The Synergistic Effect of Food

By: Amanda Diaz, UTSA Graduate Dietetic Intern

Revised by Celina Paras MSc, RDN, LD.

The power of food can be quite remarkable.  Did you know that when certain foods are eaten together they can enhance nutrient power to provide even greater health benefits?  This concept is known as food synergy. This is not referring to some of the most popular food combos such as queso dip and tortilla chips. Although these foods taste great together, there are other food combinations more beneficial to your health.  Food synergy brings it back to the basics. By eating whole foods, or foods closest to their natural form, you can maximize the health benefits of the foods you eat. Here are some food synergies to keep in mind for healthier choices for you and your family.


Pre-and Probiotics – Feed Your Gut

Prebiotics is a term you have probably heard before, but are unsure what it is.  Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that protect your gut from foreign substances and pathogens.  Probiotics are found in yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, while prebiotics are in fruits, onions, garlic, asparagus, and whole-wheat foods. When eaten together, for instance,  yogurt and bananas work together to maintain healthy gut flora.1


Vitamin C and Iron

Iron transports oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body so cells can produce energy.  When iron levels are low you may experience fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and may find it difficult to maintain your body temperature.  There are two forms of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal meats such as beef and poultry and is better absorbed by the body.  Non-heme iron is found in plant foods such as spinach and beans and with the help of vitamin C found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, and orange juice, can increase iron absorption.  Drink some orange juice with your steak.2


Fats and Fat-soluble Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are classified as fat-soluble vitamins, meaning they need fat to be well absorbed.  Any fat can assist with absorption, but consider choosing a healthier fat such as monounsaturated fats. Nuts, avocado, nut butters, and some vegetable oils are great food sources of monounsaturated fats which are heart healthy.


Each vitamin plays an essential role in the body and can be found in various nuts, seeds, dairy products, fatty fish, and oils.  Vitamins A and E are antioxidants, while vitamin A helps your eyes adjust to light, vitamin E protects red blood cells and essential fatty acids from being destroyed. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium to build strong bones and healthy teeth. Lastly, vitamin K is needed for normal blood clotting.  To reap these benefits, cook vegetables with olive or canola oil. Avoid fat-free salad dressing, and instead reach for vinaigrette, and add avocado to your smoothie that has milk fortified with vitamin D.3


There is still so much that is unknown about how the components in food work together, which is why they continue to be studied. Combining foods that complement each other for a synergistic effect can provide a positive impact on your health.


1.         NCCIH. Probiotics: In Depth. 2018; Accessed March 27, 2018.

2.         Group E. Gut Health 101: What is the Microbiome? 2016; Accessed March 27, 2018.

3.         Conlon MA, Bird AR. The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human health. Nutrients. 2014;7(1):17-44.

4.         Fijan S. Microorganisms with Claimed Probiotic Properties: An Overview of Recent Literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2014;11(5):4745-4767.