You probably know that blueberries, kale, quinoa and lentils are good for you. And chances are, you try to include these healthy whole foods in your diet more often.
Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and pulses are exceptional sources of fibre, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals, food components that work together to deliver health benefits.
It’s a concept called food synergy, the idea that the naturally-occurring compounds in a whole food interact to create greater health benefits than can be achieved by any of its individual components, be it a vitamin, mineral, fatty acid or particular antioxidant.
You won’t find this orchestrated web of beneficial compounds in highly processed foods. Nor will you find it a vitamin pill or other nutrition supplements.
Eat this with that
A healthy diet is one that includes a wide variety of nutrient-rich whole foods. Consider, too, pairing nutritious foods to make them even better for you.
Food synergy also occurs when two different foods interact in certain ways to deliver greater nutritional value – and greater potential health benefits – than if they’re eaten alone. Include these smart food combinations on your menu.
Eggs + Spinach
Adding whole eggs to a spinach salad does more than increase your protein intake. Thanks to the fatty yolk, eggs also boost the body’s absorption of vitamin E, a fat-soluble nutrient that’s needed for a healthy immune system, skin and eyes.
According to a small study from Purdue University published last year, when three whole eggs were added to a salad (baby spinach, romaine lettuce, carrot, tomato), the amount of vitamin E absorbed from the vegetables was 4- to 7-fold higher than when the salad was eaten without eggs.
The researchers also found that the addition of eggs enhanced the absorption of beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene, antioxidants that, like vitamin E, are best absorbed if there’s fat in the meal.
Blueberries + Strawberries
Both types of berries contain polyphenols, potent antioxidants thought to help guard against Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. But research from Cornell University (2004) suggests you’ll reap even more health benefits if you add both types of berries to your smoothie rather than just one.
The researchers found that, compared to any single fruit studied, combinations of fruit had the highest antioxidant activity. It’s thought that the additive and synergistic properties of antioxidants in fruits (and vegetables) are responsible for their protective effects.
Don’t stop at berries. Serve a mixed fruit salad for dessert, add a variety of chopped fruit to oatmeal, or eat a clementine and an apple for a midday snack.
Quinoa + Red Pepper
Besides delivering a decent amount of fibre and protein, quinoa is also a good source of iron. The problem, though, is that that iron from plant foods (called non-heme iron) isn’t as easily absorbed as the iron in meat (heme iron).
Adding a food that’s high in vitamin C, like red bell pepper (95 mg per one-half cup), to a quinoa salad or pilaf can enhance non-heme iron absorption by four-fold. Vitamin C helps transform non-heme iron into a well-absorbed form.
To increase iron absorption from plant foods, add 25 to 100 mg of vitamin C to the meal. Other excellent sources of the nutrient include broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, mango, oranges and strawberries.
Green tea + lemon
Green tea is packed with EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), a flavonoid antioxidant linked to protection from cancer and cardiovascular disease. According to Purdue University, you’ll make more of these antioxidants available for your body to absorb if you add citrus, like lemon, to green tea.
And if you’re drinking tea with a plant-based meal, adding lemon juice helps neutralize the iron-binding effect of compounds in tea called tannins.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.