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Food synergy: the key to a healthy diet*

  • David R. Jacobs (a1) and Linda C. Tapsell (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 14 January 2013

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.

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Corresponding author: Professor David R. Jacobs Jr. fax +1 612 624 0315, email
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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.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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