This, friends, is nothing short of plate-based sorcery. As new book The Magic Of Food reveals, healthy eating is all about synergy - that is, eats that work way better together than apart.
The thinking is some nutrients are more bioavailable – or readily absorbed by the body - than others, and when eaten together they can have a powerful effect on the body. Dr Michael Murray, a natural medicine expert and the book’s author, says food pairing is key to getting the most from your meals. “My work focuses on synergetics – the way foods work together to achieve effects greater than the sum of their parts,” he explains. “This interaction can control things like inflammation, hormone changes, blood flow and cellular ageing.” Ready to couple up?
Turbo charge tomatoes with oil
Think of chopped tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and you can almost feel the sun on your face.
“Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is protective against heart disease and major cancers, such as breast, colon, lung, skin and prostate,” says Murray. “And like all fat-soluble nutrients, taking it with oil increases its absorption.”
The science stands up: an Australian study by Deakin University found that people who consumed tomatoes with olive oil enjoyed an 82 per cent increase in the concentrations of lycopene in their blood plasma. But don’t think any old oil will do. “In another study, it was found that, while sunflower oil also increases plasma lycopene levels, it’s extra virgin olive oil that triggers the greatest improvement in lycopene’s antioxidant activity,” Murray adds. Noted.
Cancel out carcinogens with greens
You know you should eat your veg - duh. But according to Murray, greens like parsley, spinach and kale have cancer-combating properties that make them worthy of a place on your plate - and even more so when paired with food that’s been fried, roasted or grilled.
A study by Japan’s Kyushu University found the urinary presence of cancer-causing compounds was halved when 70g parsley was consumed with a 150g portion of fried salmon. Another study by the University of Arkensas found rosemary had a similar effect when eaten with grilled meat. “Grilled and fried meats [have been linked to] the formation of cancer-causing compounds known as HCAs,” Murray explains.
“The phytochemicals in parsley and other greens are especially effective at neutralising these toxic compounds by preventing their direct damage to cells, as well as aiding in their breakdown to non-toxic compounds.”
Elevate carrots with avo
To get more nutritional currency from the orange crudité favourite, add some avocado.
According to research by Ohio State University, eating them together enhances the absorption of the beta-carotene compounds in carrots and increases their conversion into an active form of vitamin A – the nutrient responsible for skin, skeletal and eye health.
“The study compared a raw carrot meal and the same dish with the addition of an avocado. It was shown to significantly increase the conversion of the inactive provitamin A to the active vitamin A, and boost beta-carotene (an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage) absorption by six and a half times,” says Murray.
Plus, it more than quadrupled the uptake of the antioxidant alpha-carotene, which is associated with increased life expectancy. Double whammy.
Go nuts with berries
Reckon your cholesterol levels are a problem for future you? Findings published in the Annals Of Internal Medicine showed that having high cholesterol in your 20s and 30s can increase your risk of coronary artery calcifications (a precursor to heart attack and stroke) by 44 per cent. But according to Murray, dietary measures alone are extremely effective in lowering cholesterol levels. He suggests eating nuts and berries together.
“They contain complementary ingredients – the cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fats in the nuts pair with the cholesterol-lowering flavonoid components of berries.” And there’s more magic to be found in this combo.
A study in the American Journal Of Nutrition found the synergy of nutrients in nuts and berries could have a beneficial effect on brain function, too. Not bad going for a grab-and-go snack.
Soup up kale with citrus
Chances are you’re probably already nailing this combo – kale with lemon is a taste winner. “Combining vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, with those high in iron, like dark green leafy vegetables, increases your body’s ability to absorb the iron from the latter,” says Murray.
Vitamin C converts iron into its more bioavailable, non-oxidised state - haem-iron. Handy, since around 25 per cent of women have low iron levels, and those who work out regularly are more at risk of deficiency.
Iron is responsible for making red blood cells that move oxygen around the body, giving you energy – so if you’re lacking, you can forget about smashing that PB. “A deficiency can cause tiredness, dizziness and breathlessness, among other symptoms,” says Dr Murray. “Making it more bioavailable is particularly beneficial for vegetarians.” Lemon is officially your greens’ new squeeze.