The following is an excerpt from The Happiness Diet by Tyler Graham and Drew Ramsey, M.D. (Rodale, 2011). We know industrial food makes us unhealthy, but new research has revealed it’s also making us unhappy. In this lively, accessible book, you’ll learn how food plays a vital role in brain function and how you can improve your mental and emotional well-being by tweaking what’s on your plate. Peppered throughout are the authors’ Top 100 Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods — did you know many artificial food colorings are synthesized from coal tar, or that Big Tobacco owns Kraft, Nabisco and a number of other popular processed food brands? This excerpt is from Chapter 3, “Bad Food, Bad Mood.”
(We’ve included links to recipes that contain some of the following healthful food pairings. Bon appétit! — MOTHER)
Many of the dishes humans have eaten for generations — such as rice and beans, or tomatoes drizzled with olive oil — have withstood the test of time not simply because the ingredients taste delicious together. Health experts believe we enjoy these food combinations because they’re more nutritious together than they are on their own. The concept is called “food synergy,” and it explains how two foods can be greater than the sum of their parts. Here are a few of the most powerful food synergies currently known to science.
Eggs and Cheese
The vitamin D found in egg yolks makes the calcium in dairy more available to your body — important not only for bones, but for heart health as well.
Rosemary and Steak
Marinate your steak with rosemary before cooking: The herb is rich in antioxidants such as rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid that help neutralize carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when steak reaches a temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Tomatoes and Olive Oil
Cancer- and heart disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids (the most well known of which is lycopene) are found in abundance in tomatoes. They’re fat-soluble and, as such, they’re more available to your body when you eat them with fats such as olive oil or mozzarella cheese.
Try: Classic Pizza Margherita
Garlic and Fish
Both of these foods fight inflammation and disease, but together they’re even more powerful. Research has shown that a combination of garlic and fish lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol more effectively than eating the foods on their own.
Try: Smoked Trout With Asparagus-Lemon Crema
Raspberries and Chocolate
Scientists have discovered that when raspberries and chocolate are paired together, their disease-fighting flavonoids (quercetin in raspberries and catechin in chocolate) are even more effective at thinning the blood and improving heart health.
Try: Dark Chocolate Dipping Sauce
Turmeric and Black Pepper
The spice turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties — it’s being studied for its potential to fight cancer, improve liver function, lower cholesterol and stave off Alzheimer’s disease. When you combine it with black pepper, your body absorbs a thousand times more curcumin (turmeric’s active ingredient).
Salmon and Red Wine
Plant compounds in grapes known as polyphenols do more than promote good circulation — they also help your body absorb more of the brain-healthy omega-3s in fish.
Oatmeal and Oranges
Phenols (a type of plant compound) in oatmeal and vitamin C in oranges both lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. When eaten together, their ability to improve cholesterol and prevent heart disease is four times greater than what they’re capable of individually.
Lemon and Spinach
The vitamin C in lemons helps your body absorb more of the plant-based iron found in spinach, a mineral that prevents mood swings and promotes happiness.
Red Wine and Almonds
Together, the antioxidant resveratrol in red wine and the vitamin E in almonds boost the body’s ability to thin the blood and improve the health of blood vessel linings.
Vinegar and Sushi Rice
Vinegar decreases rice’s ability to raise blood sugar levels by 20 to 40 percent.
Beet Greens and Chickpeas
Chickpeas are a good source of vitamin B6, which helps your body absorb the magnesium found in beet greens (B6 helps facilitate the transport of magnesium across cell membranes). These nutrients work together in the body to ease the symptoms of PMS and ADHD.
Green Tea and Lemon
The vitamin C in lemon makes more of the catechins (a type of antioxidant) in green tea available to your body.
Banana and Yogurt
Bananas contain inulin, which research indicates fuels the growth of yogurt’s healthy bacteria (which helps regulate digestion and boost immunity).
Apples and Cranberries
These Thanksgiving staples are rich in a wide variety of antioxidants such as quercetin and anthocyanidins. Research shows that when you eat these foods together, their antioxidant activity is significantly higher than if you eat them separately.
Chicken and Carrots
Chicken contains zinc, which is what your body needs to efficiently metabolize the beta-carotene in carrots into vitamin A, a nutrient you need for healthy skin, strong eyes and a robust immune system.
Fish and Broccoli
Fish contains the mineral selenium, and broccoli is rich in a disease-fighting compound known as sulforaphane. Research shows that selenium and sulforaphane together are 13 times more effective at slowing cancer cell growth than when eaten alone.
Try: Seared Salmon With Braised Broccoli
Whole-Grain Bread and Peanut Butter
Together, these two foods contain all nine of the essential amino acids that your body needs to build bones, muscles and hormones.
Try: Fabulous Homemade Peanut Butter, Healthy, No-Knead Bread Recipes
Broccoli and Pine Nuts
The vitamin C in broccoli helps keep the vitamin E in pine nuts active and potent.
Blueberries and Walnuts
Blueberries contain phytochemicals known as anthocyanins that protect the brain from oxidative damage, and walnuts are a rich source of omega-3s that make you smarter. Research has shown that these compounds are even more powerful at sharpening memory and improving communication between brain cells when they work together.
Try: Blueberry Tart With Walnut Crust
Garlic and Onions
The organosulfur compounds in garlic and onions are more powerful in combination than solo. Together, they help remove plaque from arteries and keep blood vessels flexible and healthy.
Reprinted with permission from The Happiness Diet, published by Rodale, 2011.