Healthy Fall Food Combinations

By Shauna Schultz, RD

Certain foods when eaten together have a positive influence on our health, such as enhancing our nutrient absorption or antioxidant activity. Most foods contain a combination of several nutrients that work together to provide health benefits beyond those of just one vitamin, mineral or phytochemical. This is a dynamic known as food synergy.

Eating in season is a natural way to create food synergy—it promotes variety and takes advantage of local nutrient-dense foods. Here are four delicious food combinations to try this fall that will improve the health value of your meals.
Roasted cauliflower with turmeric and black pepper

Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric, and adding just a small amount of black pepper increases its absorption and potency. Turmeric and cauliflower are a natural pair—just toss the cauliflower with these two spices and a little oil, then roast until tender.

Quinoa and edamame with miso-orange dressing
The non-heme iron in legumes, nuts and grains is sensitive to enhancers such as vitamin C, which can enhance iron absorption from plants by up to four times. It does so by protecting it from oxidation in the digestive tract and changing it into a more soluble form. Check out the Miso-Orange Dressing below, which uses fresh orange juice to add vitamin C to iron-rich quinoa and edamame. Add other vitamin C-rich vegetables like broccoli or bell peppers to further enhance absorption.

Roasted root vegetables and shiitake mushrooms with cilantro pumpkin seed pesto
Root vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, and seeds are good sources of iron and zinc. Pairing these with garlic (or onion) can increase nutrient availability by up to one half, thanks to their sulfur-containing compounds. Try the recipe for Cilantro Pumpkin Seed Pesto below and take roasted root vegetables like winter squash, beets, and potatoes to a new level!

Massaged kale with lemon and avocado
A small amount of healthy fat helps you absorb and utilize fat-soluble vitamins (such as E and K) found in leafy greens, as well as protective phytochemicals such as lutein and antioxidants like beta-carotene. Simply massage kale with avocado and fresh lemon juice for a delicious side dish that increases the absorption of several key nutrients.

Orange sesame dressing
Juice of 1-2 oranges (½ cup)
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon agave
2 teaspoons white or yellow miso
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Chill until ready to use. Serves 8.

Cilantro pumpkin seed pesto
1 large bunch cilantro, washed, with the bottom of stems trimmed
¼ cup water
Juice of one lime
½ cup pumpkin seeds
2 garlic cloves
Pinch of salt and black pepper
¼ cup olive oil or any nut oil
Combine the cilantro, water, lime juice, seeds, garlic, salt, pepper and oil in a food processor. Process until smooth. Set aside. Serves 8.