10 food combinations that mess with your health

Avoid these pairings to boost energy, digestion and weight loss
© Woman's Day // © Woman's Day

Not better together

Eating the right foods is only half the battle. The other? Eating them with more of the right foods. Some surprising combinations can cause weight gain, sluggishness and even tummy troubles because of vitamin and nutrient imbalances. By making simple substitutions, you can keep your body in tip-top shape without sacrificing taste. Discover which food pairings to skip and what to eat instead to be healthier and happier—but definitely not hungrier.

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White bread with jam

This breakfast staple simply doesn’t have enough oomph to satisfy you. “A high-sugar combination at the start of your day can ultimately cause you to overindulge,” says Allison Stowell, consulting registered dietitian for nutrition system Guiding Stars. “When you start your day without protein and with very little fat, you’re vulnerable to overeating for the rest of the day as your body plays catch up.” Swap out white bread for whole-grain bread to add fiber, and switch jam with peanut butter for a fat-and-protein punch that wards off stomach grumbles.

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Pizza with pepperoni

Adding a meat topping that hikes up pizza’s already-elevated calorie, saturated fat and sodium content increases your heart disease risk. “A diet high in this ‘sometimes’ food likely means you aren’t consuming enough better-for-you options such as lean protein and heart-healthy fats,” explains Stowell. Load up your pizza with veggies instead of meat for more nutrients, and pair it with a big garden salad so you’re less tempted to grab another slice.

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Corn chips with salsa

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to pull yourself away from the snack table? “Your craving for salt is likely stronger than your willpower to walk away from the chip bowl, resulting in many calories being consumed,” says Stowell. Although salsa is low-calorie, it lacks the appetite-satisfying power that guacamole’s heart-healthy fats and bean dip’s protein offer. Try those with multi-grain, low-sodium chips to get more fiber than corn chips alone provide and to curb your salt hankering. Better yet, swap chips for raw veggies for vitamin- and antioxidant-filled snacking. 

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Cereal with milk

Believe it or not, the go-to breakfast for many can cause major tummy troubles. “Cereal and milk both contain carbohydrates,” explains Stowell. Quickly digested carbs like these cause blood sugar spikes and energy crashes. More slowly digested foods create less work for your body, and that’s best, says Stowell. To aid digestion, add fat and protein to your morning meal by pouring your cereal over nonfat Greek yogurt and adding a handful of nuts.

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Wine with dessert

Consider switching out your nightly glass of vino for a cup of coffee or tea. According to J. Shah, MD, bariatric physician and medical director of Amari Medical in Scarsdale, NY, wine works well at dinnertime—not afterward. Alcohol interferes with blood sugar by increasing levels of insulin, which then converts the dessert’s extra sugar into fat. And that causes weight gain. “Instead, have wine with low-glycemic foods, such as vegetables, which reduce alcohol’s sugar surge,” he advises.

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A burger with fries

This all-American meal may be convenient, but it’s not without serious consequences. Dr. Shah explains that the overcooked fat and preservatives found in burgers “form a charcoal-like substance.” This combines with the sugar from French fries’ potatoes creating products called cytokines—these inflame cells and kill them, leading to long-term metabolic syndrome and intensified aging. A healthier alternative: a less fatty veggie burger with a pickle on the side.

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Canned tomato soup with grilled cheese

This classic combo isn’t as wholesome as it seems. Jennifer Christman, registered dietitian at Medifast, Inc. says, “Most canned tomato soups are surprisingly high in sugar, thanks to added high fructose corn syrup, and grilled cheese is high in fat and carbs, but offers little protein. And both cheese and tomato soup are high in sodium.” Get more fiber, vitamins and protein—with fewer calories—by choosing low-sodium tomato soup with no added sugar and making grilled cheese with whole-grain bread and lowfat cheese.

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Meatloaf with mashed potatoes

A Sunday dinner favorite, this combination provides some nutritional value—along with potential digestive woes. “While meatloaf is a good source of protein, it’s usually high in fat and calories,” says Christman. “Mashed potatoes only provide a few grams of fiber and tend to have added butter or cream, making the overall meal very high in saturated fat. The lack of fiber may also lead to constipation.” For the same comforting taste with more fiber and fewer calories, try turkey meatloaf with a side of mashed cauliflower.

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Salad with lowfat or fat-free dressing

That’s right: Reduced-fat dressings aren’t the better option for flavoring your salad. As Christman explains, “Vegetables’ vitamins, such as A and K, need some fat to be absorbed. Avoiding fat prevents maximum nutrient absorption.” Plus, many lowfat and fat-free dressings are incredibly sugar-laden. So dress your greens with extra-virgin olive oil to enhance nutrient absorption, and your choice of vinegar for some zing.

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