Many of the dishes humans have eaten for generations — such as rice and beans or tomatoes drizzled with olive oil — have withstood the test of time, not simply because the ingredients taste delicious together, but because they’re more nutritious together than they are on their own. The concept is called “food synergy” and it explains how two foods can be greater than the sum of their parts. Here are a few of the most powerful food synergies currently known to science.
Eggs and Cheese
The vitamin D found in egg yolks makes the calcium in dairy more available to your body — important not only for bones, but for heart health as well.
Rosemary and Steak
Marinate your steak with rosemary before cooking. The herb is rich in antioxidants such as, rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, that help neutralize carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when steak reaches a temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Tomatoes and Olive Oil
Cancer and heart disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids (the most well known of which is lycopene) are found in abundance in tomatoes. They’re fat-soluble and, as such, they’re more available to your body when you eat them with fats such as, olive oil or mozzarella cheese.
Garlic and Fish
Both of these foods fight inflammation and disease, but together they’re even more powerful. Research has shown that a combination of garlic and fish lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol more effectively than eating the foods on their own.
Raspberries and Chocolate
Scientists have discovered that when raspberries and chocolate are paired together, their disease-fighting flavonoids (quercetin in raspberries and catechin in chocolate) are even more effective at thinning the blood and improving heart health.
Turmeric and Black Pepper
The spice turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties — it’s being studied for its potential to fight cancer, improve liver function, lower cholesterol and avoid Alzheimer’s disease. When you combine it with black pepper, your body absorbs much more curcumin (turmeric’s active ingredient).
Salmon and Red Wine
Plant compounds in grapes known as polyphenols do more than promote good circulation — they also help your body absorb more of the brain-healthy omega-3s in fish.
Oatmeal and Oranges
Phenols (a type of plant compound) in oatmeal and vitamin C in oranges, both lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. When eaten together, their ability to improve cholesterol and prevent heart disease is four times greater than what they’re capable of individually.
Lemon and Spinach
The vitamin C in lemons helps your body absorb more of the plant-based iron found in spinach, a mineral that prevents mood swings and promotes happiness.
Red Wine and Almonds
Together, the antioxidant resveratrol in red wine and the vitamin E in almonds boost the body’s ability to thin the blood and improve the health of blood vessel linings.
Vinegar and Sushi Rice
Vinegar decreases rice’s ability to raise blood sugar levels by 20 to 40 percent.
Beet Greens and Chickpeas
Chickpeas are a good source of vitamin B6, which helps your body absorb the magnesium found in beet greens (B6 helps facilitate the transfer of magnesium across cell membranes). These nutrients work together in the body to ease the symptoms of PMS and ADHD.
Green Tea and Lemon
The vitamin C in lemon makes more of the catechins (a type of antioxidant) in green tea available to your body.
Banana and Yogurt
Bananas contain inulin, which research indicates fuels the growth of yogurt’s healthy bacteria (which helps regulate digestion and boost immunity).
Apples and Cranberries
These Thanksgiving staples are rich in a wide variety of antioxidants such as quercetin and anthocyanidins. Research shows that when you eat these foods together, their antioxidant activity is significantly higher than if you eat them separately.
Chicken and Carrots
Chicken contains zinc, which is what your body needs to efficiently metabolize the beta-carotene in carrots into vitamin A, a nutrient you need for healthy skin and eyes and a strong immune system.
Fish and Broccoli
Fish contains the mineral selenium and broccoli is rich in a disease-fighting compound known as sulforaphane. Research shows that selenium and sulforaphane together are 13 times more effective at slowing cancer cell growth than when eaten alone.
Whole-Grain Bread and Peanut Butter
Together, these two foods contain all nine of the essential amino acids that your body needs to build bones, muscles and hormones.
Broccoli and Pine Nuts
The vitamin C in broccoli helps keep the vitamin E in pine nuts effective.
Blueberries and Walnuts
Blueberries contain phytochemicals, known as anthocyanins, that protect the brain from oxidative damage and walnuts are a rich source of omega-3s that make you smarter. Research has shown that these compounds are even more powerful at sharpening memory and improving communication between brain cells when they work together.
Garlic and Onions
The organosulfur compounds in garlic and onions are more powerful in combination than solo. Together, they help remove plaque from arteries and keep blood vessels flexible and healthy.
Source: The Happiness Diet, published by Rodale, 2011.
Recipes for Some of These Nutritional Twins
Dark Chocolate Dipping Sauce
This warm, velvety sauce is naturally sweetened with honey or agave nectar. Use it to dunk slices of healthy fruits, such as apples, cherries, orange slices, raspberries, strawberries, bananas, dried apricots or pineapple. It also makes a rich-tasting topping for low-fat vanilla ice cream.
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 3 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
- 1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk
- 1 tablespoon cholesterol-free butter spread
- 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional)
Cook the first 4 ingredients in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until mixture is smooth. Whisk in peppermint extract, if using. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate. Reheat before serving.
