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Cooking Together
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Intentional nutrition can amplify overall wellbeing.
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Two IS sometimes better than one. 

Every food is a combination of many nutrients. Macronutrients, like carbohydrate, protein and/or fat, as well as vitamins, minerals and plant compounds called phytochemicals interact synergistically in the body as they're being absorbed and metabolized. This means these nutrients interact TOGETHER, not separately as we sometimes view them. While the body of research continues to grow, there are some proven pairings that improve the absorption of certain nutrients or alter how the body responds to that food.

Pairing nutrients can work as a tactic to maximize overall nutrition. It can also be a strategy to address specific issues. However you choose to approach functional food pairing, you can take your nutrition  further by eating intentionally. This strategy may prompt you to think about food, and your plate, differently. Oftentimes, questions are asked about whether a specific food "is healthy" or not. In reality, we are not consuming foods in an isolated manner, and it's more about the portion and what the food is paired with. 

Read on to discover how powerful pairs might help amplify your wellbeing. 

Green Vegetables

Understanding Balanced Plates

At the most basic level, the interaction of macronutrients on the plate is one of the most important reasons to pay attention to food pairing. Carbohydrates, protein and fat each have specific metabolic actions and will act differently when consumed in a balanced meal.

Carbohydrates: Whole, high fiber carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy and keep our brains thinking clearly. Foods like fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes and starchy vegetables are nutrient dense choices. To frame it simply, when carbohydrates are consumed alone, the blood sugar rises faster and more steeply. Pair carbohydrates with "blood sugar buffers,"  foods with protein, healthy fat and fiber. 

Protein: While we know protein plays an important role in the diet, consuming meals of ONLY protein can cause inflammation, GI issues, even bad breath. Diets too high in protein are often linked to increased risk of some cancers and heart disease, and some studies show it can tax the kidneys. Aim to include about 20 - 40 grams of quality protein per meal, accompanied by plenty of vegetables, high-fiber carbs and healthy fats. 

Fat: When healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil are added to meals, the body feels more satiated (full) and is able to better absorb fat soluble vitamins. Consumed alone, the body would lack energy, likely fiber and the protein building blocks for tissue development and repair. The high fat Keto Diet has been recently popular, but for most adults it lacks nutrient diversity, can cause inflammation and research shows is not sustainable for long term weight loss.

Sliced Avocado

Put pairing into practice with these meal balancing tips.

Rely on Quick Carbs​

Many folks make healthy eating efforts, cut the carbs and wind up hungry. Aim to fill about 25% of your plate with convenient options like sweet potato, fresh fruit, canned beans or quick-cooking quinoa.

Top with Healthy Fat

Don't forget to pair your healthy meals with a bit of fat. About 1-3 T is a good starting point, but everyone is different. Try toasted seeds on a salad, vinaigrette on a wrap or avocado on a grain bowl. 

Prioritize Protein

Balancing your meal with protein can help your meal "stick" and keep you satisfied! Choose seafood, poultry, organic soy and lentils often. Add eggs and lean red meats occasionally. 

Image by Sviatoslav Huzii

Iron + Vitamin C

Iron is crucial for energy and immune function, and many are low in this essential mineral. Increase the bodies absorption of iron by pairing it with foods high in vitamin C. Try a salad with spinach and red bell peppers, cream of wheat with strawberries, or a cold white bean salad with mandarin orange segments.

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Calcium + Vitamin D

Two minerals that are equally important for bone health are calcium and vitamin D. Calcium helps build and repair bone, while vitamin D facilitates vitamin D absorption. Find calcium in quality dairy products, broccoli, tofu and chia seed. Find vitamin D in fortified foods, egg yolks and fatty fish.

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Turmeric + Black Pepper

Turmeric is an antioxidant shown to reduce pain and arthritis. Research shows that it works even better when paired with black pepper. The pepper helps to make the antioxidants in turmeric more bioavailable, or helps your body absorb it and use more of the inflammation-fighting compounds.


Fat + Vitamins A, D, E, K

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins that require fat to be absorbed in the body. Increase your absorption of these critical vitamins by pairing foods rich in these vitamins with healthy fats.

Leafy greens are high in vitamins A and K, and vitamin A is found in orange and yellow veggies. Nuts are high in vitamin E, as are avocados. Pair these foods with healthy oils, or salmon to get the most out of the nutrient-dense options.

Image by Huzeyfe Turan

Tomatoes + Olive Oil

Pairing tomatoes with olive oil is not only delicious, but studies show it's one of the best ways to enjoy them both. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that can reduce risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. Olive oil has been shown to increase the absorption of lycopene from tomatoes. 

Enjoy a cold tomato salad drizzled with olive oil and topped with basil and balsamic vinegar.

Image by Fernanda Martinez

Green Tea + Lemon

Green tea is a known healthy choice, for it's high antioxidant levels, impact on cancer risk and healthy-aging benefits. Did you know adding lemon can amplify these well-known benefits? Adding a squeeze of lemon or a cut lemon slice adds vitamin C, which increases the bioavailability of the teas compounds found in your cup.


Strategic Pairing to Balance Blood Sugar

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is important for overall health, especially if you're managing diabetes or at higher risk for the chronic disease. Balanced glucose levels can support a healthier endocrine system, which means your body manages hunger cues, fat metabolism and hormone production more efficiently.  It can also help ease late night cravings and keep energy even throughout the day. 

Every food with carbohydrates is broken down into glucose in the blood, which is ultimately the main source of fuel for the body and the brain. Over the years, carbs have been demonized and "cutting carbs" has become code for a healthy diet, but in reality it's the quality of carbohydrate foods and what they're paired with that impacts health the most. Rather than cutting out grains, fruits, beans and starchy vegetables when you're honing in on a healthy diet, look to pairing quality, whole carbs with nutrients easily dubbed as "blood sugar buffers." 

Pair fruit with a plant-based protein that brings health fat to the table, like peanut or almond butter. Add diced avocado to a cold, grainy salad. Enjoy roasted redskin potatoes with a protein like baked chicken and a dose of high-fiber vegetables. Toss beans and cooked shrimp in a fresh salad together. Fiber, healthy fat and quality protein all help with blood sugar balance and can keep you feeling full and fueled. 


Absorb more iron from spinach and quinoa by add vitamin C packed strawberries to a salad.


Let olive oil increase the absorption of lycopene in this flavorful, easy dish.

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Reduce inflammation with the classic pairing of turmeric and black pepper.  

Citrus Feast


Choose one specific pairing to focus on and incorporate it into your meal plan for the next month. 

  • Focus on Iron + Vitamin C if you struggle with anemia or are a vegetarian.

  • Hone in on Carbs + Protein if you fight cravings in the evenings. 

  • Try pairing turmeric and black pepper if you deal with inflammatory issues. 

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