I’m often asked what food should be eaten prior to competition for fuel, consumed prior to bed to burn fat or to assist in getting a good night’s sleep.
While there are certainly individual choices that are better than others, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Synergy is defined as the interaction of multiple elements in a system to produce an effect different from or greater than the sum of their individual effects.
Our food isn’t immune to these effects.
Many believe carbs for breakfast are helpful for brain function, and that may be true. However, even the nutritionally positive oatmeal, for example, isn’t at its best all by its lonesome.
Cynthia Sass, RD is Healthmagazine’s nutrition and weight loss blogger and was a consultant with the Tampa Bay Rays when I played there.
Don’t limit your morning meal to protein or carbs; breakfast needs to be balanced too… Instead of having just yogurt, add some high antioxidant fruit, a good fat like nuts or seeds and raw or toasted oats. And go for organic nonfat yogurts to maximize protein and quality.
While Cynthia’s choice isn’t my preference for breakfast, I agree with her larger point. A balance of quality fats, protein and carbs is the way to start the day.
I eat whole, organic farm fresh eggs cooked in butter from grass fed cows and sprouted grain toast with almond butter. There is protein in each item, high quality fat in the butter, eggs and ground almonds, and complex carbs in the toast.
I incorporate this principle into every meal I eat. My salads include every color, texture and flavor available. Each brings something to the table.
On the benefits of red fruits and veggies, from Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN:
This bold and beautiful family of fruits and vegetables is certainly physically attractive, but it also boasts a wide range of heart-healthy nutrients. Many members of the red family contain high levels of the antioxidant vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Vitamin C helps fight damage caused by free radicals throughout the body. Potassium is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and keeps your heart beating regularly. And soluble fiber, found in many red fruits, helps lower “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Incorporating multiple colors and textures helps ensure that you’re eating in balance and receiving all of the nutritional benefits. New research demonstrates that our bodies make better use of the nutrients in foods when eaten synergistically. Epidemiologist Dr. David Jacobs says:
Foods with high quantities of unsaturated fats, such as nuts, have high amounts of compounds with antioxidant properties, which protect against the instability of these fats. A person or animal eating a diet consisting solely of purified nutrients in their Dietary Reference Intake amounts, without benefit of the coordination inherent in food, may not thrive and probably would not have optimal health.
In other words, reducing foods down to nutrient building blocks (and trying to get those blocks from supplements instead of whole foods) leads to less healthy bodies.
By eating a balanced variety of foods, you improve their nutritional punch. For example, adding fat to your salad increases the bioavailability of the lutein from the veggies , mixing a variety of fruits and vegetables enhances their anti-cancer properties  and adding vitamin C containing citrus to leafy greens increases the amount of iron your body can get .
Think of nutrition like a family; it’s stronger shoulder to shoulder than when it stands alone. Rather than tying to figure out the perfect single food for an occasion, try delegating responsibility to multiple, whole foods and reap the benefits of food synergy.