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Food combos add up to healthier eating

/ Source: Prevention

Healthy eating is all about math: subtracting fat, counting calories, dividing portions.

But let's not forget adding: It's the little things we toss in the pot that often yield the biggest benefits. "Adding just one food to another can make a tremendous difference in your total nutrient intake and offer significant health gains," says Tara Gidus, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

With benefits ranging from stronger bones and better eyesight to a healthier heart and improved immunity, here are 15 of our favorite quick pairings for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks — even beverages — that taste great, take seconds to make, and add up to amazing health.

Whole grain cereal (any kind) + sunflower seeds for better immunity

Sprinkling ½ cup of sunflower seeds into your morning cereal provides more than 100 percent of your day's requirements for alpha-tocopherol, the most active form of vitamin E. As an antioxidant, vitamin E protects cells from damage caused by destructive free radicals that can lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Scrambled eggs + red peppers for smoother skin

Tossing in ½ cup of chopped red peppers delivers more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin C need — which spells good news for your skin. Researchers in the United Kingdom looked at vitamin C intake in 4,025 women and found that those who ate more vitamin C had less wrinkling and dryness.

Smoothie (any kind) + wheat germ for faster healing of cuts and bruises

One-quarter cup of wheat germ packs nearly half of your day's requirements for zinc, an essential mineral that helps repair cells and strengthens the immune system. Even a slight deficiency can reduce your immunity, making it harder to heal.

Sandwich (any kind) + spinach leaves for decreased risk of night blindness

Stacking only three small leaves of spinach on your sandwich satisfies at least 20 percent of your day's vitamin A requirements. Vitamin A helps you see in the dark, but it also protects your eyes from age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to vision loss.

Garden salad + canned wild salmon for healthier brain and heart

Adding 3 ounces of canned wild salmon to your salad provides half of the weekly recommendation for healthy omega-3 fats. The fatty acids found in canned salmon are linked with improvements in heart and brain health. Choosing wild lowers your exposure to dioxin, which is a cancer-causing contaminant found in the feed given to the farm-raised variety, says Evelyn Tribole, RD, author of "The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet."

Stir-fry (any kind) + kale for stronger eyes

One-half cup of kale delivers at least 12 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found in dark leafy greens that help combat cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Results from the Eye Disease Case Control Study found that people who ate the most of these nutrients — as much as 5.8 mg a day — had a significantly lower risk of AMD than those who ate the least. Stir-fry is the perfect way to throw it into the mix; if you're not a kale fan, other leafy greens such as Swiss chard and spinach offer similar benefits.

Salsa + chickpeas for lower body weight

Adding chickpeas to a light dip like salsa adds bulk without lots of calories and boosts your intake of protein, so you fill up faster and feel fuller. Eating chickpeas regularly may also improve your overall food choices. An Australian study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who ate ½ cup of chickpeas a day weighed a pound less and ate less food overall.

Low-fat pudding + nonfat powdered milk for less PMS

Sprinkling 1/3 cup of nonfat powdered milk into pudding satisfies 40 percent of your day's calcium and 50 percent to 100 percent of your vitamin D requirements, depending on your age. Research shows that the combination of calcium and vitamin D reduces the risk of developing PMS.

Green tea + lemon for lower cancer risk

Green tea is already rich in antioxidants, but a study from Purdue University found that adding citrus juice led to a fourfold increase in disease-fighting catechins. Lemon juice in particular preserved the most catechins, while orange, lime, and grapefruit juices were less potent but effective.

Water + unsweetened cranberry juice for fewer cavities

Unsweetened cranberry juice prevents the buildup of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria behind most cavities, by preventing them from sticking to the tooth's surface. The unsweetened juice also interferes with plaque formation. Mixing it with water helps dilute the juice's tartness.

Strawberries + nonfat Greek yogurt for more muscle

Greek yogurt packs twice the protein of ordinary yogurt, and protein is essential for building, repairing, and maintaining muscles, which burn more calories than fat. Strawberries add a burst of natural sweetness.

Pasta (any kind) + parsley for stronger bones

Topping a pasta dish with just six sprigs of parsley offers a fresh boost of flavor and delivers a full day's supply of vitamin K, says Marisa Moore, RD, an Atlanta-based nutritionist and ADA spokesperson. Vitamin K is important for bone health — studies show that it helps prevent fractures and may guard against bone loss.

Burger + ketchup for decreased cancer risk

A tablespoon of this condiment supplies you a healthful dose of lycopene, an antioxidant that guards against various forms of cancer by blocking cell-damaging free radicals. Eating processed tomatoes (such as those in ketchup and tomato sauce) is best; cooking releases lycopene inside the plant cells, making it easier to digest and absorb, reports Steven J. Schwartz, PhD, professor of food science at Ohio State University.

Soup (any kind) + pinto beans for lower cholesterol

Adding ½ cup of beans to soup lowers both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol — the unhealthy kind that contributes to the buildup of arterial plaque — according to researchers at Arizona State University Polytechnic. They found that people who ate ½ cup of pinto beans a day lowered both their total and LDL cholesterol by about 8 percent. (Beans are high in fiber, which decreases levels of LDL by reducing its absorption.) One-half cup of black, kidney, or pinto beans supplies about one-third of your day's fiber needs. (The heat from soup cooks canned beans through, and they add heft to a lighter broth).

Seltzer + grape juice for a healthier heart

Grape juice contains a phytochemical called resveratrol found in the skin of red and purple grapes. Research links resveratrol to lower blood pressure, reduced LDL cholesterol, and fewer blood clots.