Why food PAIRINGS are so important: Nutritionist on what ingredients enhance ...

Rob Hobson, a London-based nutritionist and Head of Nutrition at Healthspan, explains why food pairings are so important for a diet

Rob Hobson, a London-based nutritionist and Head of Nutrition at Healthspan, explains why food pairings are so important for a diet

The long-held saying ‘you are what you eat’ has had an upgrade.

For research increasingly shows that it’s not just what you eat, but what you pair with it that can have a dramatic effect on your weight, food cravings and energy levels.

Earlier this month, researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology revealed that avocado could be doing wonders for our waistlines and diabetes risk – but not if we eat it on toast.

Specifically, in the study of 30 people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30, the buttery fruit was best used as a replacement for processed carbohydrates such as white bread.

The study found avocado helped to control blood sugar, suppressed hunger and therefore helped with weight loss.

Why? Because processed carbohydrates are broken down quickly in the body, leaving you feeling hungry shortly afterwards. Fats, however, take much longer to be digested.

Overall, this study showed two main things:

Contrary to popular belief, fats have a beneficial role to play in the diet and do not necessarily make you fat. Cutting back on carbohydrates – especially highly processed ‘white’ ones – is a good way to help with weight loss, and that the carbs you [itals] do [end itals] still eat should be higher fiber options such as wholegrains.


The food pairing choices you make will have a very real effect on your energy, how quickly you feel hungry again after eating – and therefore your weight.

The key is to pick foods that will keep you fuller for longer – and avoid those which cause your blood sugar to shoot up and then crash down again – triggering hunger pangs.


Satiety is the full feeling you get after eating a meal and the suppression of hunger for a time afterwards.

It’s particularly important for weight management as it can help to ward of hunger pangs and the temptation to snack between meals.

Therefore, understanding which foods are more satiating and how to put meals together using them will help you to control how much you eat later on in the day.

How does the body know when it’s full?

There are several signals that contribute to satiety once you have started to eat.

These include the sensory experience of eating (sight, smell, texture and flavor), stomach expansion and effect of hormones which are released when we digest and absorb foods and drinks.

Other hormones indicate to the brain how much fat is stored in the body, which impacts on longer term satiety. All of these signals come together in the brain to help control how much we eat.

Which foods are the most filling?

Foods high in protein appear to be more satiating than those high in fat or carbohydrates.

Fiber is also satiating as it helps to bulk out the diet and can slow down the breakdown of food in the gut (high-fiber foods include whole grains, beans and pulses).

Foods such as soups and stews made with vegetables and pulses are another good option.

High in filling fiber, this means you can reduce your calorie intake without having to choose smaller portion sizes. The high water content of these dishes also stimulates the stretch receptor lining in the stomach, signalling to the brain that you are full.



Croissant and fruit juice for breakfast

This combination of foods is high in quickly-digested carbohydrates that may impact on energy and hunger levels shortly after eating as your blood sugar peaks and then quickly drops.

To make this a more satisfying partnership, you should try adding a lean protein to the croissant – such as ham – or better still, opt for something more similar to wholegrain toast.

Adding fiber and protein can help to slow the breakdown of carbohydrates having less impact on blood sugar levels and energy.

Instead of fruit juice, which is basically sugar in a glass, you could opt for a smoothie made with oats which will contain more protein and take little while longer to be broken down in the body. Ingredients such as yogurt in a smoothie will also add to the protein content.

Beef with beans (chili-con-carne)

This classic Mexican food combination is rich in iron from the beef but also compounds called phytates, which are found in beans. Phytates can bind with minerals such as iron in the gut and prevent their absorption.

If you eat plenty of iron in your diet (iron-rich foods include quinoa, oats, dark green leafy vegetables, poultry, lean red meat and shellfish), then you can counteract the effect of phytates, but if your stores are low then this could be an issue.

Partnering beef with a meaty – and therefore filling – vegetable such as mushrooms instead of beans might be a good option. Alternatively, add in plenty of vitamin C rich vegetables such as red peppers which can help with the absorption of iron from the pulses.

Tea and fruit cake or fruit bread

This combination is a popular mid-afternoon snack, but it’s not ideal – although perhaps not for the reasons you think!

While a small piece of fruit cake or fruit bread can make for a ‘healthier’ sweet treat than biscuits – and the dried fruit in it is a good source of iron – you might want to think twice about washing it down with a cup of tea.

This is because compounds in tea, called tannins, can impact on the absorption of iron in the body. This may not be an issue if your iron stores are high, but could be more so for those with low iron, as every little counts.

Be aware that all black teas and coffees contain tannins, so opting for something herbal might be a good option. Fresh mint tea or ginger and lemon can be a refreshing alternative in the afternoon.

White pasta with creamy sauces

Not only is this pairing high in quickly digested carbohydrates (although the breakdown is slowed down a little by the fat in the sauce), but the addition of a creamy sauce really ramps up the calories

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