the essential amino acids needed for a complete protein. Rice, for example, is low in the amino acid lysine. But peas, on the other hand, are lysine-rich. Pairing rice and peas gives your body a healthy protein boost.

Tip: Throw some beans in with your brown rice and peas and you'll get a healthy dose of potassium, a mineral that further counteracts age-related muscle loss by making the blood less acidic.


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Oatmeal + Soy Milk + Plant-Sterol-Enhanced Margarine + Almonds = A Healthier Heart

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Can a piece of coffee cake be just as good for your heart as a cholesterol-lowering medication? Perhaps, if it contains oatmeal, soy milk, margarine enriched with plant sterols, and some almonds. A new study found that people who followed a four-week diet rich in these four ingredients lashed their LDL (bad) cholesterol by 30 percent. That's nearly the same as the 33 percent drop for volunteers who took 20mg of a popular cholesterol medication and consumed a diet low in saturated fat.

Start your day with some oatmeal made with soy milk. Try some toast with enriched margarine (be sure it contains sterols). And have almonds for a quick snack—limit the serving size to a small handful.


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Combos to Avoid

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Think you're getting a healthy dose of iron from that burger or bowl of cereal? It depends on what you're eating it with. Some foods can prevent iron absorption, leading to a decrease in energy—and even illness.

Problem Pair: Bowl of Cereal and a Cup of Coffee
Coffee contains tannins that block the uptake of iron from plant foods like cereal, bread, and pasta.


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Problem Pair: Burger with Cheese

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Calcium in cheese attaches to iron and stops it from being absorbed by the body.


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Problem Pair: A Glass of Red Wine with Pasta

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Wine is loaded with iron-binding polyphenols. Adding some vitamin C-rich tomatoes or peppers to your pasta can reduce this negative effect.


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Problem Pair: Soy Butter on Bread

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Both soybeans and grains contain compounds call phytates, which interfere with iron absorption. Eat them together and you'll absorb less than 2 percent of the soybean's iron.

Originally published in the October 17, 2009, issue of Family Circle magazine.

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