When does 2+2= more than 4? Food synergy is the art of combining individual foods that when eaten together, boost the nutritional value of each other. Eating certain foods together provides more health benefits than eating one food alone or even just at different times throughout the day. Studies have shown that the antioxidant effects of consuming a combination of foods are more than additive but synergistic.
Just as individual supplements often require a buddy vitamin to enhance bioavailability or effectiveness, so do foods. Eating superfoods such as kale, broccoli, blueberries and avocados is always a good idea, but combing the nutrients in these foods can supercharge the benefits. For example, if you eat blueberries with walnuts, that’s better than just either by itself. It’s not 1+1 = 2, its 1 +1 = 3.
While the list of synergistic combinations is growing daily, here are some excellent combinations:
Tomatoes, Broccoli and Healthy Fats Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a pigment-rich antioxidant known as a carotenoid, which reduces cancer risk and cardiovascular disease. Pairing tomatoes with broccoli has the ability to reduce tumor growth, far more so than if the two are eaten separately. The carotenoids in tomatoes help to increase the bioactive component selenium in broccoli, and yield the most cancer-preventative benefits. Now add some olive oil and avocado– fats make carotenoids more bioavailable, so the olive oil will help your body absorb these fat soluble antioxidants from the tomatoes. Many of the vitamins and micronutrients in food are fat-soluble, which means they cannot be absorbed without the presence of adequate fat. That means that if you eat fruits or vegetables without fat, you’ll absorb only a fraction of the nutrients you would absorb if you ate them with fat. Roasted carrots with thyme and grass-fed butter anyone? (Yes, butter is better and contains valuable CLA -conjugated linoleic acid, a potent cancer fighter- when made from the milk of grass-fed cows). And about those avocados—consider adding tomatoes to your guacamole.
Kale and Lemon (or other vitamin C-rich foods)
Plant-based iron is much more easily absorbed when it is combined with vitamin C. Combine citrus fruits, strawberries, and vegetables such as broccoli, red peppers, and tomatoes with kale, leeks, beet greens, spinach, mustard greens or swiss chard. So whether you’re sautéing dark greens or making a salad, be sure to include a vitamin C-rich food or a splash of citrus. You’ll increase your immunity and muscle strength by eating this combo than by eating these foods separately (iron carries oxygen to red blood cells, staving off muscle fatigue and vitamin C boots immunity). And don’t forget to add some healthy fats, which aid the absorption of another carotenoid called lutein, which is found in green leafy vegetables. Use oil olive based dressings or sprinkle walnuts, pistachios, or grated cheese over your greens.
Green tea and Curcumin
Curcumin has been shown to provide extensive anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects. But when it’s paired with the active ingredient in green tea, a catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), its cancer-fighting abilities increase significantly.
Vitamin D and Vitamin K2
Vitamin D is a hormone like thyroid, estrogen or testosterone and it acts more like a hormone with receptor sites on healthy cells and even more on cancer cells. A deficiency plays a crucial role in increased risk of cancer and a number of other illnesses. Fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamins K2, A and E, all work synergistically for optimal health and are necessary for optimal use of Vitamin D. Sufficient vitamin K2 helps to ensure that calcium is bound and held in bones and at the same time is removed from our arteries, joints or other tissues where it doesn’t belong. Vitamin K2 also inhibits cancer cell lines, such as colon, breast, leukemia, brain and many more.
Blueberries and Walnuts boost brain health with this combination–there is synergy between blueberries and almost every other food (including other fruits and berries). If you eat blueberries with walnuts, that’s better than just either by itself. This pair will improve blood flow to your brain and heart to maximize each other’s benefits. Love dark chocolate? Add some to the mix. Chocolate and berries are both very high in antioxidants, but when eaten together your body absorbs the nutrients up to three times better. (More on chocolate below).
Is the scent of your neighbor’s grilled steak making your mouth water? Join the fun, but you might want to serve your grilled steak smothered in garlic and rosemary, and alongside a kale or tomato salad.
Meat and Spices
Summertime beckons a juicy spice-rubbed grilled steak, but grilling produces nasty carcinogens. Meat forms a compound called malondialdehyde when cooked, and this compound has been shown to cause cancer and heart disease. Turns out that pairing your grilled steak with delicious herbs will maximize each other’s benefits. The antioxidants in herbs and spices will reduce this compound by 70%, so you can enjoy that steak with less worry. Why? It’s thought that the herb’s antioxidants literally soak up the meat’s dangerous free radicals. The next time you grill, try rubbing oregano, rosemary, black pepper, paprika and/or garlic into it to get these benefits—just be sure your meat is grass fed.
Apples & Chocolate
Apples, particularly Red Delicious, are known to be high in an anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin, especially in their skins. Quercetin, also found in red wine, onions, and green tea, has anti-estrogenic effects and may reduce the metastatic potential of cancer cells. (It’s important to buy organic because pesticides concentrate in the skins of conventionally grown apples.) By itself, quercetin has been shown to reduce the risk of allergies, heart attack, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and several cancers. Chocolate (the darker the better), grapes, red wine, and tea contain the flavonoid catechin, an antioxidant that reduces the risks for atherosclerosis and cancer. Together, they pack an even more powerful punch.
The lesson here is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. Different compounds in each food work on different anti-cancer pathways. Aim for eating five to 10 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, and at least 20-25 different fruits and vegetables weekly. Whole food and dietary supplements can be helpful, but you can’t supplement your way out of a bad diet, and individual supplements still need to be taken synergistically (for example, if you take vitamin D, you may want to consider vitamin K2—see above). We’ve only just begun to uncover all the powerful synergies, so add a different herb; try a new combo…variety truly is the spice of life!
Bruised Kale Salad:
Green leafy kale
Sea salt and pepper
Wash and dry kale. Mix together oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Bunch the kale and slice thin or chop. Massage the seasoned oil into the kale. Serve with poached or runny eggs, or as a side dish for fish, meats, chicken, tofu or bean dishes (plate kale and put your main course on top to infuse the flavors.)
Tomato Basil Salad:
Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
Fresh basil leaves, sliced and chopped (I find rolling them up in a log and slicing is easiest)
Fresh parsley, chopped, large stems removed
Organic extra virgin olive oil*
Toss all together with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. How much to use? One pint of tomatoes will need about 1/3 to ½ half cup chopped parsley and depending on the size of your basil leaves, about ¼ cup, but all is to taste. Use enough oil to dress but not drown the tomatoes. *
*Note: I use herb infused oils such as basil, rosemary or lemon. In this recipe I prefer rosemary and basil infused. If you cannot find them locally, Arlotta makes the very best olive oils I have ever tasted and also the most incredible balsamic vinegars.
For more information and recipes:
~~If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any~~
Elyn Jacobs is a breast cancer survivor, professional cancer strategist, speaker, and the Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation. Elyn empowers women to choose the path for treatment that best fits their own individual needs. She is passionate about helping others move forward into a life of health and well-being. Elyn has been featured on CNN Money, Talk About Health, and Breast Cancer Answers and has written for the Pink Paper, Breast Cancer Wellness, Integrative Oncology Essentials, Surviving Beautifully, Body Local and more, and writes the Options for Life column for the Natural Healing-Natural Wellness Magazine. Elyn hosts the Survive and Live Well Radio Show on the Cancer Support Network. She is on the Medical Advisory Board for BeatCancer.Org and is on the Advisory Board to the Radical Remission Project. Elyn lives in New York with her husband and two young boys. https://elynjacobs.com/about/
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