So, you’re into healthy eating. That’s great. You try to eat your macronutrients—complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and healthy fats, all things you can get from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and animal sources—and you know a sneakily sugary food when you see one. Well, ready to take it up a notch? There are a handful of unique and interesting ways to get more from your food that you may have never heard of. And one of those methods is by simply eating certain micronutrients together.
That’s right—several nutrients are actually more effectively absorbed by our bodies when consumed with other nutrients. It’s not that you won’t get any benefit eating them on their own, but eating them together gives your body the chance to use them even better. These are the four main nutrient-pairings you need to know about, and a little on how to actually work them into your diet.
1. Calcium & Vitamin D
If you’ve ever heard someone mention calcium, they’ve probably also mentioned vitamin D in that same breath. According to Rebecca Blake, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., administrative director of medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, that’s because vitamin D helps our bodies produce the hormone calcitriol (also known as “active vitamin D”). Calcitriol is what helps our bodies absorb calcium. Without it, Blake tells SELF your body will instead absorb calcium from your bones, which will both weaken them and prevent their continued health and growth.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to consume calcium and vitamin D at the same time, because a lot of foods (like orange juice, milk, and cereal) are fortified with both nutrients. Alternatively, you can pair fish like salmon with leafy greens like kale for a calicum- and vitamin D-rich meal.
2. Healthy Fats & Fat Soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, and K)
Fat soluble vitamins, Blake explains, are those that dissolve in fat (as opposed to most vitamins, which dissolve in water). They include K and D, which are essential for building and maintaining healthy bones; A, which is known to maintain healthy vision (the vitamin found in carrots!); and E, an essential antioxidant. They can all often be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, but if you don’t consume them with a healthy fat, you won’t be getting their full benefits. “Without fat,” Kelly Hogan M.S., R.D., C.D.N., tells SELF, “the absorption of fat soluble vitamins is minimal.”
Lucky you: You’re probably already eating all of them with a healthy fat. If they’re part of a salad, you’ve probably got an oil-based dressing to go with them. Or your veggies are part of a well-rounded meal. Other ideas? Simply roast some squash in olive oil, or dip crudité in guacamole.
3. Iron & Vitamin C
Your body needs iron because it helps your red blood cells move oxygen throughout your body, and if you’re iron-deficient (or have anemia) you may experience dizziness, exhaustion, and myriad other side effects. This super-nutrient combo is one that’s especially important to keep in mind if you’re vegetarian. That’s because plant-based iron sources (or non-heme iron) have less bioavailability than animal-based iron sources (or heme iron)—which simply means that it’s easier for our body to absorb heme iron than it is for it to absorb non-heme iron.
Consuming either source of iron with vitamin C will enhance your overall iron absorption. “Vitamin C helps absorption of iron (both non-heme and heme) by decreasing ‘inhibitors’ to absorption like phytates and tannins,” Blake tells SELF. There are a couple easy ways to eat more of these nutrients together—try having a spinach salad with orange or bell pepper slices, or a broccoli omelet.
4. Iron From Plant & Animal Sources
If you’re not vegetarian, the best way to ensure you’re consuming enough iron overall is by eating both heme and non-heme at the same time. Have a steak with some sautéd spinach, or chickpeas with chicken. There are seriously so many options when it comes to this pairing.