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10 Dietary Combinations to Improve Health

Peters, Fredrick J. Ph.D., ACSM-EP

Editor(s): Fountaine, Charles J. Ph.D., FACSM

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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal 26(4):p 64, 7/8 2022. | DOI: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000773
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  • Certain foods are nutritionally enhanced by their combination. This concept is known as “food synergy.” One such example is exhibited by combining “good fat” with vegetables. Healthy fats help your body absorb protective phytochemicals, like lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from dark green vegetables.
  1. Salmon with curry to help reduce inflammation in the body. This fish curry combination is loaded with omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon, and curcumin, which is the active compound found in turmeric. Together, this food synergy can amplify the anti-inflammatory effects of the individual nutrients. Reducing inflammation in the body can help to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases including those of the heart.
  2. Almonds and berries to aid in heart disease prevention. Almonds contain flavonoids that act as powerful antioxidants in the body. Combining almonds with vitamin C has been shown to help reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. The oxidation of LDL cholesterol is now considered a key factor in the development of heart disease.
  3. Tomatoes with olive oil to improve heart and prostate health. Lycopene is an antioxidant that has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and improving prostate health. Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, and its absorption is enhanced when combined with the healthy fat in olive oil. Olive oil possesses many health benefits to support good heart health, including reducing inflammation and increasing HDL cholesterol.
  4. Greek yogurt and bananas to improve intestinal and bone health. Greek yogurt delivers beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus to the gut. The addition of bananas adds prebiotics (inulin) to the mix. These indigestible fibers are fermented by bacteria in the gut; thus, they help to feed the bacteria in your gut allowing it to flourish.
  5. Black grapes and red onions to aid cardiovascular health. Black grapes are rich in the polyphenol antioxidant catechin, which helps to prevent cardiovascular disease. Onions contain antioxidants and compounds that fight inflammation, decrease triglycerides, and reduce cholesterol levels — all of which may lower heart disease risk. Together, onion and grapes inhibit blood clots and boost cardiovascular health.
  6. Apples and spinach to improve cognitive function and mood. Apples are rich in flavonoids, and green leafy vegetables are rich in dietary nitrate. Studies reveal that the combination of flavonoids and nitrate could increase nitrous oxide production. The increase in nitrous oxide following consumption of flavonoids and dietary nitrate could improve cognitive function and mood.
  7. Black pepper and turmeric to aid joint health. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, and it has been widely researched for its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is difficult to absorb in the body, but in combination with black pepper, its absorption is magnified. The active ingredient in pepper is called piperine, which is responsible for this absorptive effect.
  8. Black beans and red peppers to help with iron deficiency anemia. It is widely understood that nonheme iron is more readily absorbed in the presence of vitamin C. The plant source of iron includes beans, pulses, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and dried fruit. Red peppers are the richest dietary source of vitamin C.
  9. Garlic and honey to help with upper respiratory tract infections. Garlic and honey are often cited as being singularly antibacterial. However, research has shown that in combination they have a greater ability to reduce the growth of pathogenic bacteria, which is due to the synergistic action of phenols and fatty acids. It also has been suggested that in combination, these two foods may be a useful alternative treatment for upper respiratory tract infections or can be used alongside pharmaceutically prescribed antibiotics.
  10. Green tea, lemon, and mint to promote weight loss. Green tea is high in the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), a compound that can burn fat. It is also rich in catechins, another antioxidant that can promote the release of fat, and can help your liver turn fat into energy. Squeeze a lemon in your green tea, which contains pectin and polyphenols, both of which have been proven to help people feel fuller and lose weight, then add in a sprig of mint, which is a proven appetite suppressant.
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