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Food Synergy: Foods That Work Better Together Than Apart

05/11/2012 09:30 EDT | Updated 11/22/2013 04:09 EST
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We all know there are foods that taste delicious together -- say, peanut butter and chocolate, French fries and ketchup, or chips and salsa. But despite the yumminess of these snacks, they don't do much for our bodies -- so wouldn't it be incredible if we could get healthier just by eating certain things together?

Luckily, science seems to have figured out just that with the concept of 'food synergy,' which posits that particular nutrients can work better in our bodies alongside each other. While its basis is pure biology -- a wide variety of whole foods will offer more benefits than a singular type of nutrient -- recent studies showing just how and where these enhancements help us only adds impact to the pairings.

So what can you put on a plate to spur your body along in absorbing antioxidants, calcium and vitamins? Read on:

Foods That Do Better Together

Fish And Garlic

We all know fish can be a healthy protein alternative, but adding garlic to it can make it even better -- and not just in flavour. A study at the University of Guelph in Ontario found that, while LDL cholesterol levels dropped while subjects took garlic, and fish oil capsules reduced triglycerides (though raised LDL), when the two were combined, both triglycerides and LDL were lowered. Just keep a mint or two around for after the meal.

Orange Juice And Oats

It's the breakfast of champions, particularly for those who want to lower their risk of heart attacks. The Vitamin C in orange juice works with the phenolic acid in oatmeal (which should always be whole oats, not processed) to help protect against the LDL cholesterol that can build up in arteries, as reported in The Journal of Nutrition.

Apple And Chocolate

Sure, it sounds too good to be true to be able to include chocolate in this list, but apples (with the skin on) often contain quercetin, an anti-inflammatory flavonoid that helps protect against things like allergies and heart attacks. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, contains catechin, which is an antioxidant that helps protect against hardening arteries. Put the two together, which was found by a study at the University of Singapore to be a dish that helps declog arteries and thin out platelets, a combination great for the heart -- in limited quantities, of course.

Lemon And Green Tea

Green tea contains a huge amount of catechins, those antioxidants that have been shown to help combat cancer. It was found at Purdue University that when Vitamin C is added, in the form of a squeeze of a lemon slice or just some citrus juice, it actually increases the amount of catechins the body can absorb. In fact, it's the lemon's acidity that helps the catechins work in the body at all.

Brussels Sprouts And Oil

Cooking up those Brussels sprouts with some olive oil could help your vision for years to come. The lutein contained in Brussels sprouts protect the eyes, and when combined with a small amount of fat (as possessed by olive oil), it can be better absorbed by the body.

Grapefruit And Avocado

Lycopene, which is contained in grapefruit, has been linked in various studies to helping with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis -- but it is best absorbed by the intestines when eaten with a bit of fat, so why not combine it with a 'good' fat like the unsaturated kind found in avocado.

Salmon And Broccoli

Your body needs high levels of Vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, so putting together some steamed broccoli and salmon is the perfect answer to that problem. Salmon, particularly wild-caught fish, have the vitamin side of things to take in broccoli's bioavailable calcium to help bones, teeth, and blood vessels, among other functions.

Tomatoes And Greens

Like grapefruit, tomatoes contain vast amounts of lycopene, known to help fight cancer -- and in a 2007 study at the University of Illinois, it was found that when tomatoes were taken with broccoli, it helped reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Researchers specifically suggested chopping and heating the two to make the cancer-fighting properties more bioavailable.

Flax And Soybeans

Soybeans can be found everywhere these days and are known as a healthy protein, but they also raise concerns for their effects on breast cancer tumour growth. However, recent research from the University of Toronto has found that lignans in flaxseed can help mitigate any effects soy may have on postmenopausal breast cancer growth, so eating the two together is a great idea.

Beet Roots And Chickpeas

Chickpeas have a great amount of vitamin B6 in them, and that actually helps the body absorb the magnesium found in beet greens -- two essential nutrients that work wonders for the body, both of which help with symptoms of PMS and ADHD.