Think we humans invented teamwork? As usual, Mother Nature is way ahead of us. Only she calls it “synergy.” Entering my world of geekdom, “syn” means together and “erg’ is a unit of work, so synergy means working together. As I am going to discuss today, the edible plant world is full of  phyto —plant —chemicals that work well together to produce amazing health benefits.

Take mushrooms and green tea. Both have anti-cancer properties, but eaten together, their combined benefit is greater than the sum of both of them. If mushrooms help 25% and Green tea helps 25 %, the power of their  joined power gives way more that 50%.

Don’t take my word for it

I found a terrific source from PubMed (highly respected repository for medical papers) about synergy in fruits and vegetables.  Here is a take-away from the abstract from “Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals” by Rui Hai Liu.

“The key question is whether a purified phytochemical has the same health benefit as does the whole food or mixture of foods in which the phytochemical is present. Our group found, for example, that the vitamin C in apples with skin accounts for only 0.4% of the total antioxidant activity, suggesting that most of the antioxidant activity of fruit and vegetables may come from phenolics and flavonoids in apples. We propose that the additive and synergistic effects of phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables are responsible for their potent antioxidant and anticancer activities, and that the benefit of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is attributed to the complex mixture of phytochemicals present in whole foods.”

From Theory to Practice

I turn to my favorite nutrition guru, Dr. Greger for a practical, “put it in English and just tell me what to do” approach. He did not fail me

In this video, he points out “Pills or tablets simply cannot mimic this balanced natural combination (italics mine) of phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables….The isolated pure compound (in a supplement) either loses its bioactivity or may not behave the same way as the compound in whole foods.”

So, eating a carrot will give me the beta carotene my body needs far better than a pill ever could. Dip it in hummus, as he demonstrates, will add tons of great phytochemicals from the chic peas. A win- win indeed.

By the way, if his pop-up segment looks like he’s walking, he is. He posts a lot while walking on his treadmill. Multi-tasking. I love it.