The best food combinations

Siski Green / 22 August 2016

Should you avoid fruit before dinner? Is it best to eat protein with carbohydrates? Find out which food combinations work best together and which to avoid.



There are entire diets dedicated to telling you which foods you should or shouldn’t eat at the same time. But there’s little evidence to back them up – most foods can be eaten at the same time without any problem at all.

That said, some foods don’t bring out the best in other foods when they’re eaten together, and other foods can actually improve your nutrient uptake, so it’s still useful to learn a little more about how foods interact with each other.   

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Fruit can be eaten with other foods

There’s been a lot of stuff said about eating fruit on an empty stomach and not with other foods, but there’s little evidence to show that eating fruit with other foods is bad.

What is known is that if you eat fruit on its own, i.e. on an empty stomach, it will be digested more quickly.

For that same reason, however, it is in some people’s health interests to eat fruit with other foods – because for diabetics, for example, whose blood sugar levels should be kept steady, eating fruit on its own might spike those sugar levels.

Eating fruit with other foods, such as low-GI bread or similar, will mean the sugar is released more steadily into the bloodstream. 

In fact, some fruits are better if eaten with other fruits 

You may already be eating a handful of berries a day because you know they’re full of antioxidant goodness but, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, if you eat a variety of them at the same time, antioxidant activity is boosted, meaning you get even more benefit. So mix it up whenever possible.

You can mix them up in a blender for delicious smoothies (but possibly without yogurt or milk, though, see below), add them to desserts, or simply eat half a handful of blueberries and some raspberries, for example, or chop up some pear and eat it with blackberries.

Some fruits, however, are best not eaten with milk products

Yogurt with a handful of berries might seem like a healthy option and it is, but it could be healthier if you ate the berries separately.

The reason being that milk proteins which are found in cheese, yogurt, cream and milk, bind to antioxidants and so can prevent them from being processed as efficiently.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat berries with your yogurt, though, just that you might get more antioxidant benefit if you at them separately.

There is some more bad news, however – the interaction between milk and antioxidants also means that adding milk to your tea isn’t ideal. Not only does the milk interfere with your antioxidant absorption from the tea, the caffeine in the tea may also reduce calcium absorption (from the milk). 

While we’re on the topic of tea, it’s also best to avoid it if you’re eating lentils, or soy-based products within a few hours. Why? Tea contains tannins, as does red wine and chocolate, and these can prevent your body absorbing certain types of iron, like those in lentils and soy products.

Good news, though: it doesn’t appear to have the same effect with meat-based iron, so you can go ahead with that red wine and steak!

Understanding antioxidants

Carbohydrates can be eaten with protein, but you might want to leave them until last

A lot has been said about eating proteins separately from carbs, with suggestions that the digestive system works better at processing them separately. There’s no evidence of that, however.

What there is evidence of is a difference in blood sugar levels depending on the order in which you eat these two food groups.

Research from the American Diabetes Association found that eating fibre-rich and protein-rich foods before carbohydrates can help control blood sugar levels, keeping them more stable.

While this is obviously interesting to diabetics, it’s also useful information for people trying to lose weight. By controlling your blood sugar levels, you’ll avoid energy slumps and the subsequent desire for junk food, helping you to stick to your healthy diet. 

The truth about carbs

Fat and tomatoes is a match made in heaven 

Olive oil on your tomato salad doesn’t just taste good, it also helps your body process lycopene, the substance that gets all the credit for giving the tomato its anti-carcinogenic properties.

Researchers from Oregon State University, USA, found that fat aided the absorption of lycopene, which means you’ll get more goodness from every tomato you eat.

You can also try guacamole, which combines tomato and avocado, a healthy source of good fats. 

And so is meat and veg…

Some nutrients aren’t absorbed well unless they’re combined with others. For example, vitamin C is essential for absorbing iron. That doesn’t mean you have to eat a lemon with your pork chops, though (although you could go for duck a l’orange!), it just means your body needs a good intake of vitamin C, along with the iron, for good absorption.

So to be sure, you could eat beef with broccoli, which contains around 100mg of vitamin C per 100g, or you could try a goulash dish with pork and/or beef, which also contains green or red pepper, a great source of the C vit. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.