Our meals are rarely composed of singular foods, let alone singular nutrients, so it makes sense that when we eat, all of the different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals interact as they make their way through our bodies. Just as we have friends and enemies, some nutrients are stronger together, while others just can’t seem to play nice.
BFFs: Bean burrito and pico de gallo [iron + vitamin C]
Iron from plant sources like legumes, spinach, kale and whole grains, is not as easily absorbed as its animal-based counterparts. Pairing vitamin C-rich tomatoes and peppers with your bean burrito helps the iron in the beans convert into a more absorbable form in our bodies. Keep your vitamin C foods raw – the vitamin is easily destroyed by heat.
BFFs: Tossed salad and dressing [vitamins A & K + fat]
Do you eat your salad without dressing or just a squeeze of lemon? While it might be saving you calories, you might be losing out on nutrients. Vitamin K, which is found in dark leafy greens, and vitamin A, which is found in orange and yellow vegetables like carrots or squash, are both fat-soluble vitamins, so they absorb better with a little bit of fat. Still not a dressing fan? Add healthy fats to your salad by tossing in a handful of nuts or a few slices of avocado.
BFFs: Turmeric and black pepper in yellow curry [curcumin + piperine]
Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric, the spice that gives some curries their distinctive golden shade. There have been plenty of research on turmeric and curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and possibly cancer fighting properties. Piperine, which is found in black pepper, has been shown to enhance the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000 per cent and is often included in curry blends.
Frenemies: Coffee and milk in lattes [tannins and calcium]
Justifying your expensive latte habit because you’re "getting calcium”? Sorry! The tannins found in coffee (as well as tea and wine) block the absorption of minerals, like calcium and iron. Drink tea and coffee separately from your meals to maximize nutrient absorption.
Frenemies: Clams and cream in New England clam chowder [iron + calcium]
Red meat seems to get all the attention when it comes to iron, but ounce for ounce, clams have just as much! If you like your clams in a creamy chowdah, however, the calcium in the cream can make it more difficult for the iron to get into your body.
Frenemies: beef and sesame seeds [zinc + copper]
Though a greater effect is seen with supplements, the zinc in the beef in this Chinese takeout dish may block the absorption of the copper in the sesame seeds. Stick with the sweet and sour pork instead.
(Photo by Jules on Flickr.)