Power Eating: Food Combos Magnify Health Benefits

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 Last weekend as I watched my daughter’s soccer team battle their archrivals, I was also planning the week’s meals in my head (we working parents rarely do one thing at a time!). Seeing the girls execute an impressive string of passes — great teamwork! — my brain jumped to synergistic foods, the idea of making nutritious ones even better by combining them with others. So later, I called contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, to ask what his favorite power food combos are — and he had plenty to share. He assured me that there are indeed many tasty ways to mix foods so that they interact synergistically with one another, delivering more health-giving nutrition than you could get by eating them separately.

 Here are some of Dr. Rubman’s favorite one-two food punches…

 Tea with Lemon

 Made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, tea contains powerful catechins that improve digestion and reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Many tea drinkers already squeeze lemon into their cups because it tastes so great, but it also significantly increases your absorption of the disease-fighting antioxidants in the tea. To extract the most catechins, steep tea in hot water for at least five minutes and don’t reuse tea bags.

 Your best bet: All tea is good for you, but white and green teas are richer sources of catechins than black tea.

 Beets with Vitamin C-Rich Vegetables

 Eating produce with a variety of colors — yellow peppers, orange sweet potatoes, purple eggplant, etc. — gives you the greatest variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. You can add more power yet by serving iron-rich greens such as kale, mustard greens, spinach or Swiss chard with vitamin C-packed beets (or tomatoes or lemon). The reason? Vitamin C makes plant-based iron more absorbable by your intestines.

 Fruits with… Fruits

 Along the same lines, eating several fruits at one time generates greater antioxidant action than eating single fruits separately. Blueberries top many “Best Fruit” lists, since they are a rich source of polyphenols that reduce inflammation. Combine them with whatever else is fresh, in season and at peak ripeness — raspberries, strawberries, purple grapes, mango, apples, oranges, etc. Aim for three to five servings (each serving one-half to one cup) of different fruits daily. Dr. Rubman said doing this will boost the synergistic effect of these phytochemicals, which work better in combination than alone.

 For maximum health: Don’t eat fruit within 20 minutes of meals, before or after, as their sugars will then rest longer in the digestive tract, where they ferment and cause gas.

 Pasta with Tomato Sauce

 No doctor has to work hard to convince me to eat this delicious, classic combination! Tomatoes contain the potent antioxidant lycopene, which fights heart disease and certain cancers — since lycopene is fat soluble, the tomato sauce should be made with olive oil, which facilitates absorption. Dr. Rubman said that olive oil is also helpful in offsetting the challenge of digesting gluten in pasta — though he notes that this doesn’t give a pass to people with celiac disease, since the soothing mechanism isn’t sufficient to solve the problem completely.

 Beef with Marinade

 Marinate beef before grilling or barbecuing (even if just for 10 minutes or so) to reduce your exposure to cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are created when meat is cooked at high temperatures. Make your own marinade, since sugar-infused store-bought brands end up increasing HCA production. Look for recipes that use members of the antioxidant, anti-HCA mint family — rosemary, thyme, basil, sage and oregano.

 For maximum health: We actually need a little saturated fat for digestive health and other body functions, Dr. Rubman observes — just not at the levels in the typical American diet. Limit your beef consumption to one three-ounce serving per week.

 Fish with Citrus

 You may have seen or eaten a delicious dish called ceviche, which is made by marinating raw seafood, such as fish, shrimp or scallops in highly acidic citrus juice (usually lemon or lime). What you probably didn’t know is that serving fish with citrus fruits enhances the healthful anti-inflammatory properties of both. Latin American chefs often also toss in other fresh ingredients, such as cilantro, tomato, onion and avocado — excellent sources of antioxidant phytonutrients and flavonoids that likewise discourage inflammation, boost heart health and help flush toxins from the body.

 Caution: People with a compromised immune system shouldn’t take chances with raw seafood — you can achieve the same health effect by poaching, grilling or sautéing fish with citrus juice and sprinkling it with cilantro.

 Beans and Grains — Not Necessarily Together

 If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you probably eat beans and grains together often since it’s widely known that they contain different amino acids that are all necessary to build the complete proteins you require for good health. But did you know that you don’t have to eat beans and grains in the same meal to reap this benefit? Eating them within a single 24-hour period — for example, brown rice with dinner tonight, black bean chili for lunch tomorrow — will do the trick.

 For maximum health: Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, declare “Meatless Mondays” — choosing beans and grains instead of meat even one day a week can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

 Making a habit of eating some of these foods together regularly is a great recipe for better health!


Andrew L. Rubman, ND, founder and director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut. www.southburyclinic.com.