Putting aside bacon and eggs, cookies and cream, pasta and cheese… (food combinations that will remain gold standard for longer than a lifetime), there are some other iconic, scientifically proven pairings that can actually enhance and improve nutrient bioavailability and absorption. Some of which you might do without even realising!
These nutrient combinations, and their various health benefits, are referred to as nutrient synergy. Research has gone as far as to prove nutrient synergy’s role in preventing chronic disease, improving immunity and reducing inflammation. Exactly what we need right now heading into winter and coming out of a pandemic.
Vitamin C & Plant-Based Iron
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) naturally enhances nonheme iron absorption in the body. Haem iron, found in animal products is readily available and well absorbed when eaten on its own. Plant-based iron sources all contain nonheme iron and lack the strength of haem iron absorption. Absorption of plant-based iron significantly increases when consumed with a source of vitamin C, and is relative to the amount of vitamin C consumed. Great news for salad dressings with fresh lemon and lime! Capsicums, tomatoes, strawberries and even broccoli contain significant amounts of vitamin C.
. Lemon & Leafy Greens – Tomatoes & Quinoa – Strawberries & Nuts
Tomatoes & Olive Oil
Do you remember that experiment in science class where you poured oil into water and watched it separate and create layers? The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K are generally not absorbed well in the ‘mostly water’ environment within our bodies, and require sources of fat to be efficiently digested. Now, you’ve heard it once but I’ll tell you again, extra virgin olive oil is packed with heart-healthy fats protecting against inflammation and disease. Additionally, tomatoes are jam packed with carotenoids such as lycopene and beta-carotene which are fat-soluble plant chemicals linked to disease prevention, youthful skin, immune health and eye health... when paired together, the most delicious, unstoppable force. Olive oil amplifies these beneficial chemicals activity and ensures the absorption of carotenoids.
Bruschetta for breakfast, puttanesca for lunch, pizza marinara for dinner! The same principals apply to other sources of lycopene and beta-carotene such as sweet potato, kale and carrots – and various sources of healthy fats: avocado, eggs,
Vitamin D, Vitamin K & Calcium
We’ve all grown up with the association of consuming calcium for strong, healthy bones. But what the dairy companies skip in their advertising is that vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, and vitamin K acts as a bodyguard to let calcium into your bones or kicking it out. Vitamin D & K are just as important for bone health as well as immune function, brain health, cell growth and reduced inflammation. Calcium is abundant in plant-based products and with the rise in dairy intolerances and vegan/vegetarian diets it’s important to understand you can achieve your daily calcium intake through the likes of almonds, tofu, amaranth, soy milk, dried figs, broccoli, edamame and sesame seeds (& tahini)!
30 minutes in the sun with uncovered arms twice a week is generally enough exposure for vitamin D synthesis (with care to be taken to protect your skin from those harsh Aussie UV rays). There are also plenty of dietary sources for supplementary vitamin D: salmon, trout, mackerel, eggs and some fortified products.
Turn it into nutrient synergy: A veggie frittata! Thai green curry with tofu & greens! Salmon poke bowl!
Legumes & Wholegrains
Jumping back on the vegan/vegetarian bandwagon, because plants are friends AND food. There are some combinations that rival the most epic love stories… legumes and wholegrains quite literally complete each other. Plant-based sources of protein lack all essential amino acids, but when paired together can create higher quality, complete proteins. Additionally, there are some vegan/vegetarian sources of complete proteins and they include quinoa, tofu, tempeh, buckwheat and Ezekiel bread!
Black beans & Rice – Chickpeas & Couscous – Lentils & Millet
Turmeric & Black Pepper
Turmeric is a well-known aromatic spice used in Indian cooking and traditional Indian remedies for over 6,000 years! It contains curcumin, an active compound associated with improved heart health, disease prevention, anti-inflammatory properties and specifically used in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Super spice if you ask me! But there is a key element to unlocking this super spices’ full potential… black pepper. Black pepper has benefits of its own, piperine in black pepper is known to relieve headaches, nausea and aid digestion. When paired together, piperine increases the bioavailability of curcumin and enhances absorption up to 2,000%. Turmeric can be used in sweet and savoury dishes including curries, scrambled eggs, dressings, breakfast oats and even as a warm winter drink.
By Georgia Lamrock, Student Clinical Nutritionist @tasteful_tucker
Mariotti, F., & Gardner, C. D. (2019, 11 04). Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets—A Review. Nutrients, 11(11), 2661.
Natarajan, T., Ramasamy, J., & Palanisamy, K. (2019, 01 01). Nutraceutical potentials of synergic foods: a systematic review. Journal of Ethnic Foods, 6, 1.
Prasad, S., Tyagi, A. K., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2014, 01 15). Recent Developments in Delivery, Bioavailability, Absorption and Metabolism of Curcumin: the Golden Pigment from Golden Spice. Cancer Research and Treatment, 46(1), 2-18.
van Ballegooijen, A. J., Pilz, S., Tomaschitz, A., Grübler, M. R., Verheyen, N., & Pantos, C. (2017, 09 12). The Synergistic Interplay between Vitamins D and K for Bone and Cardiovascular Health: A Narrative Review. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2017, 7454376-12.