The concept of “food synergy,” explains how two foods can be greater than the sum of their parts.
The idea of food synergy leads us down a path that I’m completely comfortable recommending. It’s a path toward eating more whole foods and plant foods and fewer processed foods; a path that seeks balance within broad dietary patterns instead of focusing on one or two particular foods or ingredients. It’s a path that leads us beyond "low-fat" or "low-carb."
The truth is that there are all sorts of examples of food synergy at work in research published over the last five years. We know now that in so many cases, the power in food is in the package, not the individual components.
When we nourish our bodies with the best foods that nature has to offer, our bodies respond positively by keeping us in good health.
Here are some of the most powerful food synergies currently known to science.
Oil and Veggies
A spoonful of oil mixed in with your veggies or greens may help to unlock their full nutritional benefits by absorbing more nutrients especially these four carotenoids alpha and beta carotenoid, lutein and lycopene, and two fat soluble vitamins, vitamin E and vitamin K. The oil also promoted the absorption of vitamin A, which formed in the small intestine from alpha and beta carotene. The better absorption of the nutrients promotes a range of health benefits, including cancer prevention and eyesight preservation.
How much oil ? A little over two tablespoons per day. This can be spread out over lunch and dinner by drizzling over your salad and veggies.
Broccoli and Tomatoes
Pairing broccoli with tomatoes is a match made in health heaven ! In a study to be published in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, prostate tumors grew much less in rats that were fed tomatoes and broccoli than in rats who ate diets containing broccoli alone or tomatoes alone, or diets that contained cancer-fighting substances that had been isolated from tomatoes or broccoli. The bottom line is that a lycopene supplement may not hurt, but the whole tomato will probably help more. And a tomato eaten with broccoli may help even more !
Apple skins and Cancer Prevention.
The majority of an apple’s anticancer properties are hidden in the peel. The phytochemicals in the apple flesh seem to work best with the phytochemicals in the peel to reduce the risk of cancer. How do they work? To obtain a clue regarding the mechanism, they determined the effect of apple peels on the tumor suppressor protein, maspin, inside the cancer cells. Maspin is a tumor suppressor gene that has been shown to have tumor suppressor, anti-angiogenic, and antimetastatic properties in both breast and prostate cancer cells. The tumor cells found a way to turn this tumor suppressor gene off, and apple peels apparently turned it back on. An upregulation of this tumor-suppression gene, as you add more and more of the apple peel extract to each of the cancer types. The researchers concluded that apple peels may possess strong anti-proliferative effects against cancer cells, and should not be discarded from the diet.
Cooked tomatoes and olive oil or cheese
Ninety-eight percent of the flavonols (powerful phytochemicals) in tomatoes is found in the tomato skin, along with great amounts of two carotenoids (the most well-know of which is lycopene) are found in abundance in tomatoes. Carotenoids are fat soluble hence the absorption of these key nutrients is much greater when the tomatoes are cooked with fats such as olive oil or cheese. Most Mediterranean dishes use olive oil, cooked tomatoes and occasionally some cheese !
Two phytochemicals naturally found in cruciferous vegetables (cambene and indole 3-carbinol) were more active when combined, according to research that tested the compounds alone and together in rats. The researchers found that the two compounds were able to protect the rats against liver cancer much better together. Both cambene and indole 3-carbinol are known to activate important detoxification enzymes that help the body eliminate carcinogens before they harm our genes. Foods rich in cambene include Brussels sprouts and certain varieties of broccoli. And all cruciferous veggies are rich in indole 3-carbinol.
Bananas and Yogurt
Bananas contain inulin; research indicates inulin fuels the growth of yogurt’s healthy bacteria, which helps regulate digestion and boost immunity.
Vinegar and Rice
Vinegar decreases rice’s ability to raise blood sugar levels by 20 to 40 percent. Consider eating a stir-fry with a vinegar- based sauce or a brown rice casserole with a salad and vinegar dressing.
Apples and Cranberries
Both apples and cranberries are rich in a wide variety of antioxidants, including quercetin and anthocyanidins; research shows that when we eat these foods together, their antioxidant activity is significantly higher than if we eat the foods separately.
Green Tea and Lemon
The vitamin C in lemon makes more of the catechins (a type of antioxidant) in green tea available to our bodies.
Raspberries and Chocolate
Scientists have discovered that when raspberries and chocolate are paired together, their disease-fighting flavonoids (quercetin in raspberries and catechin in chocolate) are even more effective at thinning the blood and improving heart health.
Turmeric and Black Pepper
The spice turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties—it’s being studied for its potential to fight cancer, improve liver function, lower cholesterol and stave off Alzheimer’s disease. When we combine it with black pepper, our bodies absorb 1,000 times more curcumin (turmeric’s active ingredient) than when turmeric is consumed alone.
Blueberries and Walnuts
Blueberries contain phytochemicals known as anthocyanins that protect the brain from oxidative damage, and walnuts are a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids that help make us smarter. Research has shown that these compounds are even more powerful at sharpening memory and improving communication between brain cells when they work together.
Whole Grain Bread and Peanut Butter
Together, these two foods contain all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies need to build bones, muscles and hormones.
Chicken and Carrots
Chicken contains zinc, which is a mineral which our bodies need to efficiently metabolize the beta-carotene in carrots into vitamin A, a nutrient we need for healthy skin, strong eyes and a robust immune system.
Garlic and Onions
The organosulfur compounds in garlic and onions are more powerful in combination than alone. Together, they help remove plaque from arteries and keep blood vessels flexible and healthy.
Rosemary and Meat
Marinate your meat with rosemary before cooking: The herb is rich in antioxidants such as rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid that help neutralize carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when meat reaches temperatures of 200C degrees or higher.
