Food Combinations using Plants and Culinary Medicine

Sherri Isaak, RD, CDE, CDCES, BC-ADM, DipACLM
Shelby Huse, MS in Nutrition and Wellness Student

Culinary medicine is an emerging field that examines the interaction between food and cooking with science and medicine.1 Emerging evidence-based research has shown that combining culinary medicine with nature can greatly enhance nutrient bioavailability in the body. What is bioavailability and why does it matter?  Nutrient bioavailability is the portion of ingested food that becomes available and ready for use in the body.1 Essentially, what this means is that when you consume food, your body digests it and those nutrients are absorbed in the body to be stored for later use. This is important because there are many active components in plant-based ingredients that can help the body absorb valuable nutrients. Nutrient bioavailability can be increased by combining certain foods together; for example, combining leafy greens with an avocado which can improve lutein (an anti-oxidant and carotenoid) absorption by seven times as much compared to consuming leafy greens on their own!2 Lutein is a type of carotenoid that can help improve eye health, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and can prevent macular disease.3 Here are some other practical ways to enhance your bioavailability through combination methods:

  • Combining olive oil with tomatoes or tomato paste can improve lycopene absorption by nearly 10 times as much.
  • When you have a meal high in carbohydrates, add two teaspoons of vinegar to reduce insulin, triglyceride, and blood sugar spikes by 20%.2


Combining turmeric with black pepper and a small amount of healthy fat can improve the bioavailability of curcuminoids with the black pepper inhibiting the liver’s metabolism of curcuminoids and the healthy fat allowing you to absorb the curcuminoids through your lymphatics!

  • If you leave your watermelon un-cut on the kitchen counter instead of putting it in the refrigerator, the watermelon will have 40% more lycopene and 16% more beta-carotene after cutting it.
  • Let chopped garlic sit for ten minutes before cooking to allow allicin and thiosulfinate levels to rise which helps with platelet aggregation which checks how well your platelets in the blood can clot.
  • Add some fresh brassica (broccoli, kale, watercress, and cauliflower) to an already frozen or cooked dish of brassica to reactivate the detoxification effects of the sulforaphane in the dish!


While combining certain foods greatly enhances nutrient absorption, it has other benefits as well such as improving immune function! For example, combining green tea with lemon improves the absorption of a compound called ECGC, also known as epigallocatechin gallate (a flavonoid). That combination enhances ECGC absorption ten times as much compared to green tea consumed alone.5 The vitamin C present in the lemon promotes the absorption of the antioxidants found in green tea.5 Regarding immune function, combining foods, otherwise known as food synergy, can help prevent infections. As previously mentioned, the combination of turmeric with black pepper improves the bioavailability of curcuminoids. This mixture has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and tumor-fighting properties, all enhancing immune function.6

To help you get started with combinations that will help improve your nutrient bioavailability, check out this delicious bowl receipe.

  1. La Puma J. What Is Culinary Medicine and What Does It Do?. Popul Health Manag. 2016;19(1):1-3. doi:10.1089/pop.2015.0003
  2. Rein MJ, Renouf M, Cruz-Hernandez C, Actis-Goretta L, Thakkar SK, da Silva Pinto M. Bioavailability of bioactive food compounds: a challenging journey to bioefficacy. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013;75(3):588-602. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04425.x
  3. Puma J. Culinary Medicine and Nature: Foods That Work Together. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2020;14(2):143-146. Published 2020 Jan 7. doi:10.1177/1559827619895149
  4. Buscemi S, Corleo D, Di Pace F, Petroni ML, Satriano A, Marchesini G. The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1321. Published 2018 Sep 18. doi:10.3390/nu10091321
  1. Lambert JD, Hong J, Kim DH, Mishin VM, Yang CS. Piperine enhances the bioavailability of the tea polyphenol (−)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate in mice. J Nutr. 2004;134(8):1948–52.
  2. Shoba G, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas PS. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998;64(04):353–6.
  3. Natarajan, T.D., Ramasamy, J.R. & Palanisamy, K. Nutraceutical potentials of synergic foods: a systematic review.J. Ethn. Food 6, 27 (2019).

Share this:

Like this:

Like Loading...
%d bloggers like this: