Foods and Drinks That Are Healthier Eaten Together

Well-chosen food pairings do more than just excite your taste buds. Consuming certain food combos or food and drink combos creates a synergy that increases the absorption of important nutrients and phytochemicals.

Here are four supercharged combinations…

Fish + Wine

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been shown to reduce triglycerides, irregular heartbeats and blood pressure and slow the growth of arterial plaques. It turns out that wine can boost those omega-3 levels.

A large European study looked at the dietary habits and alcohol consumption of more than 1,600 people. The ­participants underwent comprehensive medical exams and gave blood samples that were used to measure omega-3 ­levels. Their amount of “marine food intake,” defined as the total intake of fish, shellfish, cuttlefish, squid, octopus, shrimp and crab, was also ­measured.

The researchers found that people who drank moderate amounts of alcohol (one daily drink for women and two for men) had higher concentrations of omega-3s than nondrinkers, despite consuming similar amounts of marine food. Wine drinkers had the biggest gains, but people who drank beer or spirits (such as Scotch) also showed an increase in omega-3s.

Important caveat: The study found that heavy drinkers had lower amounts of omega-3s.

Lemon + Tea

Both black and green teas contain catechins, a group of antioxidants that are surprisingly good for cardiovascular health. A study published in Stroke, which looked at more than 83,000 Japanese adults, found that those who drank two to three cups of green tea daily were 14% less likely to have a stroke than those who rarely drank tea.

Tea has been found to reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease. But there’s a catch—the catechins in tea aren’t very durable. They tend to break down during digestion, leaving behind less than 20% of the active compounds.

Tasty solution: Add a squeeze of ­lemon to your tea. A laboratory study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that combining lemon juice with tea allowed 80% of the catechins to “survive” post-­digestion. ­Orange, lime and grapefruit juices also stabilized the compounds, although not as much as the lemon.

If you prefer bottled to brewed tea, you’ll get a similar effect by picking a product that includes vitamin C—listed as ascorbic acid on the label.

Citrus + Iron-Rich Foods

Low iron is common in people who take acid-suppressing drugs for GERD and in people who have gastrointestinal problems in which inflammation and bleeding occur (such as inflammatory bowel disease and bleeding ulcers).

Many foods contain iron. Iron-rich animal foods include beef, liver, oysters and sardines. Iron-rich plant foods include dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens…beans…lentils…whole grains…and nuts. But iron is not the easiest mineral to absorb. The body can absorb only 2% to 20% of the non-heme iron in plant foods. The absorption of the heme iron from meats and fish/shellfish is better but still not great—typically between 15% and 35%. And certain supplements such as calcium can ­interfere with iron ­absorption.

How can you boost absorption of iron? By eating citrus fruits or other ­vitamin C–rich foods such as strawberries and yellow and red peppers with heme or non-heme foods. Examples: Add orange slices to your kale salad…or yellow peppers to your beef stew. One study found that consuming as little as 63 mg of ­vitamin C (a little more than the amount in one orange) nearly tripled the absorption of non-heme iron.

Fat + Salad

Salads are rich in carotenoids—antioxidants such as lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene that reduce your risk for cancer and heart disease, preserve bone density and prevent macular degeneration. A fat-based salad dressing can maximize the absorption of these ­carotenoids (so avoid fat-free salad dressings). ­Researchers at Purdue University served participants salads with dressings made from a monounsaturated fat (canola oil)…a polyunsaturated fat (soybean oil)…or a saturated fat (butter). All the fats boosted absorption of the carotenoids, but the monounsaturated fat required the least amount of fat to get the most carotenoid absorption. ­Another monounsaturated fat often found in salad dressings is olive oil.

You can get similar benefits by adding hard-boiled eggs to your salad. The fat from the yolks will increase your absorption of carotenoids. In a Purdue University study published in The American Journal of Nutrition, participants who ate a salad with one-and-a-half eggs had double the carotenoid absorption of people who had a salad with no eggs.