You are what you eat – ever heard of that? When we eat, we get lots of nutrients that our body then uses to keep us going. We get energy from fats and carbohydrates. We make muscle from proteins. Our body carries out many different reactions using minerals and vitamins from the foods we eat. So, how does the food we eat impact us?
While people have always been interested in food, it’s only relatively recently that we started to develop nutritional science. In fact, only in the last century have we discovered vitamins and minerals that were important for our bodies and understood what their roles are. In the last thirty or so years we’ve started questioning what the connection is between the food we eat and the modern diseases, like diabetes and cancer, we develop1.
Food is more than just vitamins and minerals
Food is not simply the calories, fats, protein and nutrients it contains – it’s made up of cells, non-cells and other things. These cells and molecules interact with our bodies in many complex ways, and it is hard for researchers to pinpoint all the interactions happening when a certain food is consumed. The foods also interact with each other’s cells and molecules, adding another layer of complexity2.
What role does that play in nutritional science? It’s easily illustrated with an example. In a study, an association between eating tomatoes and having lower risk of prostate cancer was found. It was thought that lycopene, the pigment that gives tomato its colour, was responsible for the effect. However, when scientists tested lycopene, tomato powder, and a placebo, tomato powder was associated with better outcomes than lycopene on its own3,4.
So, we can’t just look at the active ingredients and call it a day – we must look at how foods interact with each other. So it’s no surprise that science has found certain effective combinations of foods for health. They called this phenomenon food synergy5.
Working together for the benefit of health
You may not have noticed, but chances are you already know some combinations of foods and nutrients that work together, like calcium and vitamin D. Because vitamin D helps us take in calcium, these two are often eaten together or are present together in certain foods6.
Here are some more synergetic pairs and why they should be consumed together.
- Sodium and potassium. Sodium, which we obtain from salt, maintains fluid levels in the body, as it prevents blood vessels from relaxing and encourages the body to hang on to water. Potassium, on the other hand, helps the body excrete sodium, therefore decreasing the water retention effects of sodium7.
- Vitamin B12 and folate. Vitamin B12 helps folate be absorbed, stored, and metabolised in the body. Together, they support cell division and replication8.
- Vitamin C and iron. Vitamin C can chelate iron, binding to it and making it easily absorbed in the small intestine9,10.
- Broccoli and tomato. Broccoli and tomato paired together have been shown to have stronger anti-cancer properties than just broccoli or tomato on their own11.
- Quercetin and catechin. Quercetin is a chemical made by plants that’s found in apples, onions, and berries, while catechin is found in apples, green tea, and grape juice. These two play a role in preventing the aggregation of platelets, which work to prevent bleeding12.
- Lemon and green tea. Green tea contains catechin, a molecule which helps prevent cancer and heart diseases. Combining it with vitamin C allows our body to absorb up to 5 times more catechin than without it13.
- Black pepper and turmeric. Turmeric contains curcumin, which can prevent inflammation. Black pepper contains piperine, which helps our body increase the intake of curcumin by up to a thousand times14. If you’re ready to jump on the turmeric train, try Maxler Turmeric Curcumin with BioPerine, for an effective dose of curcumin that your body will definitely absorb.
- Onion and garlic. Together, they help regulate glucose levels in the blood, by increasing insulin amounts and reducing glucose in the blood15,16.
- Apples and apple peel. It turns out that the bright apple peel is full of phytochemicals, which don’t get absorbed if you peel it off17. The powerful combination of the two helps manage fats in the blood and is full of antioxidants18.
Therefore, the next time you sit down to plan your weekly meals, it might be worth taking a quick look at what combinations you can use to boost the goodness that you get from your food. Small changes, like adding lemon to your green tea, can help you feel even better with minimal effort.
After all, being healthy is about being smart with the choices you make. Make health work for you.