Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Food synergy: the key to a healthy diet*

  • David R. Jacobs (a1) and Linda C. Tapsell (a2)

Food synergy is the concept that the non-random mixture of food constituents operates in concert for the life of the organism eaten and presumably for the life of the eater. Isolated nutrients have been extensively studied in well-designed, long-term, large randomised clinical trials, typically with null and sometimes with harmful effects. Therefore, although nutrient deficiency is a known phenomenon, serious for the sufferer, and curable by taking the isolated nutrient, the effect of isolated nutrients or other chemicals derived from food on chronic disease, when that chemical is not deficient, may not have the same beneficial effect. It appears that the focus on nutrients rather than foods is in many ways counterproductive. This observation is the basis for the argument that nutrition research should focus more strongly on foods and on dietary patterns. Unlike many dietary phenomena in nutritional epidemiology, diet pattern appears to be highly correlated over time within person. A consistent and robust conclusion is that certain types of beneficial diet patterns, notably described with words such as ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘prudent’, or adverse patterns, often described by the word ‘Western’, predict chronic disease. Food is much more complex than drugs, but essentially uninvestigated as food or pattern. The concept of food synergy leads to new thinking in nutrition science and can help to forge rational nutrition policy-making and to determine future nutrition research strategies.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Food synergy: the key to a healthy diet*
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Food synergy: the key to a healthy diet*
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Food synergy: the key to a healthy diet*
      Available formats
Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Professor David R. Jacobs Jr. fax +1 612 624 0315, email
Hide All

The paper combines aspects of this Plenary Lecture and the Grande Covian Memorial Conference Lecture presented to the Spanish Atherosclerosis Society (Sociedad Española de Arteriosclerosis) in Reus, Spain in June 2012; both lectures were presented by D. R. Jacobs. The views expressed in the manuscript are those of the authors.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

2. DR Jacobs Jr., MD Gross & LC Tapsell (2009) Food synergy: an operational concept for understanding nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr 89, 1543S1548S.

4. AK Petrus , DG Allis , RP Smith (2009) Exploring the implications of vitamin B12 conjugation to insulin on insulin receptor binding. Chem Med Chem 4, 421426.

6. H Blencowe , S Cousens , B Modell (2010) Folic acid to reduce neonatal mortality from neural tube disorders. Int J Epidemiol 39, Suppl. 1, i110i121.

7. YI Kim (2007) Folic acid fortification and supplementation – good for some but not so good for others. Nutr Rev 65, 504511.

8. E Andrès , NH Loukili , E Noel (2004) Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency in elderly patients. CMAJ 171, 251259.

11. G Bjelakovic , D Nikolova , LL Gluud (2007) Mortality in randomized trials of antioxidant supplements for primary and secondary prevention: systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 297, 842857.

13. M Ebbing , KH Bønaa , E Arnesen (2010) Combined analyses and extended follow-up of two randomized controlled homocysteine-lowering B-vitamin trials. J Intern Med 268, 367382.

15. W Willett (1998) Nutritional Epidemiology. 2nd ed.New York: Oxford University Press.

17. MC de Oliveira Otto , D Mozaffarian , D Kromhout (2012) Dietary Intake of Saturated Fat by Food Source and Incident Cardiovascular Disease: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr 96, 397404.

19. D Kromhout , JM Geleijnse , A Menotti (2011) The confusion about dietary fatty acids recommendations for CHD prevention. Br J Nutr 106, 627632.

20. A Oliveira , C Lopes & F Rodríguez-Artalejo (2010) Adherence to the Southern European Atlantic diet and occurrence of nonfatal acute myocardial infarction. Am J Clin Nutr 92, 211217.

21. A Mente , L de Koning , HS Shannon (2009) A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors and coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med 169, 659669.

22. MS Lockheart , LM Steffen , HM Rebnord (2007) Dietary patterns, food groups and myocardial infarction: a case-control study. Br J Nutr 98, 380387.

23. FP Sijtsma , KA Meyer , LM Steffen (2012) Longitudinal trends in diet and effects of sex, race, and education on dietary quality score change: the coronary artery risk development in young adults study. Am J Clin Nutr 95, 580586.

25. SE Chiuve , TT Fung , EB Rimm (2012) Alternative dietary indices both strongly predict risk of chronic disease. J Nutr 142, 10091018.

26. A Trichopoulou , T Costacou , C Bamia (2003) Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and survival in a Greek population. N Engl J Med 348, 25992608.

27. JA Nettleton , LM Steffen , H Ni (2008) Dietary patterns and risk of incident type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care 31, 17771782.

29. DR Jacobs Jr., D Sluik , MH Rokling-Andersen (2009) Association of 1-y changes in diet pattern with cardiovascular disease risk factors and adipokines: results from the 1-y randomized Oslo Diet and Exercise Study. Am J Clin Nutr 89, 509517.

30. MS Riddle , JA Murray & CK Porter (2012) The incidence and risk of celiac disease in a healthy US adult population. Am J Gastroenterol 107, 12481255.

31.National Institutes of Health (2006) NIH state-of-the-science conference statement on multivitamin/mineral supplements and chronic disease prevention. Ann Intern Med 145, 364371.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
  • ISSN: 0029-6651
  • EISSN: 1475-2719
  • URL: /core/journals/proceedings-of-the-nutrition-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 34
Total number of PDF views: 168 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 403 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.