Combining foods suitably is believed to increase their nutritional value and helps the body derive the benefit more effectively

Nutrition guidelines tell us that we should get this amount of that vitamin and that amount of this mineral. Separating nutrients this way makes the guidelines easy to understand. This kind of thinking probably helps us avoid diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies such as scurvy, pellagra and macrocytic anaemia. But most nutrients don’t work solo. They interact; sometimes joining forces, and sometimes cancelling one another out. Combining edible items can increase their nutritional value and helps the body derive the benefits effectively. You can build resistance to disease by eating certain foods in combination. Think yogurt and banana, apple and raspberry, green tea and lemon juice, spinach and tomato, broccoli and egg — each of these is good, but better if eaten together.

“Pairing is a method of identifying which item gives the maximum benefit when coupled with another. Improper combining is one of the primary factors that causes bloating, flatulence, tiredness, headache, and even an upset stomach. What’s worse is that poor digestion can contribute to malnutrition,” says Sonal Rathod, consultant and nutritionist, based in Mumbai. Age is not a matter of years, but health. You can be healthy till you die. It’s important to plan your meals and eat the right combination of foods, as this enhances the nutritive value of your meal and helps you enjoy maximum benefit with minimum effort, she says.

Two is better than one

“Some items are better eaten in pairs; else we don’t get any benefit from them. The reason why is that certain items need another component along with them if their nutritive content is to be retained by our body; else it gets wasted,” says Swetha Jairam, nutritionist, fitness expert and health advisor in Mumbai. For instance, our regular combo of rice-dal or rajma-chawal is healthy. Rice doesn’t have one amino acid (lysine). Dal doesn’t have another (methionine); so when they are eaten together; they form a complete protein, especially important for vegetarians. Proteins are important in building tissues, muscles, hormones and anti-bodies, as well as for healthy hair and skin.

Fermented foods such as idli, dosa, dhokla, curd and paneer eaten with the right accompaniment are good. These foods are nutrient-dense. They have carbohydrates and proteins in an easily digestible form, so they can be better retained by the body. They have a good dose of B vitamins, especially Vitamin B12. They also keep sugar cravings at bay. “Green tea has the anti-oxidant (catechin), which helps promote immunity, weight loss, has anti-ageing properties and prevents cancer and cardio-vascular diseases. When we add a splash of lemon, the Vitamin C in the lemon reduces the breakdown of the antioxidant (catechin) in our digestive tract and improves its retention,” says Sonal. So, go ahead and add these few power nutrients to your diet. It will help you when you choose how to get maximum punch from your plate.

Iron and Vitamin C

We all know iron is important for healthy red blood cells, to sustain energy levels, get rid of brittle nails and even dark circles. If you want to banish the ‘I’am so tired feeling’, step up iron intake. Vitamin C enhances the retention of iron from what we eat, and this improves oxygen supply to the brain and the muscles. “For instance, poha, which contains iron, is always eaten with a tinge of lemon squeezed on it, for maximum iron retention,” says Swetha.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is vital for our bones, teeth, muscles and nerve function. However, it requires enough Vitamin D to be retained in the intestine and deposited in the bones. Both these nutrients are important in maintaining bone density and strength. “Hence, certain combos like an omelette with a glass of milk, a tuna sandwich made with whole grain bread plus a bowl of fruit yogurt, grilled salmon and sautéd broccoli salad will make sure that there is better nutrient availability, which can reduce the risk of fracture and osteoporosis,” says Sonal. Just 20 minutes of sun exposure daily stimulates the skin to produce pre-vitamin D, which is converted to active vitamin D in the kidney.

Sodium and Potassium

Sodium is one of the essential nutrients most of us consume in excess everyday in the form of salt. Excess sodium interferes with the natural ability of the blood vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood pressure and increasing the chances of having a stroke or heart attack. But potassium encourages the kidney to excrete sodium. Many studies have shown a connection between high potassium intake and lower, healthier blood pressure. To increase potassium intake, load up on fruits and vegetables. To decrease sodium intake, reduce the intake of breads, cookies, salty items, pizzas, burgers, and ready-to-eat meals. A safe potassium intake of 500mg/day which is close to 5g/day of salt intake maintains an adequate sodium-potassium ratio.

Vitamin B12 and Folate

Vitamin B12 and Folate form one of nutrition’s best couples. B12 helps the body retain folate and the two work together to support cell division and replication, which allows the body to replace cells that die. This process is important during the time of growth in childhood and for adults as well. Cells that line the stomach and the cells of hair follicles, for example, divide and replicate often. Good sources of B12 include meat, egg, and milk. Natural sources of folate are leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes. Fortified breakfast cereals have both B12 and folate. “Deficiency in either or both vitamins may cause a form of anaemia called macrocytic anaemia. Lactation and alcoholism are some more situations in which the risk of folate deficiency increases,” says Swetha.

Vitamin K and Fat

“Vitamin K is important in blood clotting and bone formation, but being a fat-soluble vitamin, it requires enough fat for its retention. Fat isn’t all that bad. It is important for our body to maintain its temperature, regulate hormones, and protect vital organs and acts as an insulator and a lubricant for the joints. So, including good fats (mono and poly-unsaturated fats) will guarantee proper retention of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K from our diet,” says Sonal. Veggies like spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, which are good sources of Vitamin K, can be tossed in a little olive oil or topped with a few almonds and walnuts.

Another good pair

Sulphorophanes, the anti-cancer compounds in cruciferous veggies (cauliflower and cabbage) are better retained in the presence of mustard (spice) which contains the enzyme myrosinase. Cruciferous veggies are also a good source of folate, vitamin C, fibre and carotenoids — all cancer fighters — while mustard is anti-bacterial.