1. Steak + broccoli
Red meat is rich in iron, which supports your metabolism and is needed for cell growth, development, and function. And that mineral is absorbed into the blood more readily when a food that’s high in vitamin C is eaten at the same time, according to Sarah Krieger, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
This combination also speeds up muscle recovery after your workout. The carbs and proteins present increase insulin level, and more insulin “allows muscles to quickly soak up repair nutrients like amino acids and glucose so they become stronger,” says sports dietician Monique Ryan.
2. Avocado + tomatoes
Add some avocados in your BLT or Caprese salad, or dip your tomatoes in guacamole. The healthy fat in your avocado not only helps your body absorb the carotenoids (which lower the risk of heart disease) found in tomatoes, but it also helps convert provitamin A, a specific carotenoid, to vitamin A that your body can actually use to improve your vision and immunity.
3. Tofu + bell peppers
Not a meat-eater? Go for tofu. It contains 6.6 milligrams of iron in just half a cup! To help your body absorb the iron, pair it with bell peppers. A red bell pepper has three times more vitamin C than an orange!
If you don’t like tofu, have some beans or lentils with the bell peppers.
4. Salad + eggs
If you’re eating your vegetables raw, make sure to have them with egg. In a study published by Purdue University, people who ate salad topped with eggs absorbed three to nine times more carotenoids (like lycopene and beta-carotene) than those who had no eggs. The fat in eggs helps make those nutrients more available for your body’s absorption.
Not into eggs? Have another source of fatty acids for your salad, like olive oil or your salad dressing. According to dietician Marilyn Tanner-Blaiser, “A little bit of fat is what you need to absorb those fat-soluble vitamins that dark, leafy greens have. So don’t go fat-free with your dressing; light is a much better choice.”
5. Peanut butter + banana
This is a good post-workout snack, since it aids in muscle recovery. You can have the combo with whole-grain toast to boost your fiber intake, or make a peanut butter banana smoothie.
6. Yogurt + banana
Yogurt has probiotics, also known as the good bacteria. These help prevent stomach upsets by increasing your digestive system’s immune defenses and controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. But probiotics need prebiotics, their food, to thrive and be most effective. So top your yogurt with bananas, since they have the prebiotics inulin and oligofructose.
7. Olive oil + roasted vegetables
Olive oil is the healthiest oil out there. It’s rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are the healthy dietary fat (as opposed to saturated and trans fat), and has been linked to lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and depression. Drizzling or roasting your vegetables with olive oil improves the absorption of beta-carotene found in them.
Beta-carotene prevents certain cancers, heart disease, cataracts, and other age-related degeneration. It’s even used to treat depression, skin disorders like vitiligo, night blindness during pregnancy, and diarrhea and fever after giving birth.
8. Bread + vinegar
Whenever you eat high-carb food like bread, pasta, or rice, the amount of glucose in your blood quickly rises and plummets, resulting in feeling hungry again. But vinegar moderates this spike, so you’ll feel full longer. A recent study showed that people who had four teaspoons of apple-cider vinegar with their bagels ate 200 fewer calories for the rest of the day than those who didn’t have vinegar with their bagels. (Trivia: You can lose 21 pounds in a year if you gradually cut 200 calories a day from your diet.)
9. Garlic + onions
Apart from adding more flavor to your food, these culinary partners have antioxidants that lower the risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
10. Salmon + Chinese cabbage
Experts believe that PMS is a symptom of being low in calcium and vitamin D. Harvard Medical School researchers had tracked the eating habits of more than 3,000 women, and found that those whose diets included plenty of calcium and vitamin D (an average of 706 IU of vitamin D and 1,283 milligrams of calcium per day) were 30 to 40 percent less likely to develop PMS.
A quarter pound of salmon already provides you with 739 IU of vitamin D, and two cups of Chinese cabbage gives you 148 milligrams of calcium—that’s around 15 percent of calcium you need in a day!
11. Brown rice + peas or rice + beans
We lose lean muscle as we get older. To maintain lean muscle, you need to lift weights and make sure that 25 to 35 percent of your calorie-intake comes from protein-rich food. Red meat and poultry are good options, but they contain some amount of saturated fat which isn’t healthy for you. Plant foods like rice have protein, too, but they lack the essential amino acids (like lysine) needed to be a complete protein. Peas are rich in lysine, so pairing them with rice will give your body a healthy dose of protein. (You’ll also get potassium, which fights age-related muscle-loss by making the blood less acidic.) Beans, on the other hand, contain all nine essential amino acids.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter.