Here are just a handful of examples in which different nutrients and components in food work together:
- Pairing broccoli with tomatoes could be a match not only made in Italy, but in health heaven. In a study to be published in the December 2004 issue of theJournal of Nutrition, prostate tumors grew much less in rats that were fed tomatoes and broccoli than in rats who ate diets containing broccoli alone or tomatoes alone, or diets that contained cancer-fighting substances that had been isolated from tomatoes or broccoli. The take-home message: A lycopene supplement may not hurt, but the whole tomato will probably help more. And a tomato eaten with broccoli may help a lot more.
- Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E; isoflavones from soybeans; and other compounds are thought to be important in slowing the oxidation of cholesterol -- which is as important to reducing your risk of congestive heart disease as lowering your blood cholesterol levels. Antioxidant protection is a complex system that includes many nutrients and phytonutrients. You need all of them for maximum effect.
"Eating a little "good fat" along with your vegetables helps your body absorb their protective phytochemicals."
- Three B vitamins (folic acid, vitamin B-6, and B-12) TOGETHER reduce the level of an amino acid that, in high levels, is thought to damage artery linings, leading to heart attacks and strokes.
- Test-tube studies have shown that vitamin C and the phytoestrogen found in various fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans (including soy) work together to inhibit the oxidation of LDL "bad" cholesterol.
- A recent study found that the phytochemicals quercetin (found mainly in apples, onions and berries) and catechin (found mainly in apples, green tea, purple grapes, and grape juice) worked together to help stop platelet clumping. Platelets are a component in blood that play an important role in forming clots. Platelets' clumping together is one of several steps in blood clotting that can lead to a heart attack.
- The Mediterranean-style diet is a perfect example of food synergy because it includes several healthful food patterns. (It's rich in plant foods, whole grains, legumes and fish; low in meat and dairy products; and contains more monounsaturated than saturated fats because of its emphasis on olives, olive oil, and walnuts.) A recent study concluded that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the prevalence of both metabolic syndrome (a condition that includes excess body fat, high blood fats, and high blood pressure) and the cardiovascular risk that goes along with it. Another study found that a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 23% lower risk of early death from all causes.
- Several dietary factors -- including saturated fat and, to a lesser extent, cholesterol -- work to raise cholesterol in the human body. Several others, like plant sterols, soy protein, soluble fiber, and foods such as oats and nuts, help lower blood cholesterol levels. Your cholesterol levels are determined less by the intake of one particular nutrient than by your overall diet.
- Eating a little "good fat" along with your vegetables helps your body absorb their protective phytochemicals, like lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from dark-green vegetables. A recent study measured how well phytochemicals were absorbed after people ate a lettuce, carrot, and spinach salad with or without 2 1/2 tablespoons of avocado. The avocado-eating group absorbed 8.3 times more alpha-carotene and 13.6 times more beta-carotene (both of which help protect against cancer and heart disease), and 4.3 times more lutein (which helps with eye health) than those who did not eat avocados.
- In lab studies, Cornell University researchers found that apple extract given together with apple skin worked better to prevent the oxidation of free-radicals (unstable molecules that damage cells and are believed to contribute to many diseases) than apple extract without the skin. They also found that catechins (a type of phytochemical found in apples), when combined with two other phytochemicals, had an effect that was five times greater than expected.
- Studies have indicated that oats may help protect against heart disease. Besides being one of our best sources of soluble fiber, oats contain a laundry list of other healthful compounds, including beta-glucan; a beneficial amino acid ratio; magnesium; folic acid; tocotrienols; and a phytochemical so far identified only in oats -- avenanthramides. The protective effect of oats is thought to come from the collective effects of all of these components.