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Happy Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday)

06/03/2017

Food Synergies For Better Health

06/03/2017

Food Synergies For Better Health by Glen Matten

We all know that certain foods are very good for us, whether its veggies like broccoli or tomatoes, spices like turmeric, or beverages like green tea. The reason these – and many other plant foods – are good for us, is primarily down to the bio-active plant compounds they contain. For the nutritionally savvy, we might be thinking of sulforaphane from broccoli, lycopene from tomatoes, curcumin from turmeric, and catechins from green tea. All the subject of extensive scientific research that goes a long way to explaining just why these foods are so good for our health.

But rather than just eating those individual foods, as good as they are, what if mixing certain foods – and therefore their nutrients – together at meals delivered an even bigger health boost? What if we could create synergies between nutrients in different foods which amplify their health benefits? It’s an exciting idea, and here are my top five examples of how foods can buddy up for maximum effect.

1. Green tea + lemon: Green tea drinkers can expect numerous health benefits given that consuming this prized beverage is linked with less cancer, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. These health benefits can be explained by its exceptional content of plant compounds called catechins, and especially a type called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).  Adding a squeeze of lemon juice to your green tea, which is rich in vitamin C, helps to significantly increase the amount of catechins that get absorbed into the body.  

2. Tomato sauce + extra virgin olive oil: Lycopene is the carotenoid responsible for the deep red colour of tomatoes, and its consumption is linked with a reduced risk of certain cancers (most notably cancer of the prostate), cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even protecting the skin from the damaging effects of the sun. The first thing to know about lycopene is that cooking and processing tomatoes dramatically increases the amount of lycopene that the body can absorb. The second is that the presence of fat further increases lycopene absorption. So teaming up your tomato-based dishes with a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil makes perfect sense.

3. Turmeric + black pepper: Turmeric, the bright yellow spice ever-present in traditional Indian cooking, is the subject of intense scientific study for its anti-cancer properties, its potential to reduce inflammation in the body, and even for staving off dementia. This is believed to be primarily due to its active constituent curcumin. But the problem with curcumin is that it is very poorly absorbed by the body. However, adding black pepper increases its absorption, making them the perfect spice double-act. Cooking turmeric in liquid, and adding fat, further helps with curcumin absorption. 

4. Broccoli + mustard: It’s no secret that broccoli is good for us, with benefits including reducing cancer-risk. Broccoli’s main cancer-preventive ingredient is sulforaphane. This is formed when we eat broccoli by the action of an enzyme found in broccoli called myrosinase. However, cooking broccoli – especially over-cooking it – begins to destroy the myrosinase enzyme, reducing the amount of sulforaphane that can be made. In fact, if we’re not careful, we can cook the benefits right out of broccoli. However, for those who like their broccoli well-cooked (rather than lightly steamed for 2 to 4 minutes), adding in other natural sources of myrosinase, such as from mustard or horseradish, means that sulforaphane can still be made. 

5. Salad + avocado:  Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and watercress, are packed full of health-promoting carotenoids such as immune-strengthening beta carotene and eye-friendly lutein. However, when eaten raw, in the form of salads, these carotenoids are more difficult to absorb. But the addition of some fat can really help with that and adding avocado, rich in monounsaturated fat, to a salad, has been shown to dramatically increase the amount of carotenoids that can be absorbed.