Wellness Catering Solutions

Food synergy and it’s connection to health

By Sam Bourne DipNT mBANT CNHC NTC Registered Nutritional Therapist

Long before I studied and practiced Nutritional Therapy, I was curious about why certain foods worked so well together and why when eating them in certain combinations, they appeared to be easier to digest and didn’t sit so heavily in the gut. Applying it to my diet after years of suffering the effects of eating the wrong food combinations for me, I felt lighter, more energetic and more focused.

My very first nutritional health book was ‘Healing with Whole Foods’ by Paul Pitchford. It was a game changer.

This book brings together authentic traditions of ancient Eastern medicine with Western research on the effect of nutrition on health. The Ying and Yang philosophy of opposites, or of balancing are very much observed in connection with the energetics of foods. To explain: too much of one type of food, like animal protein needs to be balanced or ‘counteracted’ with a food that will help make animal protein less of a burden on the body and help keep the toxic by product of breaking it down to a minimum. There are many ‘synergistic’ pairings of foods and many of them we take for granted as they have been eaten like this and passed down for generations.

Food combining

The use the ‘non-combining’ method that pairs foods that digest well together can be very helpful. This is a more general overview of not consuming proteins with carbohydrates at mealtimes.

Ideal combinations to help digestion:

Brown rice and a medley of vegetables with olive oil and spices.

Chickpeas, quinoa and shredded cabbage with sesame seeds and oil

Chicken and mushrooms with courgette, spinach and tomatoes

Cold Mackerel with lettuce, radish, cucumber, crumbled cauliflower, sunflower seeds, olive oil.

Lean beef bolognaise with lots of courgetti spaghetti (can be carrot spaghetti too)

Jacket potato with chopped red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, avocado, pumpkin seeds, radish, courgette, olive oil, balsamic

Broccoli and butter beans

The synergistic approach is pairing foods that have a positive effect on digestion and absorption of nutrients. For example, pairing avocado with leafy greens and tomatoes can help absorb more nutrients from those foods, adding apple cider vinegar can help digest the proteins in foods, adding microgreens to a beef stew can help absorb the iron due to high vitamin C content.

Pairing the right foods can create a nutritional health benefit that is more effective than consuming a food individually. This may be due to the combing of ‘co-factors’ that are vital for enzymatic reactions in the body. Here are some examples of very beneficial nutrient pairings:

Vitamin C and Iron – these act together to allow iron to be absorbed efficiently, combining them can have a profound effect on the health of someone that is anaemic, but also can improve energy and immune function in general.

Examples of iron rich foods paired with vitamin C rich foods:

Chicken thighs cooked with lemons and broccoli

Lean beef with red peppers and kale

Shrimp with papaya and spring onions

Omelette with spinach, cherry tomatoes and onions

Chickpeas with garlic, chili and shredded cabbage

Cocoa / dark chocolate with organic strawberries

Pumpkin seeds with Kiwi fruit

Vitamin C supplements also work synergistically with iron supplements or iron rich foods.

Magnesium absorption – Vital for energy, muscle health, cancer protection and over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. We lose magnesium easily and can have difficulty absorbing it. The foods that help us absorb it from our diet are fermented and soluble fibres from fruit and veg, medium chain triglycerides (MCT) found in butter and Coconut oil, lean protein and fermented soy products.

Ideal pairings would be:

Oats with blueberries and apple and kefir or natural yogurt or coconut kefir

Spouted grain salad, with a dressing containing some MCT oil mixed with Olive oil

Tempeh (Fermented soybeans) with tomato and cocoa (high in magnesium), cooked garlic, green vegetables and with a little coconut oil.

Beta-carotene absorption (Vitamin A)

A very important nutrient for immune function and a vital antioxidant. Particularly good for eyes, skin and protects against tissue damage both inside and outside. Beta-carotene is absorbed better with healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.

Ideal pairings would be:

Oats with blueberries and apple and kefir or natural yogurt or coconut kefir

Spouted grain salad, with a dressing containing some MCT oil mixed with Olive oil

Tempeh (Fermented soybeans) with tomato and cocoa (high in magnesium), cooked garlic, green vegetables and with a little coconut oil.

Beta-carotene absorption (Vitamin A)

A very important nutrient for immune function and a vital antioxidant. Particularly good for eyes, skin and protects against tissue damage both inside and outside. Beta-carotene is absorbed better with healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.

Ideal pairings would be:

Roasted sweet potato with olive oil, then sprinkle post cooking with pumpkin seeds

Carrot and tomato soup with drizzled avocado oil

Shredded kale rubbed with sesame oil

Butternut squash, broccoli with a little goat’s butter

Broccoli and almonds

Spiralised carrots with walnuts and feta

Synergistic pairing for digestion

Probiotic foods like kefir and natural live yogurt work even better to support gut health is paired with a ‘prebiotic’ food. This is a food that the beneficial bacteria ‘feed’ on whilst in the digestive tract.

Idea pairings would be:

Kefir and semi-ripe banana with ground flaxseed.

Fruit salad with natural live Yogurt

Miso with cold potato salad

Smoothie with kale, broccoli stalk, apple and kefir

Digestive support foods like kimchi, acidic foods, papaya, pineapple and mango, ginger can be paired with certain foods to help digestion:

Kimchi with rice and lentils

Cubed papaya and grated ginger with shrimp or chicken and rice

Apple cider vinegar with proteins and green leaves

Ginger tea with food

Pickles and goat’s cheese

I would also like to add that I have found after many years of observing my own nutrition health as well as working with people that adding lightly cooked or raw green leafy or stalky veg to any meal helps digestion. It could be the combination of the plant enzymes, the supportive vitamins and minerals and the fibre – but it works. Foods like broccoli, kale, spinach, spring greens and pak choi are a perfect addition to any meal, I always add one or two of these to my smoothie, or something raw into a soup, casserole or stir-fry.

Synergistic pairing for plant-based proteins.

Being vegan or vegetarian, or just consuming a plant-based diet means that one must pay attention to protein sources. Combing two or 3 plant protein foods is the best way to get all essential amino acids.

Ideal pairings would be:

Brown rice and lentils

Quinoa and chickpeas

Butter beans and oyster mushrooms with fresh garden peas or mange toute

Tempeh and brown rice noodles

Spices and herbs also play a part in supporting the absorption of nutrition in foods, chili for example can increase heat and can help with digestion, garlic cleanses the microbiome to aid beneficial bacteria that are vital for digestion, Omega3 oils support absorption of many nutrients and keep the membranes fluid and flexible for better absorption of nutrients into tissues.

Like all things in the natural world, our bodies like balance and moderation, eating synergistically supports this process. POW is passionate about the nutritional content of their foods and works to make sure that their meals are as synergistic with well-being as possible.

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