Many of the dishes humans have eaten for generations—like 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 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.
Marinate your steak with rosemary before cooking: The herb is rich in antioxidants like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid that help neutralize carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when steak reaches temperatures of 325 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
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 like olive oil or mozzarella cheese.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.