Olive oil makes it possible for your body to absorb the tomato’s potent fat-soluble antioxidants, such as lycopene, which benefits every organ in the body, especially the skin and heart. (Istockphoto/Washington Post illustration)

Peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, spaghetti and meatballs — these are the Fred-and-Gingers of the food world, duos that are so iconic you can hardly think of one without the other. Each is excellent on its own, but when they are together real magic happens. Although many culinary couples become classics simply because of their complementary taste and textures, some foods also enhance each other nutritionally so that when eaten together they are substantially healthier than they would be if eaten separately. Like Fred and Ginger, these food pairings have unbeatable chemistry.

Tomatoes and olive oil

The only thing that tastes better than a ripe tomato is one that has been drizzled with good extra-virgin olive oil. And it’s hard to imagine making tomato sauce or gazpacho without adding the oil. It turns out this winning combination does a whole lot more than taste good. The oil makes it possible for your body to absorb the tomato’s potent fat-soluble antioxidants, such as lycopene, which benefits every organ in the body, especially the skin and heart. Any oil is better than none, but olive oil, studies show, increases the antioxidant absorption from tomatoes more than most other oils do, plus it has an unbeatable flavor that makes the tomato sing, so it’s a perfect partner.

Salad and eggs

“Put an egg on it” is a meme nowadays, with the idea that you can add an egg to just about any dish — toasts, salads, hashes, vegetable stews — and make it a meal. New research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that beyond adding affordable sustenance, eating a whole, cooked egg with a raw vegetable salad also helps you absorb the carotenoids (a class of antioxidants) from the vegetables. Researchers think it has something to do with the fat and other compounds in the yolk, so you need to use the whole egg rather than just the whites. Scrambled, poached, boiled or fried, pair one with your next salad or vegetable-based meal.

Yogurt and fruit

By now you know that yogurt is rich in probiotics, the good bacteria that help keep your digestive system and, in turn, your whole body healthy. Once you get the probiotics into your system, you need to feed them so they stay and thrive. Their food of choice is fiber, and fruit is one of the best sources of it. You don’t have to eat probiotics and fiber at the same time to get the synergistic effect, but since yogurt and fruit taste so good together and make for such a satisfying meal or snack, why wouldn’t you?

Strawberry-Rhubarb Yogurt Parfaits combine probiotics and fiber. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
Grilled meat and spice rubs

Nothing is quite as alluring as the aroma and taste of meat cooked on the grill. But when meat is cooked over high heat some of its fat forms a compound called malondialdehyde, which has been linked with chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It turns out that pairing meat with herbs and spices can significantly reduce concentrations of this damaging compound because the antioxidants in the spices neutralize it. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported a 71 percent reduction when burgers were cooked with an antioxidant-rich spice blend including oregano, rosemary, black pepper, paprika and garlic. Try rubbing lean steaks with dried herbs and spices or blending some into your burgers before firing them up for an unbeatable combo of great taste and better health.

Fish and curry powder

According to a study in the journal BMC Cancer, two compounds in food that are thought to be potent cancer inhibitors, DHA (the healthy fat in fish) and curcumin (an active compound in yellow curry) work much more effectively together than they do separately. This study used concentrated amounts in supplement form, but getting them through food probably also has a protective effect. Besides, they bring a lot to the table flavor-wise. Taking advantage of this dynamic duo is as simple as sprinkling some yellow curry powder on your fillet before cooking, or adding curry to your tuna salad.

Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author. She blogs and offers a biweekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com. She also writes weekly Nourish recipes in The Washington Post’s Food section.

^ Chat Aug. 13 at 1 p.m. Join Krieger for a live Q&A about healthful eating at live.washingtonpost.com.

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