The Best Combinations Earth Has To Offer 

According to Abbie Gellman, a registered dietician and chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, food synergies are methods of pairing foods together strategically to enhance their health-related benefits. Generally, this helps us better absorb or access certain nutrients, thus increasing the benefits of certain foods or ingredients. She shared some examples and tips with Irvine Weekly on how to keep synergy in our lives:

 1.  Non-Heme Iron and Vitamin C:
The iron found in plants, such as leafy greens, is not readily accessible by humans. Pairing it with vitamin C helps us better absorb the non-heme iron. For example, sauté kale with bell peppers or add some lemon juice. A little vitamin C goes a long way to unlock that iron absorption, so a simple squeeze of citrus or 1/4 cup of bell pepper is adequate to get that synergy going.

2.   DHA and Curcumin:
Fish is an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA. While curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease and other issues such as cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. But together, omega-3s and curcumin combine to enhance those anti-cancer effects. Studies have shown that curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, which protects healthy cells from free radicals that may cause damage and lead to cancer. Curcumin also helps the body destroy mutated cancer cells, so they cannot spread and cause more harm. So how to pair this dynamic duo? It could be as simple as sprinkling curry powder, which includes turmeric, on a piece of fish before cooking. You can also add turmeric to chili, stew, or braised meat or vegetables.

Chef Abbie Gellman (Courtesy ICE)

3.  Curcumin and Black Pepper: 

That same nutrient, curcumin, will be unleashed with the power of black pepper. Black pepper contains piperine, which is similar to capsaicin (active ingredient in chilis). Piperine has been found to enhance absorption of curcumin in our bodies. Essentially, when you have that turmeric, be sure to include some ground black pepper in the mix.

4.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Tomatoes:
From a flavor perspective, it’s really a no-brainer, olive oil and tomatoes. But beyond the taste, there is another reason to put these two together. Raw tomatoes paired with olive oil allows us to better absorb the lycopene and other antioxidants found in tomatoes. Lycopene is a plant pigment in the carotene family that has a high antioxidant capacity, playing a crucial role in protecting our bodies against damage from free radicals. A high intake of carotenoids, including lycopene, helps decrease the risk of cancer, heart disease and other issues. Raw tomatoes can be chopped and added to salads, tossed with pasta, or paired with cheese. Simply drizzle with that high quality extra virgin olive oil and presto!

5.  Cooked Tomatoes:
Tomatoes that are cooked, such as canned tomatoes, allow for us to more readily absorb lycopene. (The synergy here is the tomato and the cooking process.) As mentioned before, lycopene is an antioxidant that fights free radicals in our bodies. So reach back into your pantry and be sure to open those canned tomatoes and add them to your next braised meat or vegetable dish, pureed soup or sauce.