Does your diet include a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals? If you focus on getting enough of just one type of vitamin, you may be missing out on what a diet that includes a wide range of nutrients can do to ensure healthy aging. Vitamins and minerals working together is called “nutritional synergy” and it can help you get the most benefits from the foods you eat, according to Michelle Jaelin, a registered dietitian based in Hamilton, ON. “When vitamins and minerals are consumed together, you get the best results.”
Numerous studies have shown a healthy diet is essential for good health and vitality and that nutritional synergy only helps to increase those nutritional benefits from the foods you consume. For example, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently found a link between certain nutrients in the Mediterranean diet and the mental performance and brain connectivity of older adults.
The study published in NeuroImage1 revealed that the biomarker pattern of certain nutrients resulted in better memory tests, general intelligence and brain function responsible for goal-directed behaviours. Among the nutrient biomarkers studied were: omega-6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, pistachios and pumpkin seeds); lycopene, a red pigment found in tomatoes and watermelon, for example; and alpha- and beta-carotenoids (forms of vitamin A), which provide carrots and sweet potatoes their rich orange colour.
In another study, the scientists’ findings suggest to best age dynamically, your diet should include seafood for its omega-3 fatty acids. A 2018 study2 by researchers from Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston found that for healthy aging – which they defined as a meaningful lifespan without chronic diseases and with intact physical and mental function – participants who consumed the highest amount of seafood-derived docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid, were as much as 24 per cent less likely to age unhealthily compared to those who consumed the least.
By simply tweaking how you eat in the latter part of your life, you can maximize all the good things that come from vitamins and minerals through nutritional synergy. These six easy-to-follow expert tips show how to optimize the benefits:
- Incorporate convenient foods that have the combination of nutrients and minerals to boost synergy.
Take sardines, for example. Maintaining bone health is important when you’re aging. Sardines have both calcium and vitamin D (which helps the body absorb calcium more efficiently), as well as omega-3 fatty acids. If you find cooking for one or two people inconvenient, popping open a tin is easy. Another great example is drinking milk fortified with vitamin D – a convenient whole food that already boasts its own synergy. There are also items you can add to your grocery cart that can provide nourishment on the go. Consider a nutritional drink such as Boost Original Meal Replacement Drink, which contains 10 grams of high-quality protein, plus 26 vitamins and minerals in each 237 mL bottle.
- Consume healthy fats with fat-soluble vitamins.
Take healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil and avocados and eat them with foods rich in vitamins A, D, E and K, Jaelin recommends. Eating them together helps boost how well the vitamins are absorbed by your body. A great example of this synergy is dressing a dark leafy green salad with this type of olive oil.
- Combine vitamin C-rich foods and plant-based iron.
The most easily absorbed source of iron is heme iron derived from meat. If you’re vegan or vegetarian (or simply eating a plant-based diet more often) and relying on non-heme iron, you can boost iron absorption by adding vitamin C to your plant-based iron sources. This can be done by tossing orange segments into an iron-rich spinach salad, for example, or using freshly squeezed lemon juice in your salad dressing for a kale side dish.
- Eat a variety of different whole foods. Toronto-based registered dietitian Rosie Schwartz prescribes this as well. “Look at balance on your plate. Having at least three or four food groups in a meal will tend to enhance synergy.” Aiming for whole foods is essential, too. “There is the synergistic effect of foods eaten together, but also when it comes to eating a food whole. Take an almond, for example. Research has been done that looked at almond skin, almond meal and almond oil. There are antioxidant benefits when eaten whole,” she says.
- Plan your meals with traditional (and delicious) combos.
You’re looking to increase the absorption of antioxidants, and it seems almost serendipitous many traditional ingredient combinations that taste so good together do just that. “Foods such as olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and herbs are traditional Mediterranean combinations and research shows that the phytonutrients in them have a synergistic effect,” Schwartz notes. “They are more powerful when eaten all together.”
- Focus on adding healthy ingredients to enhance your enjoyment.
The little touches that make food taste good often enhance synergy. Adding basil or garlic to your dish not only makes it more appealing, but also better for you.
Presented by BOOST®/Nestlé Health Sciences.
- Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain, NeuroImage: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.12.007. [Accessed August 5, 2019.]
- Omega 3 fatty acids found in seafood linked to healthy aging, The BMJ: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181017184956.htm. [Accessed August 4, 2019.]