Nutritional Synergy: Better Together


What if you could make your recipes healthier just by combining certain ingredients? This process is called nutritional synergy, where combining two or more nutrients creates a possible health benefit. These nutrients are made from phytochemicals, which are bioactive non-nutrient plant compounds found in fruit, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods. They offer a health benefit by neutralizing free radicals associated with many chronic diseases. The reductive nature of science tends to look for the ‘silver bullet.’ For example, it was noted that people who consumed foods high in vitamin A were less likely to get cancer, as it’s an effective neutralizer of free radicals and an essential vitamin for good health. However, when clinicians gave their cancer subjects vitamin A, it had no effect or accelerated the growth of the cancer cells. It seems that vitamin A cannot do it alone.

Nutritional synergism is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Mathematically 1 + 1 = 2, but in nutritional synergism, 1 + 1 is any number greater than 2. When making a smoothie with almond milk, banana, blueberries, spinach, and flax seeds, phytochemical reactions occur in the blending process and create new chemical bonds that would not exist if eaten separately. For example, an inactive compound in spinach may bond with a protein in the flaxseed which converts the spinach compound into a new phytochemical antioxidant.

Herbs and spices are other great sources of phytochemicals that can improve any food’s antioxidant profile. Add more thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, and basil to boost the antioxidant profile of your favorite Italian dish. Ground mustard seed and broccoli create a compound that signals cancer stem cells to die in a petri dish. A pinch of turmeric in pizza, spaghetti, or lasagna creates more antioxidants. Cinnamon and cloves are a powerful combination to add to oatmeal, spiced coffee, or pumpkin pie. An unusual find was berries and onions, which sounds horrible, but try adding some raisins with red onions to your salad to get a similar effect.

Here are a few recipes to try:

  • Poke Bowl: on a bed of brown rice, add diced onions, soybeans, diced red bell peppers, sweet corn, red cabbage, sliced and quartered cucumber rings, and chopped broccoli. 2-3 tablespoons of barbecue sauce and siracha. Add a pinch of mustard seed powder and turmeric. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Stir and eat.
  • Nutty Oatmeal: ½ cup of dry oatmeal, 9 almonds, 2 halves of walnuts, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed, 2-3 tablespoons of raisins, a pinch of cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves. Heat 1-1.5 cups of water in a microwave, pour ingredients into hot water and let it sit for 5-7 minutes.
Image of the author, Kevin A. Richie.

Kevin A. Richie, MS, RDN, LD |

“I enjoy working in long-term care and rehabilitation because I witness residents improve with the nutritional therapy.”

Starting with HCSG in 2021, Kevin Richie earned a B.A. in Sociology from Indiana University, B.S. in Dietetics, and an M.S. in Human Nutrition & Food Systems from the University of Kentucky. He volunteers to teach youth cooking classes at his church and enjoys spending time with his wife Maria and training their new beagle, Phoebe.