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There’s a strong argument for getting your basic nutrition from whole foods rather than taking a fistful of supplements each day.
One reason for this is because whole foods contain blends of vitamins and minerals that enhance their potency. Single nutrient supplements like vitamin D, vitamin C, iron, and the like are less powerful without their “helper” nutrients.
For example, you’ve probably heard that the yellow Indian spice turmeric is an antioxidant. It’s excellent for reducing inflammation, boosting brain health, and soothing arthritis.
But did you know that adding some black pepper to turmeric dramatically increases your body’s absorption rate? (Meaning your body uses more of it.)
If you add a little fat to this combination, like avocados or salmon, you can increase absorption even more.
Below are a few more nutrient combos that can help transform your meals into powerful health boosters.
Calcium and Vitamin D
For your body to absorb calcium — which is important for strong bones and healthy nerves — it needs a dose of vitamin D. If you’re vitamin D deficient then there’s a good chance your body is not getting enough calcium, even if you’re supplementing.
Calcium is found in milk and dairy, of course. And it’s also in green vegetables, leafy greens, fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, and sardines) and beans.
Vitamin D is plentiful in seafood like oysters and shrimp, mushrooms, egg yolks, and foods fortified with vitamin D.
Some examples of tasty food combinations that provide both nutrients are:
- Fatty fish and broccoli
- Eggs with a bit of cheese
- Leafy greens and beef liver
- Almond trout
Sodium and Potassium
In small amounts, sodium chloride (table salt) is beneficial. Unfortunately, there’s so much salt hidden in processed and packaged foods — even those we think are healthy — that we consume way more salt than necessary.
Too much salt can constrict blood vessels and increase blood volume, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
But potassium can help counteract the effects of salt by encouraging your kidneys to let go of excess sodium. Studies show that a diet high in potassium can boost heart health.
Increasing your potassium intake, while trying to lower your salt intake, can do wonders for your heart. Good sources of potassium include:
- Kidney beans
Vitamin B12 and Folate
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin, meaning your body needs it to function properly. Your body needs folate to make red and white blood cells, convert carbs to energy, and produce DNA.
Folate needs B12 to absorb properly. And Vitamin B12 and folate work together to foster healthy cell division and replication.
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products like meat, eggs, and milk. Folate is found primarily in vegetables like leafy greens, legumes, and beans. It’s also found in some fruits.
Related: The benefits of B12 you need to know
So just about any combination of lean protein and veggies will give you a powerhouse blend of these essential nutrients. For example:
- Steak with a side of spinach
- Chicken and white bean soup
- Pork chops with a side of lentils
Zinc and Copper
Zinc and copper are trace minerals that play important roles in your health. Zinc helps regulate the immune system, boost learning and memory retention, increase sperm quality for men, and more.
Copper is necessary for creating red blood cells, maintaining healthy bones and blood vessels, and helping your body absorb iron.
The trouble is, zinc and copper tend to compete for absorption in the small intestine. That means too much zinc in your diet can cause a copper deficiency. Too much copper can cause a zinc deficiency.
Fortunately, zinc and copper are both found in the foods mentioned above: leafy greens, meat, and seafood, beans, nuts and seeds, eggs, cheese, etc. Just make sure you’re getting a balance of all these foods, so you’re not getting too much zinc or too much copper.
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Turmeric: An overview of potential health benefits — Nutrition Today
Using black pepper to enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric — University of Massachusetts Medical School
Nutrition’s dynamic duos — Harvard Health