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Food synergy: How food combinations can benefit or seriously harm you

Pairing different ingredients can boost as well as lower the nutritive value of a dish. Experts guide you on how to get the right combination

health and fitness Updated: Jul 13, 2016 18:41 IST
Susan Jose
Food synergy is the term used for nutrients working together to create greater health effects.
Food synergy is the term used for nutrients working together to create greater health effects.(Istock, shutterstock)

The Natural Gourmet Institute, a “health-supportive” culinary school in New York, USA, recently held a class about ‘food coupling’. The session focused on how certain food combinations

can create ‘food synergy’. Nutritionist Pritisha Jadhav explains, “Food synergy is the term used for nutrients working together to create greater health effects.”

While the traditional food pairing of lemon and tea is well-known, we spoke to experts to curate a list of unusual yet beneficial food combinations that we should know about. The experts also talked about the unhealthy food combinations that people should avoid.

Food synergies that elevate the nutritive value of individual ingredients:

1. Prebiotics and probiotics

The inulin present in significant amounts in onions, bananas and garlic is a prebiotic. Yoghurt, which contains healthy microorganisms, is a source of probiotics. While probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, prebiotics act as a fertiliser for the good bacteria that are already present there. So, taking prebiotics along with probiotics is good for the gut bacteria.

2. Good fat and salads

Eating good fat (avocados, olive oil, chia seeds, etc) along with your salad helps the body absorb protective phytochemicals better. These are commonly found in red, orange and green fruits and vegetables. Phytochemicals help lower the body’s blood pressure effectively.

Eating good fat such as avocados with your salad helps the body absorb phytochemicals present in coloured vegetables, better. (Shutterstock)

3. Vitamin D and calcium

The common breakfast combination of milk and eggs is the best you can do for your body in case you do not expose yourself to the morning sunlight. Urban residents often complain about the dipping levels of vitamin D. Eggs are a source of vitamin D and the calcium present in milk helps the body absorb vitamin D better.

4. Tomatoes and broccoli

A study by the University of Illinois, USA, found that this food combination is more effective at slowing the growth of prostate tumours than when either item was consumed separately. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, vitamin C, and vitamin A, when combined with broccoli which contains phytochemicals beta-carotene, isothiocyanates, and indoles, helps in fighting cancer cells and improving immunity.

Combination of tomatoes and broccoli helps in fighting cancer cells and improving immunity. (Shutterstock)

5. Vitamin C and iron

Vitamin C greatly helps with the absorption of iron (vital for keeping our blood oxygenated). Hence, it is advisable to pair green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, which are rich in iron, with bell peppers and jalapenos.

Vitamin C present in jalapenos helps in absorbing iron present in spinach leaves. (Shutterstock)

6. Dark chocolate and apples

Dark chocolate is rich in catechins, and apples are a rich source of flavonoids. When consumed together, the combination helps remould collagen to promote healthier skin. They also improve cardiovascular health.

Read: Secret to good health, fitness: Maintaining a food diary

Combination of apples and chocolates helps in remoulding collagen which is key to good skin. (Shutterstock)

Do not mix:

1. Water with your meals

Avoid consuming any kind of liquid during and 10 minutes before and after your meals. This is because liquids dilute the enzymes in our stomach. These enzymes are used to break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Diluted enzymes are not quite effective in assisting the digestive process.

Avoid drinking water with meals as it dilutes the digestive enzymes present in stomach. Drink water 10 minutes before or after food. (iStock)

2. Milk with citrus fruits or citrus vegetables

What happens when you squeeze a lemon into milk? It coagulates due to an acidic reaction. Hence, avoid consuming citrus vegetables and fruits (oranges, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, etc.) for at least an hour after having milk or any milk-based drinks.

Avoid having milk with citrus fruits or vegetables as the combination will cause acidic reaction in the stomach. (Shutterstock)

Read: Here’s why every tummy-related issue is not bloating or flatulence

3. Fruits with meals

Fruits contain simple sugars that require minimal digestion. When these fruits are combined with grains, meats or other components of a proper meal, they end up staying in the digestive tract for too long and begin to ferment. This can damage the intestinal lining, and cause other problems.

Fruits when consumed with meat or foodgrains can begin to ferment in the stomach and cause problems. (Shutterstock)

4. Tomato with starchy foods

Broccoli and tomatoes can boost a dish’s nutritive value. But, combining tomatoes and starchy foods (rice, bread, potatoes, pastas, etc.) can increase the risk of indigestion. This is because the acids found in tomatoes interfere with the digestion of starch.

Consuming tomatoes with starchy foods like rice can cause digestive problems. (Imagesbazaar)

5. Wines with desserts

Wine increases the production of insulin, thereby increasing the body’s sugar level. Eating dessert will further increase the sugar in our body, which will then be stored as fat. This leads to weight gain.

Having wine with sweet items increases risk of obesity. (iStock)

— With inputs from Dr Riddhesh Jani, nutritionist and Khushboo Sahijwani, nutritionist.