How I Stumbled Across the Idea of Combining Certain Foods for Health
Recently, while doing some research for one of our podcasts, I came across an article that mentioned the health benefits of combining turmeric and black pepper. I had recently begun incorporating turmeric in some of my cooking after learning about its health benefits but had no idea that combining it with black pepper could make it even more powerful.
After reading the article, I wondered what other foods complement each other in the same way? This led me to learn more about the practice of food combining for health, something I’ve also heard called “food synergy.”
Basic Principles of Food Combining
Food combining refers to the idea that certain foods, when properly combined, work better together than when eaten separately.
Those who subscribe to the notion of food combining also believe that some food combinations can be bad for you. Bad food combinations are those that cause the digestive system to work poorly, often causing gas and bloating.
The idea of food combining isn’t new. Food combining diets first appeared in the Ayurvedic medicine practices of ancient India and began gaining popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It’s important to note that there is still quite a bit of controversy surrounding some food combining principles due to inconclusive or, in some cases, directly contradictory scientific research. That doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, however! There is still some evidence that shows combining certain foods can be great for your body, so let’s talk about some food combining tips.
Food Combining Tips
1. Combine Black Pepper and Turmeric
Turmeric contains curcurmin, a phytochemical that gives turmeric its bright yellow color. Curcurmin, a powerful antioxidant, is “supercharged” by the bioactive compound piperine found in black peppercorns. In addition to improving the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%, piperine has also been shown to help relieve stomach issues such as poor digestion and nausea. And we thought pepper was just a food seasoning!
2. Combine Beans or Chickpeas with Rice
In episode 280, we talked about the health benefits of chickpeas. If you listened to that episode, you may recall that one of the benefits of chickpeas (and legumes in general) is that they are great for the digestive process. They aid in digestion and keep you feeling fuller longer, which can lead to weight loss.
While rice and other healthy whole grains are nutritious, when eaten alone they digest quickly in the body (particularly white rice). This, in turn, causes blood sugar to spike. The beneficial digestive properties of legumes help you to get the nutritional benefits of whole grains without the heavy glycemic load.
3. Add Black Pepper to Green Tea
Green tea contains the antioxidant EGCG which is believed to help regulate your metabolism and fight cancer. In 2004, a study in the Journal of Nutrition found that the absorption of EGCG was increased when piperine, the active ingredient in black pepper, was added.
Instead of a lump of sugar in that tea, how about a sprinkle of pepper?
4. Squirt Some Lemon on Your Spinach Salad
While heme iron (the type found in meat) is easily absorbed by the body, we need a little help to absorb iron from plant sources (called non-heme iron). Fortunately, Vitamin C helps to store non-heme iron in the body in a form that is easier to absorb. Adding fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C (such as citrus and bell pepper) to plant foods containing iron (like dark leafy greens) increases overall intake of iron. Try using a lemon juice-based salad dressing or tossing some mandarin oranges or bell peppers in your spinach salad to benefit from this food combining benefit.
5. Add Some Fat to Your Carotenoid-Rich Foods
Got it. But first…what’s a carotenoid? Carotenoids are the organic pigments that give carrots, corn, rutabagas, bananas, spinach, sweet potato, and dark leafy greens their color. In addition to helping plants with the process of photosynthesis and protecting them from sun damage, carotenoids are powerful antioxidants for us. Among other benefits, they help protect our eyes from disease.
Studies have shown that the full benefits of foods containing carotenoids aren’t fully realized unless consumed with a fat, which helps the body to absorb carotenoids.
So be sure to add a good healthy fat such as avocado to that salad!
6. Dark Chocolate and Apples…
sound like a decadent dessert treat but this combination is so much more than that! Apple skins contain an anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin which, when coupled with the antioxidant catechin found in dark chocolate, has been shown to help dissolve blood clots.
Fondue anyone? Just remember, dark chocolate is best!
7. Cook Whole Grains with Onion and Garlic
Onion and garlic are sulfur-rich foods. There is some evidence to show that combining sulfur-rich foods with healthy whole grains such as rice or bread helps boost the nutritional value of the grains. Personally, I enjoy a good Spanish rice cooked with both onion and garlic! No time to cook rice? Consider adding a slice of onion to your next sandwich.
8. Take Your Vitamin K with a Healthy Fat
Vitamin K is essential for blood to clot properly. Like carotenoids, Vitamin K is best absorbed by the body when consumed with some fat. Foods rich in K include leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables.
If you consume oil, consider lightly sautéing these foods in some olive oil to get the most Vitamin K benefit from them.
9. Add Avocado or Nuts to your Salad
You’ve probably noticed by now that healthy fats play a very important role in helping our bodies get the most benefit from the essential vitamins found in the plant foods we eat.
We’ve discussed iron and Vitamin K already. A is another vitamin that is better absorbed by the body when consumed with a healthy fat. Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin.
Green leafy veggies, as well as orange and yellow ones like squash and carrots, are examples of plant-based foods rich in vitamin A that are best absorbed by our bodies when consumed with fat.
10. Blend up a Tofu Smoothie
Adding some tofu in your smoothie can help improve consistency, but tofu also has an added health benefit. Besides being containing protein, iron, and calcium, it’s also a great source of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb more of the calcium contained in many common smoothie ingredients including spinach, oranges, and blackberries.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with some easy food combinations to help you power up your digestive system and improve your overall health. The bottom line is this–eat a variety of whole plant-based foods in the right combinations and your body will thank you for it!
Question: What are your favorite healthy food combinations?
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Here’s what we mention in this episode:
- The Golden Apple Roundtable on Patreon
Recipe of the Week:
Resource of the Week:
- Quick Vegetarian Pleasures: More than 175 Fast, Delicious, and Healthy Meatless Recipes by Jeanne Lemlin
Food Combining Resources:
- Food Combining (Wikipedia)
- Does Food Combining Work? Fact or Fiction?
- 11 Super Foods That Work Better Together
- We Found Out What Food Combining Is (And It Actually Works)
- 22 Foods That Are Healthier When Eaten Together
- Food Synergy
- Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection.
- Why Pepper Boosts Turmeric Blood Levels
Thanks for listening!
Peace and Veggies,
Vickie and Larissa