Real foods that are made for each other


It’s easy to become obsessed or overwhelmed about what we should eat, but I believe it can be relatively straightforward now academics have started to agree that real food is more than just the sum of its nutrients. Studies indicate that the beneficial effect of nutrients is from the food itself and from the combinations of nutrients and other chemical compounds that are part of the food’s matrix. This is further compounded by combining foods, and more so than just from the addition of individual nutrients.

Key steps to keep things simple
  1. focus on eating as much natural real food as possible
  2. introduce variety into your eating across the day, week and month, using a smart combination of real foods

Practical choices offer the best chance of success, so I have compiled 8 food combinations and ideas below to help. Remember, the aim is to give the individual elements of nutrition each real food contains the best chance to be absorbed into our bodies.

Real foods that are made for each other
  1. To get the most from the nutrients in dark green leafy vegetables such as rocket, spinach, kale and chard:
    • Consume them with healthy fats, as vitamins A D E and K are fat soluble vitamins
  2. To reap the full benefits of iron from plant-based foods such as spinach:
    • Consume with foods high in vitamin C such as red peppers – or add lemon vinaigrette to a spinach salad
  3. For optimal iron absorption, avoid caffeine and calcium (dairy) as these are iron inhibitors
  4. Lycopene is an antioxidant found in, amongst others, tomatoes and watermelon, but to optimise nutritional benefits lycopene should be consumed with fat, as it will help the digestive tract to absorb it better
    • Try a tomato and avocado salsa
  5. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are two essential nutrients, with deficiencies in either having the potential to create serious health risks. Fortunately, the foods containing them are made for each other:
    • legumes, egg yolks, dark green leafy veg + animal products rich in vitamin B12 – meat, fish, dairy, eggs. Combined they work together in the synthesis of DNA and red blood cells
  6. Rosemary can aid in fighting cancer causing chemicals from forming during cooking:
    • Mix rosemary with your stews and roasts – just a smidgen is all that is needed
  7. Broccoli and tomatoes are a cancer fighting power pair, as different bioactive compounds in each food work on a different anti-cancer pathway, according to the University of Illinois
  8. Turmeric has a number of health benefits, such as protecting the body from developing diabetes, but it won’t do much good when adding it your cooking unless:
    • Add black pepper to increase the bioavailability of curcumin, the dominant compound in turmeric
Eating smart made easy

It’s easy to feel confused about what to eat, but I hope this shows that there is nothing to fear and it can be simpler than it may seem. Don’t be afraid to experiment, just remember that the key is focusing on real food. For lots of additional ideas click here to download Just Routine, the real food app. The nutritional benefits from combining the right real foods are far bigger in aggregate than simply toting up the nutrients of each food separately. Making smarter eating choices means your nutritional benefits can be bigger than just the sum of the separate parts. What’s more, these combinations can taste fabulous.


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Iris is the founder of No Targets Just Routine. She has researched food since 2009 and believes “Happiness is real food shared with loved ones.”

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