Tomatoes and basil, peanut butter and jelly, cheese and crackers … they’re the Batmans and Robins of the culinary world—they just “go” together.
It turns out there are plenty of food pairs that aren’t just tasty, but when they hook up they also become nutritionally turbocharged. In professional circles, it’s what’s called food synergy, and it occurs when different components of different foods work together in the body to produce maximum health benefits (for both mom and baby). It’s like adding 1 plus 1 and getting 3 instead of 2 —the total is greater than the sum of the individual parts. To reap the benefits, start with these food pairings that, like Thelma and Louise, have remarkable chemistry.
1. Carrots + olive oil
Dumping bland fat-free dressing on your salad might save you a few calories, but that comes at a significant hit to the nutritional value of your diet. You see, a number of vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and leafy greens are rich in a class of antioxidants known as carotenoids, which work to help neutralize free radicals in the body that can contribute to health woes like certain cancers and heart disease. Plus, moms-to-be may need even more of these nutritional superheroes to better handle the added stress of pregnancy.
It turns out carotenoids, like lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene in carrots, are fat-soluble. In other words, they need to be consumed with some dietary fat for optimal absorption in the body. Researchers at Purdue University discovered that monounsaturated fat is particularly effective at making your salad more powerful. Good sources of it include olive oil, nuts and slices of avocado—perfect complements to a crunchy salad. You can also try adding sliced hard-boiled egg. You’ll benefit from extra protein along with some fats, which an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study determined can improve carotenoid absorption from vegetables.
2. Lentils + red bell pepper
When you’re nurturing a tiny tadpole, you need about twice the amount of iron you required before you were expecting because your body uses the mineral to make the extra blood required for a developing baby. Most pregnant women don’t get enough from their diet, though, so make an effort to load up your plate with iron-rich fare.
Of course, a hunk of steak is a stellar source, but you can also get some iron from plant-based foods like lentils, beans, tofu, fortified cereals and whole grains. But there’s a catch: The form of iron in these foods is not very well absorbed by our bodies. Enter vitamin C. This nutrient helps convert plant iron into a form that is more readily absorbed, and in turn, makes nailing your daily quota a snap.
You can infuse iron-containing items like lentils, beans, spinach and oatmeal with vitamin C by pairing them with vegetables and fruits including red peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus and berries.
A study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that women who chased an iron-fortified cereal with kiwi fruit (which is high in vitamin C) raised their iron levels more than those who paired the cereal with a banana (a fruit with lackluster amounts of vitamin C).
3. Yogurt + raspberries
When a snack attack strikes, consider spooning up a bowl of this perfect pairing. Yogurt is home to friendly critters known as probiotics that can work to keep your digestive system running smoothly—particularly important when you are sporting a baby bump.
Once in your system, you need to feed them, so they stay alive and thrive. What are they hungry for? Dietary fiber is a preferred food source for probiotics, and with 8 grams in each 1-cup serving, raspberries are sure to keep the body-friendly bugs satiated.
4. Chicken + quinoa
It’s a good idea to continue working out while you have a bun in the oven and to keep it up postpartum (with your care provider’s OK) to shed some baby weight. Whenever you work up a sweat, replenish afterward with a good mix of protein and carbohydrates.
A bounty of research demonstrates that consuming these two macronutrients together after exercise (versus focusing on just one or the other) can speed muscle recovery. The protein in foods like chicken, beef, fish, beans and yogurt helps repair worn muscles, making them stronger and more defined. At the same time, the carbohydrates in grains like quinoa, potatoes and fruits work to replace spent energy reserves, so you can fire on all cylinders during future workouts. Together, the protein-and-carb combo brings about a larger increase in insulin levels, allowing for a greater intake of recovery nutrients.
5. Lemon + green tea
Packed with health-boosting antioxidants without any sugary deluge, green tea is one of the healthiest sips during those precious nine months and for many months after. And you can make it even more awesome with a squirt of lemon. Beyond adding fresh flavor, citrus juice can increase the amount of the potent antioxidants (called catechins) in green tea that are available for the body to absorb, research shows.
Pour hot water over a couple of green tea bags in a glass jar, squeeze in juice from half a lemon or lime, and chill for a refreshing drink that does a body good. Just keep tabs on your caffeine consumption (8 ounces of green tea has 25 to 45 milligrams) so you don’t surpass the 200-milligram limit.
6. Dark chocolate + strawberries
It turns out that chocolate and juicy strawberries are indeed a match made in foodie heaven. In a Brigham Young University study, strawberries dunked in dark chocolate provided an antioxidant content that exceeded the sum of the antioxidant content of the individual ingredients.
The researchers surmise that antioxidants in these two habit-forming foods react synergistically with each other, creating additional health-hiking power. This gives you permission to squash those pregnancy cravings with a few chocolate-covered berries, but make sure you use chocolate with a 70 percent cocoa content or higher. The research failed to show as much of an antioxidant boost when chocolate with a lower cocoa content was used.
7. Milk + eggs
To support your baby’s needs for bone-building calcium, it’s vital that you don’t skimp on the mineral. But if calcium could speak it would say to vitamin D, “You complete me.” For calcium to be properly absorbed, vitamin D must also be present. Think of vitamin D as the key that unlocks the door, allowing calcium to leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream. The sunshine vitamin also goes to work in the kidneys to reabsorb calcium that would otherwise be excreted.
What’s more, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy can lead to the increased risk for learning disabilities in offspring. If you’re not getting what you need from the yellow orb above, you’ll need to seek out vitamin D from supplements along with food sources like egg yolks, salmon and certain varieties of UV-exposed mushrooms.
In other words, making eggs and a glass of milk (which harbors both calcium and vitamin D) a part of your breakfast routine helps build bones of steel for both mom and peewee. You can also try making scrambled eggs and omelets with a few splashes of milk in the mix.