Variety is the spice of life, and this is also true when it comes to our diets! By now, we can all probably rattle off a list of healthy foods that are beneficial, but did you know that eating certain foods together can have even more of a nutritional impact? Sure, there are certain foods that are known for going together because of their complementary tastes and textures, but some of these iconic food pairs also work together on a scientific level. It’s called food synergy and it’s a better (and tastier) strategy for planning your meals!
Synergistic foods are food pairings that enhance each other’s nutritional value, beneficial properties, absorption and bioavailability when eaten together!
The science behind synergistic foods
Take the classic tomato and avocado combo: they are each incredibly healthy, but even more so when eaten together- like in guacamole or avocado toast!! Healthy fats like those found in avocado, nuts and seeds and even a little bit of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) help the body absorb the protective lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from leafy greens!
Typically, healthy fats and the phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables are an excellent combo that gives you a bigger bang for your bite vs eating them individually.
Here are a few of our favorite food pairs to keep in mind:
- Tomato & avocado – As mentioned above, this is a classic combo but did you know it can reduce your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease? It’s also a great duo taste-wise!
- Oats & strawberries – The vitamin C found in strawberries helps our bodies absorb the iron found in whole grain oats more efficiently. Iron is a necessary element used in producing blood in our bodies.
- Broccoli & tomato – While there is little research yet on why, this combo was associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer.
- Grapes & blueberries – A study published in the Journal of Nutrition by Rui Hai Liu, Ph.D., from Cornell University’s department of food science, looked at the antioxidant capacity of various fruits individually (apples, oranges, blueberries, grapes) versus the same amount of a mixture of fruits, and found that the mix had a greater antioxidant response.
- Greens & lemon – The vitamin C in the lemon actually converts much of the plant-based iron found in greens like kale into a form that’s similar to what’s found in fish and red meats. The duo will increase your immunity and muscle strength with more punch than eating these foods separately.
- Turmeric & black pepper – Black pepper contains piperine which enhances turmeric absorption making this an anti-inflammatory super duo! Turmeric and ginger are also a great pair to fight off inflammation.
- Apples & dark chocolate – Chocolate contains catechins and apples contain quercetin (anti-inflammatory). Combined, these two flavonoids loosen clumpy blood platelets, improving cardiovascular health and providing anticoagulant activity. Quercetin is also found in buckwheat, onions, and raspberries.
- Oatmeal & fresh orange juice – Drinking vitamin C-rich orange juice while eating a bowl of real oatmeal (our favorites are steel cut or rolled oats) helps clean your arteries and prevents heart attacks with two times as much efficacy than if you were to ingest either breakfast staple alone.
Recipes and ideas for incorporating synergistic foods into your diet
Now that you know how important it is to mix things up when it comes to the foods you’re eating, let’s put it into action! While it’s perfectly okay to keep things simple by combining just a few ingredients, don’t be afraid to get creative with it. Here are some synergistic meal combos and recipes to try:
- Spinach and avocado salad with chickpeas and lemon wedge
- Chopped nuts and seeds, berries and minced mint drizzled with nut butter
- Baked sweet potato with dash of cinnamon, topped with nut butter, seeds and berries
- Sauteed eggplant with tomatoes minced garlic and onion served with a drizzle of olive oil
- Flax and turmeric overnight oats
- Berry energizing smoothie bowl – featuring coconut milk, pitted dates, berries and chia seeds
There are so many options and ways to work extra nutrients into your diet. While it’s a good idea to find some go-to food combos to make healthy eating easy and accessible, make sure you are changing it up and staying conscious of ways to get more bang for your bite! It is the overall pattern of your nutrition and other lifestyle factors that will support gut health and, in turn, prevent disease and help you feel your best. No nutrient by itself can do the job alone.
With all of this said, I hope you take this as good news and motivation to shake up that weekly meal plan. Let’s taste the rainbow, my friends! Happy eating!
The content of this blog post is for education only, for medical advice contact your doctor or book an appointment online.