Food synergy: The best ‘no diet’ diet

We’ve all heard the saying: You are what you eat.

But have you ever stopped to think about what that really means?

Unfortunately, due to mass production of food and the onslaught of food advertising that’s impossible to decipher (because what’s marketed to us as “health food” just is not) — we’ve all become a little disconnected from our bodies and how the food we eat affects us.

That’s a shame because there is great power in the food you eat. Good nutrition is the basis of great health, and on the other hand, bad nutrition can destroy your body and lead to disease.

And here’s why…

You are a natural biological entity made up of living cells. The food you eat is meant to feed those living cells so they can go about their activities at optimal function — all while you go about living your life. When you eat a healthy diet, that’s exactly what happens.

When you don’t, you starve your body of nutrients, or make it toxic with the over-consumption of certain things, and that’s when things start to go wrong…

Though diet isn’t always the sole cause of disease, it plays a huge part. Unhealthy diets are one of the leading factors driving the epidemic of chronic diseases worldwide.

The good news is, no matter how young or old, you have the power to significantly improve your health simply through the food you eat.

So answer me, honestly: Doesn’t eating your way to better health sound better than taking another side effect-riddled prescription pill for the rest of your life?

So let’s make this easy…

Macronutrients and micronutrients explained

Let’s get back to nutrition basics for just a moment…

There are three macronutrients — carbohydrates, proteins and fat. And vitamins, minerals and trace minerals are classified as micronutrients. The macronutrients we eat contain all the micronutrients we need.

For instance, eating red meat — a protein — provides vitamins B12, B6, minerals zinc and iron, and the trace mineral selenium, among other things…

Eating leafy green vegetables such as spinach — a carbohydrate — provides vitamins A, C, K and minerals magnesium, iron and calcium, among other things.

These are just two examples to demonstrate how the individual foods we eat provide nutrition for the body’s cells.

The majority of foods are a combination of macronutrients. For example, beef is mainly protein with some fat. Spinach is mostly carbohydrate but contains small amounts of protein and a tiny bit of fat. Avocado is mainly fat, followed by carbohydrate and a little protein. And of course, they all contain a wide variety of micronutrients.

Food synergy

When it comes to your diet, it’s easy to get obsessed over one food, thinking it’s the “cure-all” or “blame-for-all” ingredient, and that’s where things can falter…

Researchers have spent years trying to identify individual foods or nutrients that are the ‘cause’ of disease or that may be the ultimate ‘cure-all’ nutrient. So far they haven’t found it because foods and ingredients never exist alone in our diet.

In fact, foods work in synergy — meaning, the nutrients and compounds they contain interact and cooperate together to create a greater overall effect.

Think about it…

In everyday life, you don’t sit down to a huge plate of spinach for three meals straight. You eat combinations of individual foods together. Collectively these foods, their macronutrients, micronutrients and beneficial compounds have a synergistic effect that is beneficial to your health.

When it comes to health and disease, what we do know is that a person’s overall dietary pattern is what matters most. Sure, there are always things we can tweak or improve. But, if you just focus on eating a healthy dietary pattern, you’re going to reap the benefits and rewards.

Healthy and unhealthy food synergies

Every single piece of nutrition research to date shows that the unhealthiest dietary pattern is the modern Western diet…

It’s high in calories, packaged and processed foods, added sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, salt, hydrogenated fats, and deep fried foods — and commonly lower in fruit and vegetable intake, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

The modern Western diet, which has now invaded all corners of the world, has created the same shift in disease patterns along with it — higher rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic health problems. This is not the type of diet you want to be eating.

On the other hand, healthy dietary patterns are characterized by high intake of fresh vegetables and fruit, and whole foods such as fish, chicken, lean meats, beans, legumes, dairy and healthy fat sources like olive oil and nuts. If you need a ‘diet’ label that exemplifies these healthful patterns, consider these: the Mediterranean diet, the low carb diet, the DASH diet, the paleo diet or the vegetarian diet.

Although these diets differ in their overall composition, they all have essential similarities:

  1. They all contain plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit
  2. Packaged and processed foods are minimized or eliminated
  3. They all contain natural, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods and ingredients

We can all debate which diet is the ‘healthiest’ but the reality is, if you stick to eating fresh natural foods, your overall health is always going to improve, always!

Simply adding a multivitamin or CoQ10 for more antioxidants, just ain’t gonna cut it if you’re eating a typical Western dietary pattern. You’re going to have to crack the whip and change your diet because true health benefits will only be experienced within a healthy dietary pattern full of whole, natural, unprocessed food sources — the type of dietary pattern that provides positive food synergy.

It really doesn’t have to be complicated. A healthy diet is simply one designed the way nature intended, one designed to support our natural biochemistry and feed our living cells.

Next time you’re out food shopping, ask yourself: “Would my great grandmother recognize this food (or at least all the ingredients in it)?”

If the answer is no, put it back on the shelf!

  1. Jacobs DR, Tapsell LC. Food synergy: the key to a healthy diet. Proc Nutr Soc. 2013;72(2):200-6.
  2. Ndanuko RN, et al. Dietary Patterns and Blood Pressure in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(1):76-89.
  3. Tapsell LC, et al. Foods, Nutrients, and Dietary Patterns: Interconnections and Implications for Dietary Guidelines. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(3):445-54.
  4. Mozaffarian D. Dietary and Policy Priorities for Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Obesity: A Comprehensive Review. Circulation. 2016;133(2):187-225.
Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.