When it comes to planning meals, most people spend time focusing on including good ingredients, but they probably don't think twice about how those foods interact together. However, there are a number of food pairs you shouldn't eat together, not because they will taste bad, but because they can work against each other to block absorption of important nutrients — or even harm your digestion. Choosing healthy foods is the first step, but learning how to eat them together is just as important.
"Food synergy" is the idea that certain foods work better when eaten together, according to WebMD. For example, lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, is best absorbed when paired with a fat. But the reverse is true too. Drinking your tea with milk, for instance, actually negates all the health benefits of drinking it in the first place, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal.
Most of us don't know this information off the top of our heads, which makes it all the more important to keep yourself educated. Some of these foods you might combine regularly and might not even realize the effect that they'll have. Here are seven food pairs you didn't know you should never eat together.
1Meat & Dairy
You might want to think twice about adding that cheese to your burger — as delicious as it might taste. "Iron and calcium inhibit each others' absorption, leaving us with little of either as 'bioavailable' (absorbed)," says Monica Heather Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N over email. "This is especially sad since iron-deficiency anemia is especially hard to treat, and red meat is the best bioavailable source." Research is mixed, as short-term studies show that dairy does block absorption of iron while long-term studies show no effect, but if you'r eating meat for the iron or have a deficiency, you're best eating the foods separate.
2Tea & Milk
Although it's a custom all around the world, serving milk with your tea is actually not the best idea, as drinking tea with milk blunts the positive health effects of the tea, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal. "The casein in the milk nullifies most benefits of the polyphenols, the plant chemicals that fight disease, in tea," says Auslander. "Luckily, you're safe with nut or plant-based milks."
3Fruit & Starch
Although fruit is definitely an important part of your diet, you want to avoid eating it with foods that take longer to digest. Fruits pass quickly through the stomach, but when you pair them with something like grains, they stay too long in your stomach and start to ferment, natural health coach Tara Alder told Care2. This can cause problems with digesting and even bloating.
4Alcohol & Kombucha
Even though there already is some alcohol in kombucha, you'll want to consume the drink separately from any real booze. "If you are in the habit of drinking kombucha mimosas, you might not realize some of that alcohol can denature the healthy gut bacteria in the probiotic drink," says Auslander. Since one of kombucha's major health benefits is that it's a probiotic, it's best to keep it separate from the champagne.
5Salad & Fat-Free Dressing
It might seem healthier to opt for the fat-free salad dressing, but you'll be missing out on some of your salad's major health benefits if you choose to do so. "Carotenoids, which help fight inflammation and are found in fruits and vegetables such as beets, asparagus, carrots and oranges, are an essential component to any healthy diet," says Abby Sauer, MPH, RD, a dietitian at Abbott over email. "However, if they aren’t paired with the proper foods, you could be greatly missing out on their benefits. A recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that carotenoids in salad are more fully absorbed when eaten with full fat dressing instead of low-fat or fat-free options.
6Alcohol & Caffeine
Having some coffee before a big night out seems like the logical thing to do, but anyone who has ever tried a Four Loko knows how dangerous that can be. Mixing coffee and alcohol can increase your risk of being in an accident as well as increase your risk of making a decision you'll later regret, according to multiple studies. Caffeine can mask the effects of intoxication, which can lead you to drink much more than you intended — and we all know how that ends up.
7Orange Juice & Grains
Having a glass of orange juice with your morning oatmeal might seem innocent enough, but your stomach probably doesn't like it. Acidic fruits like oranges destroy the enzyme that is responsible for digesting starches, according to MindBodyGreen, which can start your morning off with some unwanted tummy troubles.