Eggs with Cheese or Milk
The vitamin D in egg yolks makes the calcium in dairy more available to our bodies—important for bones and heart health as well. A study conducted by Mother Earth News in 2008 confirmed that pastured hens lay eggs with higher concentrations of vitamin D than those raised in confinement.
Oatmeal with Oranges or Strawberries
Phenols (a plant compound) in oatmeal and vitamin C high in both oranges and strawberries, both lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Eaten together, their ability to improve cholesterol and prevent heart disease is four times greater than what they’re capable of individually. Try eating oatmeal with strawberries or make oatmeal cookies using orange juice.
Oily Fish and Red Wine
Plant compounds in grapes known as polyphenols do more than promote good circulation—they also help our bodies absorb more of the brain-healthy omega-3s in fish. In cuisine fish and red wine do not mix – yet am sure once in a while you can break the rules to reap the benefits !
Garlic and Fish
Both of these foods fight inflammation and disease, but together, they’re even more powerful: Research has shown that a combination of garlic and fish lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol more effectively than eating the foods on their own.
Fish and Broccoli
Fish contains the mineral selenium, and broccoli is rich in a disease-fighting compound known as sulforaphane. Research shows that selenium and sulforaphane together are 13 times more effective at slowing cancer cell growth than when eaten alone. Brazil nuts are also very high in selenium.
Lemon and Spinach
The vitamin C in lemons helps our bodies absorb more of spinach’s plant-based iron, a mineral that prevents mood swings and promotes happiness.
Red Wine and Almonds
Together, the antioxidant resveratrol in red wine and the vitamin E in almonds boost the body’s ability to thin the blood and improve the health of blood vessel linings.
Beet Greens and Chickpeas
Chickpeas are a good source of vitamin B6, which helps our bodies absorb the magnesium found in beet greens (B6 helps facilitate the transport of magnesium across cell membranes). These nutrients work together in the body to ease the symptoms of PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) , ADHD and of course is great for athletes !
Broccoli and Pine Nuts
The vitamin C in broccoli helps keep the vitamin E in pine nuts active and potent.
Moringa and Ginger
This is an incredible duo worth mentioning. When paired together their healing properties are intensified. They both have anti-inflammatory, cancer preventative, blood sugar and cholesterol lowering properties in addition to aiding people with anemia, stomach issues, headaches and high blood pressure. This is my favourite tea combination !
We've known for nearly a century and a half, since the 1870 siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, that type 2 diabetes could be reversed by an extreme reduction in food intake. This has since been demonstrated experimentally; by starving people enough, you can reverse diabetes. Diabetes specialists have long known that the tiny proportion of iron-willed diabetics who can substantially decrease their weight and maintain this can exhibit a return to normal metabolism.
A label is required to allow doctors to recognize and appropriately manage this subgroup who are willing to do anything to get rid of their diabetes. These are the Health-Motivated. At the time of diagnosis, the Health-Motivated individuals will benefit from being advised that they are likely to be able to reverse their diabetes completely by losing up to a fifth of their body weight. And then, only if they’re shown to be not sufficiently strongly motivated, should the routine guidelines for managing type 2 diabetes be rolled out, which include lots of drugs.
Unfortunately, the control of blood sugar with medication has proven to be unsustainable and may actually exacerbate obesity, making us put on more weight, and, thus, creating a vicious cycle. There’s got to be a better way.
Instead of starving oneself by eating less food, what if we instead just eat better food?
Eating a diet that emphasizes all-you-can-eat greens, lots of vegetables, beans, some whole grains, nuts, and seeds, at least 90% plant-based. So, at least one big salad every day—like a pound of raw greens, veggie-bean soup, a handful of nuts and seeds, fruit at every meal, a pound of cooked greens, some whole grains, but no refined grains, junk food, or oil, and a restriction on animal products.
Thirteen diabetic men and women sticking to this diet for an average of seven months.
How’d they do?
Hemoglobin A1C is considered the best measure of blood sugar control. Below six is normal, non-diabetic, but the official American Diabetes Association target is to get diabetics at least down to 7. And anything above seven is uncontrolled diabetes.
Here’s where they all started out after having diabetes for an average of more than seven years. Then, they started plowing in the plants: months 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. After about seven months, their average A1C dropped from a diabetic 8.2 down to a non-diabetic 5.8. The majority dropped down to normal, and this is after dropping most of their medications.
Now, this was a pilot study, just a handful of people, no control group, and included only people who could actually stick to the diet, a retrospective case series, considered one of the weakest forms of published evidence.
However, the magnitude of the effect they found indicates that a high nutrient density diet can be very effective for some people.
With a little guidance and some helpful tips it is possible to not have to spend a fortune to eat a healthy, balanced diet. In fact an authentic, traditional Mediterranean diet is a nutritious and balanced diet to follow for life.
The traditional Mediterranean diet consists of fruit and vegetables, carob, honey, whole grains, beans and other pulses, fish, eggs, goat’s cheese, yogurt, virgin olive oil, garlic, onions and herbs, wild edible plants and mushrooms, nuts and seeds, red meat is eaten once a week and let’s not forget that glass of red wine.
Foods made from refined sugar and grains such as white bread, cakes, cookies and pastries are consumed in very small amounts. All for a healthier weight, less belly fat, and a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.
There have been recent studies claiming healthy food is only for the rich, this can make sense when you visit the health food shop and find yourself with a three-figure bill starring at you as you had happened to add in wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef and organic cheeses, eggs and a couple of healthy bars.
For more realistic measures and economical buys for healthy eating and living, here are a couple of tips to follow:
Shop for nutrient dense foods at a bargain. These may include:
Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !