Eating healthy foods is pretty simple when you follow the Michael Pollan credo of "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
But what if I told you that you can maximize the nourishment you're getting out of the whole plant foods you're already eating by creating a few food synergies along the way?
Food synergies are what happens when two or more foods are combined in a meal that make certain nutrients more easily absorbed and used by your body.
In a recent class at the Natural Gourmet Institute, I learned about the different types of food couplings for bioavailability then got in the kitchen to test them out. It turns out nutrient absorption is not only great for your body on a cellular level, but it's also delicious.
One of the coolest things about the study of food synergies is that a lot of these pairings are found in traditional cuisines, as if they're inherent or instinctual to us as humans.
Here are five totally tasty food synergies to think about the next time you're planning a meal, plus recipes to get you started.
Iron + Vitamin C
Animal sources of iron are more easily absorbed in the body, but when plant-based sources of iron are eaten with vitamin C, the iron is more potent and readily available to the body, making this combo especially great for vegans and vegetarians.
- Spinach + Blood Orange Salad With Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette
- Steel-Cut Oatmeal + Roasted Strawberries
- Lentil Salad + Red Bell Pepper Pesto With Grilled Nectarines
Fat + Vitamins A, D, E, and K (Fat-Soluble Vitamins)
Fat-soluble vitamins (which include vitamins A, D, E, and K) are stored in fat within the body, as opposed to water (like vitamins B and C are). In order for the body to use and properly store these vitamins, they should be accompanied by a little bit of fat.
- Kale Salad with Sweet Potato + Avocado Sauce
- Mango, Coconut Milk + Spinach Smoothie
- Roasted Carrots, Microgreens + Avocado Salad
Fermented Foods + B Vitamins + Minerals
Probiotic-rich fermented foods aid in the absorption of B vitamins and key minerals and promote healthy digestion.
- Miso Ramen With Vegetables + Poached Egg
- Roasted Chicken Thighs + Garlic Yogurt Sauce Over a Mixed Green Salad
- Kimchi Tempeh Dumplings (see recipe below)
Turmeric + Black Pepper
The inflammation-fighting property of turmeric, called curcumin, is enhanced and more readily absorbed when combined with black pepper. In fact, some studies suggest that many phytochemicals (the antioxidants that give foods their colors and aromas) are more accessible to the body when combined with black pepper.
Calcium + Magnesium + Protein
These three nutrients all add up to great bone health and could protect against possible fractures down the line.
- Almond, Chocolate + Banana Nice Cream
- Zucchini, Feta + Spinach Fritters with Tzatziki
- White Bean + Swiss Chard Pasta
Recipe: Kimchi Tempeh Dumplings
Makes 2 dozen dumplings
- 8 ounces tempeh
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 collard or kale leaves, stemmed and finely chopped
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 1 cup kimchi, drained, blotted dry, and chopped
- 1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons water)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons shoyu
- 1 teaspoon chopped ginger
- fresh ground pepper
- wonton wrappers
Ingredients for dipping sauce
- ¼ cup low-sodium shoyu
- 2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
1. Steam tempeh for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, and crumble.
2. Sauté scallions, kale, and mushrooms until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat. Put in a bowl; add tempeh. Add chopped kimchi and blend. Add egg, sesame oil, ginger, shoyu, and pepper. Mix well.
3. Put a steamer basket lined in collards or cabbage in a large pot with water.
4. Place 1 tablespoon filling in wonton wrapper; moisten edges and pinch together to form a purse or fold in half to form a half moon.
5. Steam for 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Serve with dipping sauce.
Recipe by Laura Rosenberg, MS, RD, CDN for the Natural Gourmet Institute.