WHAT STARTED AS small talk at an office party ended in a revelation – only this one didn’t involve the photocopy machine. It all started eight years ago, when scientists Dr Allan Conney and Dr George Wagner, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, got to talking at an office get-together. Both researchers were studying the health benefits of caffeine, but from different angles.

“I was investigating the effects of caffeine on Parkinson’s disease,” says Wagner. “He was looking at green tea and skin cancer protection.” From this conversation, the two decided to pool their knowledge and join forces. The result: the surprising discovery that the combination of caffeine and exercise may shield you from skin cancer.
This is just one of five dynamic duos we’ve unearthed. Read on to find out how simple nutrition additions can multiply your health benefits.

Fish + Broccoli

The benefit: Sock it to cancer with this one-two punch.

The science

Tuna, mussels and sardines are all high in selenium, a mineral that raises your levels of a cancer-fighting enzyme called thioredoxin reductase (TR-1).

Likewise, broccoli provides sulforaphane, a plant chemical that also boosts TR-1. When British researchers combined these two nutrients, they noticed that the tag team was 13 times more effective at slowing the growth of cancer cells than when each nutrient worked alone. The scientists believe that as selenium concentrations in your cells rise, the ability of sulforaphane to elevate TR-1 increases.

Take-home message Eat meat with vegetables regularly. In addition to fish, foods such as beef, turkey, Brazil nuts and mushrooms. Selenium in fish and sulforaphane in broccoli are more effective at slowing cancer when combined are excellent sources of selenium. And cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage – are loaded with sulforaphane.

Salsa + Avocado

The benefit: Your idea of health food is about to become tastier.

The science

Bright and vividly-coloured vegetables – such as the ones used in salads and salsas – are rich in carotenoids, powerful plant pigments that reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and cataracts. But here’s a little-known secret: to fully benefit from these disease-fighting compounds, you need to eat them with fat. In fact, Ohio State University researchers found that people who ate a salad topped with half an avocado absorbed five to 10 times more beta-carotene and lutein – carotenoids found in carrots and spinach, respectively – than those who had salads sans the fatty fruit. And eating avocado with salsa boosted the absorption of lycopene – a carotenoid found in tomatoes – by almost five times.

“Fatty acids are needed to help carotenoids dissolve in the intestines,” says the study’s lead author, Dr Steve Schwartz. “These lipids are also an essential part of creating lipoproteins, which transport thecarotenoids in the bloodstream.”

Take-home message

Any time you eat colourful vegetables – whether raw or cooked – have some fat, too. And it doesn’t have to be an avocado: 30g of cheese, two pats of butter or two tablespoons of Caesarsalad dressing will have the same effect, says Schwartz.

Nuts + Beer

The benefit

These two pub staples can decrease your risk of a heart attack.

The science

Studies have shown that nuts boost HDL (good) cholesterol levels while reducing the bad LDL. And it’s thought that alcohol thins the blood, helping to prevent the formation of clots that can block blood flow to your heart. What’s more, Swedish researchers found that the fat and fibre in nuts slow the absorption of alcohol intoyour bloodstream, so helping to smooth the effects of moderate alcohol consumption.

Take-home message

Moderation is the key here. Up to 85g of nuts and one or two glasses of beer or wine a day have been shown to reduce heart-disease risk without leading to significant weight gain. For best results,try to eat about 15 minutes before taking your first libation.

Garlic + Fennel

The benefit: These foods fight disease – without the need for an after-dinner mint.

The science

Both garlic and fennel contain active compounds that help prevent cancer, according to University of Texas researchers. In fact, these chemicals target cancer in different ways, so they complement each other. But the active compound in fennel – anethol – has another secret power: it helps neutralisegarlic breath. Japanese researchers found that anethol speeds up the rate atwhich you produce saliva. Saliva, in turn, inhibits microbial overgrowth and also clears the bad-breath-causing sulphur compoundsthat garlic releases.

Take-home message

To make any dish healthier, try mixing garlic with fennel seeds, which contain more anethol than the leaves. Here’s a garlic-fennel seed rub you can use to season beef, chicken or pork.

Caffeine + Exercise

The benefit

A cuppa (and a jog) a day may keep the skin cancer away.

The science

Researchers at Rutgers Universityfound that when sunburnt mice guzzled caffeinated water and then hit the runningwheel, their risk of developing skin cancer plummeted. It seems that both caffeine and cardio trigger damaged skin cells to self-destruct before they can turn cancerous. And when the two are combined this effectisn’t just cumulative, it’s exponential.

Case in point: the rodents that drank and ran had a third of the number of damaged skin cells of the mice that did either one or the other.

Take-home message

To realise the same effect yourself, drink one or two cups of coffee after your exercise session.