Some foods just seem to go together. Rice and beans. Yogurt and bananas. Tomatoes and avocados.
These gastronomical pairings are more than just tasty -- they have nutritional superpowers. When the two foods are combined, they get supercharged.
"There's all this synergy between foods that work so well together," says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, and author of 25 nutrition books including " Food Synergy ." "It isn't rocket science. You want to get a lot of whole foods because there are a lot of pairings that we don't even know about yet."
Here are 10 food power couples and a look at the likely benefits they offer when you eat them at the same time.
Salad and egg
Sure, you should top your salad greens with lots of colorful veggies. But if you really want to reap nutritional rewards, toss in some cooked egg. Researchers at Purdue University found that the absorption of carotenoid nutrients was 3.8 times higher when participants added three scrambled eggs to their salads versus zero eggs. The study was relatively small and was funded by the American Egg Board, but other studies have shown that fatty acids help the body absorb nutrients — which is why you should steer away from fat-free salad dressing. "A little bit of fat is what you need to absorb those fat-soluble vitamins that dark, leafy greens have," says St. Louis-based registered dietitian Marilyn Tanner-Blaiser, study coordinator at the Washington University School of Medicine. "So don't go fat-free with your dressing; light is a much better choice."
Rice and beans
There's a reason this is such a popular couple. Both rice and beans are typically inexpensive, and when you put them together you get what's called a complete protein, says Tanner-Blaiser . That's when a food contains an adequate amount of all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies need.
Green tea and lemon
A splash of lemon does more than give your green tea a fresh flavor. Researchers found that citrus juice enables more of the healthy antioxidants in green tea — known as catechins — to be absorbed by the body. Catechins have been linked to better heart and brain health as well as lowered cancer risk. "Whenever I look at 'synergy superfoods,' citrus and green tea keep popping up," says Magee. "So this is a perfect combination."
Yogurt and bananas
Besides being the perfect basis for a tasty smoothie, these two ingredients are an ideal combo to help repair muscles after a workout. "Research shows that consuming these two macronutrients together shortly after exercise speeds muscle recovery," sports dietitian Monique Ryan tells Best Health magazine. The marriage of carbs and proteins increases insulin levels in your body. "More insulin allows muscles to quickly soak up repair nutrients like amino acids and glucose after a workout so they become stronger."
Oatmeal and orange juice
Oatmeal is packed with iron and the vitamin C in orange juice boosts iron absorption. So when you sit down to a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of OJ, the vitamin C goes to work so your body is able to take in more iron.
Garlic and onions
Look at all the recipes that pair these two taste powerhouses. "They're culinary partners and they have powerful antioxidants," says Magee. Separately, they have been linked to a possible drop in risk of stroke, heart disease and certain cancers, she points out. Together, you get double the whammy of even more antioxidants.
Tomatoes and avocado
Like adding egg to your salad, adding some healthy fat to your tomatoes will help make the tomato's carotenoids more readily absorbed by your body. Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a carotenoid thought to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Make that lycopene more readily available by mixing tomatoes with avocado (guacamole!) or drizzling them with a little olive oil, suggests Tanner-Blaiser.
Tomatoes and broccoli
These colorful veggies are packed with cancer-fighting compounds including lots of lycopene and vitamin C in tomatoes and phytochemicals in broccoli. In a prostate cancer study, the combo was more effective at slowing prostate tumor growths in rats than either was alone.
Fish and wine
In one study of people who ate fish while drinking alcohol, European researchers found that drinking a moderate amount of wine acts like a trigger, boosting the omega-3 fatty acids from the fish. The omega-3s, which are found primarily in fish, are thought to protect the body against coronary heart disease.
Apple plus apple peel
Don't peel your fruit, says Magee. "The phytochemicals in the apple peel work best with the ones in the apple flesh to reduce cancer," she says. "The peel is vital." The same holds true for pretty much every fruit and vegetable with edible peels. There are a lot of important nutrients in the skin that work in tandem with the nutrients in the flesh. To get the most benefit, eat them both.
Ironically, the foods that work well together nutritionally also seem to taste really good together too. It's like your body knows something good is going on.
"Your body likes it when your nutrients come from the food," says Tanner-Blaiser. "If you can pair them in such a way that it adds up to a double win and you're getting the nutrients plus you're getting the taste, how much better can that be?"