Top 7 Food Combos for Better Health
Traditional ways of cooking are inherently intelligent when it comes to our health. What I’m talking about here are the tried and true combinations of food that we’ve been cooking with for hundreds of years, thanks to the cooking and healing traditions of cultures around the world. These food combinations take on an alchemical effect, making the foods that much more nutritious and even tastier. Why do we love fresh tomatoes, diced and slowly sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil olive oil to make the perfect red sauce, for example? Or, greens like kale, collards, and spinach, sauteed in extra-virgin oil as the tasty southern side dish? And what about the simple beans and rice dish, which spans cultures across the globe? I love cooking with foods that naturally go together.
Then we have the more recent health trend known as food combining. The idea here is that combining certain foods results in better absorption, better digestion, and better overall health. My opinion here is that this is just a trend that doesn’t actually improve our health. I believe it’s best to look to the cultural food traditions that have been on the scene for hundreds of years. Our ancestors were innately wise, and we need to look to our past to understand the present when it comes to eating right.
Read on to find out my favorite combinations!
Fresh tomatoes sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil
Don’t we all love the flavor of a good red sauce? Whether it’s on our favorite pizza, over a bed of fusilli, or even simmering in a spicy Indian dish, the mouthwatering combo of tomatoes and olive oil is inherently good for you. Tomatoes have all four carotenoids, which are essential for good health. They are: lutein, alpha and beta-carotene, and lycopene. When tomatoes are cooked in a healthy fat, like avocado oil or extra-virgin olive oil, the body’s absorption of those essential carotenoids increases dramatically. So, simmer those tomatoes in extra-virgin olive oil to make a mouth-watering red sauce and know that you’re feeding your body and mind some powerful nutrients, sure to enhance your well-being.
Greens sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil
Southerners love their greens. Those collards and kale are rarely eaten raw in the south. No, they’re always cooked slowly, in lots of oil. And just like tomatoes sauteed in olive oil, greens sauteed in olive oil are a staple of the Mediterranean diet, too. Not only does this make the greens a tasty side dish, it also enhances their flavor, as well as their health benefits.
As you probably know, olive oil, in and of itself, is inherently good for you. It’s a good source of healthy monounsaturated fat. It’s also full of antioxidants. Olive oil’s anti-inflammatory properties are potent, and its antibacterial properties make it a great hedge against the build up of harmful bacteria in the gut. As you can see, a high-quality olive oil is good for you—on so many levels. But, add some nutrient-dense greens to the oil, and wow! You’re in for a life-giving treat!
Rice and beans
Who doesn’t love a heaping plate of rice and beans? Cultures all over the world have their own version of this dish. And for good reason. The nutrient density that comes with this combo is absolutely ideal for those of us who want to stay healthy on a budget. Beans and rice are cheap. They’re cultivated everywhere—a staple in nearly every culture’s kitchen.
Rice, on its own, is good for you. The same goes for any kind of bean. But, if you want to ensure you’re eating enough protein, and you don’t want to always rely upon eating animal foods like chicken, beef, or fish, then the rice and beans combo is an easy solution. Why? Because your body needs a complete protein, one that contains all the essential amino acids, to ensure it thrives. Rice contains certain amino acids, and protein contains other amino acids. When eaten together, these amino acids work to feed your body the complete protein it needs.
Here are some fun rice and bean recipe combos from around the world:
- Chana masala
This is a dish from India. When served on top of basmati rice it makes for a tasty and exotic meal.
- Black-eyed peas served atop long grain brown rice makes for a really healthy lunch.
- Adzuki beans with teriyaki rice will take you across the Pacific to exotic Asian locales.
- White northern beans go well with short grain brown rice. Add a little jerk seasoning to spice them up.
- New Orleans style red beans and rice make for a festive meal.
- Brazilian black beans and rice are also great!
The list goes on and on, really. Bean and rice dishes are a staple in most countries across the globe. Have fun getting creative with your favorites. Fuse them together for some simple vegetarian fusion cuisine. They’re all good for you and yours!
Kale and lemon
One of my absolute favorite kale salads is one my aunt taught me. The recipe contains the following:
- Several cups chopped kale
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Sliced almonds
- Parmesan cheese
All you do is chop the kale and then add the olive oil. Massage the kale in the olive oil. Then add in the rest of the ingredients and toss to combine. The flavor is fantastic and the health benefits vast. This combination of kale and lemon juice makes for a salad that oxygenates your blood cells. How? Well, the vitamin C found in lemon makes the iron found in kale more easily absorbed by the body. The iron transports oxygen to your cells. This is necessary for all bodily functions, including the health of your muscles. If you’re an athlete, eat this salad, for it supports recovery and results in less muscle fatigue.
Black pepper and turmeric
When it comes to spicing up your meals for the greatest health benefit, the black pepper and turmeric combo is one you’ll want to do regularly. By now, you probably know just how good the Asian (and Central American) spice is for you. This golden spice is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and becomes even more potent when eaten with black pepper. The combination of turmeric and black pepper renders the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric that much more effective.
How does this work? Black pepper contains a compound known as piperine. While turmeric contains a healthy compound called curcumin. The piperine in black pepper helps our bodies absorb the curcumin in turmeric. So, I suggest you cook with these two spices simultaneously. Simply keep the two spices next to each other on your spice rack, and make it a habit of adding both of them to your dishes at the same time.
Cheese and eggs
I remember traipsing through Paris as a young girl with a baguette in one hand and a wheel of camembert in the other. I rarely went out to eat as it was beyond my backpacker’s budget. The one meal I remember in a restaurant however, was a perfect cheese omelet at a quiet cafe in the Latin Quarter (the 5th arrondissement) made by a middle-aged woman cooking over a two-burner hot plate.
It was simply the best breakfast I’d had in my life. The French had mastered the art of the perfect cheese omelette years ago, and I had tasted its perfection. Why do cheese and eggs go so well together? None of us can deny the mouthwatering flavor combination. And what makes it better is that it’s really good for our health as well. The vitamin D found in the egg yolks helps the body absorb the calcium in the cheese—a winning combination for our health and our taste buds.
Broccoli and tomatoes
For years, Italians have been making broccoli side dishes with cooked tomatoes. The flavor combination is so tasty. Olive oil, garlic, broccoli and tomatoes sauteed together makes for a wonderful side dish, especially when seasoned with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Lucky for us, the broccoli/tomato combo makes for a really healthy one. The lycopene in tomatoes combined with the cancer preventive properties of broccoli make this combination one that may actually shrink tumors. Whether or not this is true, it’s certainly worth eating just in case it is!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and I hope it inspires you to make some healthful and flavorful dishes with these food combinations. Look to your ancestors and cook like they did. Their wisdom for natural healing was vast!