Italian Style Salmon with Braised Broccoli
- 1 1/4 pounds wild Alaskan salmon fillet, skinned and cut into 4 portions
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 2 heads broccoli (1-1 1/2 pounds), trimmed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons raisins
- 2 tablespoons pine (pignoli) nuts
- 1/2 cup water
Season salmon with half the rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon salt at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour before cooking. Cut the broccoli into florets with 2-inch-long stalks. Remove the tough outer layer of the stalk with a vegetable peeler. Cut the florets in half lengthwise.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large wide saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add raisins, pine nuts and the remaining rosemary; toss to coat with oil. Cook, stirring, until the pine nuts are fragrant and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the broccoli, season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss to combine. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the water has almost evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add salmon, skinned-side up, and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the salmon over, remove the pan from the heat and let stand until just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.
To serve, divide the broccoli among 4 plates. Top with salmon and spoon raisins, pine nuts and any liquid remaining in the pan over the salmon.
No Knead Anadama Corn Bread
Anadama Corn Bread is made with molasses, an unrefined sweetener that imparts much more flavor than white sugar. It rounds out the rough edges in the whole wheat used to boost the fiber and vitamin content of the bread.
Method is based on the procedure used in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables and Gluten-free Ingredients By Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- 1/4 cup wheat germ
- 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (2 packets) granulated yeast
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
- 3 ½ cups lukewarm water
- 1/2 cup molasses
Whisk together the cornmeal, wheat germ, flours, yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
Combine the water and molasses and mix them with the dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a food processor (with dough attachment) or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). You may need to get your hands wet to get the last bit of flour incorporated, if you’re not using a machine.
Cover (not airtight) and allow the dough to rest at room temperature until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate it in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next week.
On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
Allow the loaf to rest for 90 minutes (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough), covered loosely with plastic wrap, on a pizza peel prepared with cornmeal or lined with parchment paper. Alternatively, you can let the loaf rest on a silicone mat or greased cookie sheet.
Thirty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler pan on any other rack that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the top crust with water. Using a serrated knife, slash the loaf with two quarter-inch-deep parallel cuts.
Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone (or place the silicone mat or cookie sheet on the stone). Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler pan and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, until richly browned and firm.
If you used parchment paper, a silicone mat or a cookie sheet under the loaf, carefully remove it two-thirds of the way through baking (after 20 minutes), allowing the bread to finish baking on the baking stone. (Smaller or larger loaves will require some adjustments in resting and baking time.)
Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Blueberry Tart with Walnut Crust
- 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted (see Tip)
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (see Tip)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 large egg white
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
- Pinch of salt
- 8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), softened
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, divided
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
You will need a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
To prepare crust:
Coarsely chop walnuts in a food processor. Add graham cracker crumbs, sugar and process until the mixture looks like fine crumbs.
Whisk egg white in a medium bowl until frothy. Add the crumb mixture, butter, oil and salt; toss to combine. Press the mixture onto the bottom and a 1/2 inch up the sides of the tart pan. Set the pan on a baking sheet. Bake until dry and slightly darker around the edges, about 8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
To prepare filling:
Beat cream cheese, sour cream and 1/4 cup maple syrup in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth.
When the crust is cool, spread the filling evenly into it, being careful not to break up the delicate crust. Arrange blueberries on the filling, pressing lightly so they set in the filling.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup over the berries. Chill for at least 1 hour to firm up.
Make Ahead : Refrigerate for up to 1 day.
To toast walnuts, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F, stirring once, until fragrant, 7 to 9 minutes.
To make crumbs, pulse graham crackers in a food processor or place in a large sealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. (You’ll need about 14 graham cracker squares to make 1 cup of crumbs.)
Homemade Peanut Butter
Below is a recipe for homemade peanut butter — 100 percent natural — that factors in the conventional peanut butter flavors that wowed the Cook’s Illustrated judges, but also boasts the natural goodness of freshly roasted peanuts. Pair it with the Andama Corn Bread for a Nutritional Twin.
- 1 pound raw peanuts in the shells, roasted (recipe below)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon molasses
- 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
Roast peanuts according to the instructions in Easy Roasted Peanuts in the Shell Recipe below. Opt for a longer roast if you want a robust, dark-roast-flavored peanut butter.
Allow the peanuts to cool slightly before shelling and skinning them by rubbing them between your fingers. (A dry salad spinner can help make quick work of spinning off the skins . Spin about a cup of peanuts at a time.)
Add the peanuts, salt, honey and molasses to a food processor and process for a couple of minutes, scraping the sides down every now and then. Continue to process, as you slowly add the oil in a stream, until the mixture is fully blended and smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should last 2 to 3 months.
Roasted Peanuts in the Shell
- 1 pound raw or green peanuts in the shells, rinsed and dried
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 tablespoonkosher salt
Toss peanuts with oil and salt until well-coated.
Spread out onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on how intense you want the flavor) at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Shake the pan a couple of times during roasting to stir the peanuts. Watch carefully to prevent scorching. Let peanuts cool a few minutes before serving, as they will harden and become crunchier.
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