JEFF TIEDEMAN: Classic combosSynergy may explain why some pairings stand the test of time.
Have you ever wondered why people pair certain foods — and that even some of those groupings have been around for centuries?
I never had until recently. My rationale for combining things such as beef and carrots (i.e. in stews and in classic pot roast recipes) was that they tasted good together.
Then, I read an article about food synergy, co-authored by University of Minnesota epidemiologist David Jacobs. He believes that we evolved that way because enjoying certain foods together is healthier than eating them alone.
“The complexity of food combinations is fascinating because it’s tested in a way we can’t test drugs: by evolution,” Jacobs said. “It’s tested in the most complex of systems: life.”
Jacobs also said that researchers should focus on whole foods rather than only on single nutrients. That’s because health benefits of certain foods aren’t likely to come from a single nutrient but rather combinations of compounds that work better together than apart.
Becky Westerling agrees. The licensed registered dietitian at Altru Health System said there isn’t anything magical about food synergy but that it is becoming clear that balance in our diet is more important than placing an emphasis on an individual ingredient or nutrient.
“Milk isn’t just about calcium, and broccoli isn’t just about antioxidants,” Westerling said. “I believe in eating a healthy, balanced diet rather than relying on a specific supplement or placing emphasis on a specific diet.
“A healthy diet requires eating whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy, dried beans, nuts and legumes and less processed foods.”
Here are a few of the most powerful food synergies known to science:
— Spinach and beets: Dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are best eaten in combination with another veggie high in vitamin C like beets because “iron absorption in your intestines is improved by vitamin C.
— Tomatoes and olive oil: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which is proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. But the antioxidant is also fat-soluble, so combining it with a healthy, monounsaturated fat like olive oil aids absorption even more.
— Beef and carrots: Vitamin A in carrots is best absorbed when bound to a protein. Plus, beef delivers an extra dose of zinc, which protects against weakening of the immune system.
— Green tea and lemon: When green tea is combined with lemon, the body absorbs 13 times as many more antioxidants than when consumed on its own.
— Garlic and fish: When combined, the cholesterol-reducing fish oils and heart-healthy garlic can act as an anti-inflammatory agent.
— Orange juice and oatmeal: This combo has been shown to prevent heart attacks and clean arteries twice as effectively as ingesting either one on its own. Phenols found in both stabilize cholesterol levels when consumed together.
All are favorites of mine, so I’m going to keep trusting my instincts.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.