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Food synergy is how components in food — like fatty acids, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals — work together in your body for maximum health benefit. Food synergy is like adding one plus one and getting four instead of two. In other words, it’s about getting the biggest bang for your food buck and achieving a higher level of health.

We can get so focused on the health benefits of a certain vitamin or nutrient that we miss a crucial link. Different components within a single food can work better together and certain components of different foods can produce amazing results when eaten in combination.

Over the past 15 years, research has discovered many examples of food components working together within a whole food (like apples with the peel, cruciferous vegetables, whole grains), as well as food components working together between foods. Here are a few examples of the latter. 

The more you know about food synergy and how components within food work together in the body for maximum health benefits, the more it makes sense to eat more whole foods for the nutrients we need.


Broccoli + Tomato (the whole tomato, including skin)

One study found prostate tumors grew much less in rats fed tomato and broccoli powder than in rats that ate diets containing just one of those powders or cancer-fighting substances isolated from tomatoes or broccoli. Separately, tomatoes and broccoli appear to have cancer-fighting potential; together they seem to bring out the best in each other, maximizing this potential cancer-fighting effect. (J Nutr 2005 Dec)


Salad Veggies + Avocado (monounsaturated fat)

Eating a little “good fat” along with your salad vegetables can help your body absorb 4 to 13 times more protective phytochemicals like lycopene from tomatoes, carotenes from carrots and lutein from dark green vegetables, according to a study. Research tested this with spinach salads using good fats from avocado or salad dressings containing canola oil. (J Nutr 2005 Mar; 135(3): 431-6) For many years, the science of nutrition has focused on specific pieces of the puzzle instead of the inherent power of the whole picture. Because there are synergies we haven’t yet discovered, the only way to insure we are including as many of them as possible is to eat whole foods. The power is in the pairing — whole foods working together.


Garlic + Onions 

Organosulfur compounds are the primary active phytochemicals in garlic and onions. Several of them may protect the heart by helping to keep arteries flexible and clear of plaque damage. When you eat garlic and onions together, you are more likely to cover your bases and get plenty of the powerful plant compounds.


Garlic + Onions = possible improvement in heart health. 

Tomatoes + Broccoli = decreasing prostate tumor growth was shown in a study involving mice.

Salad Veggies + Avocado = higher absorption of protective phytochemicals from dark green veggies, tomatoes, and carrots.

Fruit Salad = eating a mixture of fruits at the same time has a greater antioxidant response than eating one fruit alone High Omega-3 fish like.

Salmon + Extra Virgin Olive Oil = phytochemicals in olive oil may strengthen the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s found in higher fat fish. 

Tomatoes (cooked) + Extra Virgin Olive Oil = phytochemical absorption is greater when tomatoes are cooked and even greater when some monounsaturated fat is added as well. 

Whole Soy/Tofu + Green/White Tea = decreased breast cancer tumor growth in mice was shown in a Harvard Medical School study; similar results were shown with human prostate cancer cells (J Nutr 2003Feb; 133(2) 516-21).

Dark green Veggies + Almonds = possible improved protection of LDL “bad” cholesterol oxidation from suggested synergy between the antioxidant’s vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene from the green veggies and the phytochemicals in almond skin.

Oats + Citrus = phytochemicals in oats were shown to possibly interact synergistically with vitamin C and other phytochemicals in citrus to protect LDL cholesterol even more during oxidation (thought to lower heart disease risk), according to several studies (J Nutr 2004 June 134(6): 1459-66).

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