Healthy Food Combos-Boost Your Nutrition Power

One plus one equals three?  While the equation might not hold up when it comes to math, research suggests it may accurately describe the health benefits of some food combinations.   

The concept of synergy, a whole being greater than the sum of its parts, is starting to make headlines when it comes to food and nutrition.  Food synergy is the latest buzzword to hit the nutrition world and is the idea that two healthy foods eaten together deliver a more powerful nutrition punch than when eaten alone. 


Salad dressing + mixed greens

Choosing lower fat foods is an easy way to trim extra calories from your diet, but based on research findings from the Journal of Clinical Nutrition you may want to opt for full fat products when it comes to salad dressing. 

It seems full fat salad dressing can boost the body’s ability to absorb disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids found in many dark green leafy vegetables.  Researchers from Iowa State University in the U.S measured the absorption of carotenoids in seven participants after eating salad with a fat-free, reduced fat or full fat dressing.  Researchers found that participants absorbed the most carotenoids after eating salad drizzled with full fat dressing.  The reason?  Carotenoids are fat-soluble; therefore eating them with some fat makes it easier for the body to absorb them. 

When it comes to choosing a full fat salad dressing, you’re best bet is a vinaigrette that contains heart healthy canola or olive oil, opposed to creamy type dressings.  To boost your intake of carotenoids, choose dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, Romaine lettuce and collard greens as the base of your salad.


Rice + beans

There’s a good reason why rice and beans are the staple foods of so many countries around the world.  It turns out that rice and beans, when served together, form a complete protein usually found only in animal products. 

Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.  If eaten alone, rice and beans are considered incomplete proteins since they’re missing some of these essential amino acids.  But together, this dynamic duo forms a high quality protein that is especially useful for vegans and vegetarians. 

What’s more, rice and beans are an affordable source of protein that is high in fibre and a healthy low fat alternative to meat, poultry and milk.   Choose brown rice for the most health benefits.


Lemon + spinach

When eaten together, lemon does more than add a burst of flavour to spinach; it also makes the iron in spinach more absorbable in the body.  In fact, the vitamin C found in lemon boosts the quality of plant-based protein making more similar to the protein found in fish and red meat. 

It turns out this effect isn’t just limited to lemon and spinach.  Any food rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, bell peppers, papayas and oranges can boost the iron absorption from plant-based sources of the mineral, including beans and lentils, whole grain products and dark leafy vegetables.


Turmeric + pepper

If you’re a fan of curry based dishes that contain turmeric you might want to keep the pepper grinder close by. 

Turmeric, often touted for it’s anti-inflammatory properties, has also been reported to have some anti-cancer effects.  However, curcumin, the active compound found in turmeric responsible for it’s many health benefits is not readily absorbed in the body.  But it turns out that piperine, a compound found in pepper, helps the body absorb curcumin.  In fact, researchers from St. John’s Medical College in India found that piperine could increase the bioavailability of curcumin by a whopping 2000 percent.  So next time you sit down to your favourite curry dish, sprinkle it with some pepper to reap the many health benefits of this bright yellow spice.


Broccoli + tomatoes

In case you need one more reason to eat your vegetables, preliminary research findings suggest that combining your veggies may have a powerful protective effect against cancer. 

Researchers from the University of Illinois in the U.S. found that a combination of tomatoes and broccoli could significantly reduce the size of prostate tumours in rats.  The results, published in the journal Cancer Research, aren’t entirely surprising – broccoli and tomatoes are both independently known to have anti-cancer benefits, although it seems their effect is magnified when combined. 

Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables and is rich in the cancer fighting compounds called glucosinolates.  Tomatoes on the other hand, are loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.  While it remains to be seen whether these findings can be extrapolated to humans, researchers estimate a man would have to consume about 1.5 cups of broccoli and 2.5 cups of tomatoes per day to have a similar effect seen in the study. 


About Michelle Gelok:

Michelle Gelok is a Canadian Registered Dietitian currently based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Prior to her relocation to Abu Dhabi, Michelle graduated as a Registered Dietitian upon completing the Dietetic Internship Program at University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto.  She holds a Bachelor of Applied Science and a Minor in Family Supports and Community Practice from the Food and Nutrition program at Ryerson University.  Michelle is a licensed Registered Dietitian with the Ontario College of Dietitians and member of Dietitians of Canada.

Visit Michelle’s website at

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