Sip Kitchen

Food Pairings

August 11, 2020

Food Pairings

We all have those foods that we love eating together: peanut butter and banana, strawberries and chocolate, tomato and basil, but did you know that certain foods are best paired together to enhance the nutritional value of your food? How you combine your foods can have a significant impact on the benefit you get from them: increasing the absorption of important nutrients and boosting the effectiveness of antioxidants. Here are just some interesting food groupings that can be easily added to your diet.


Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and cauliflower. Other than being high in folate, vitamins and fibre, cruciferous vegetables are also high in something called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a powerful phytochemical that is responsible for a tonne of health benefits such as preventing against cancer, supporting heart health, helping prevent diabetes and improving brain health, along with other benefits that are still being investigated. Sulforaphane is activated when glucoraphanin comes into contact with myrosinase, a family of enzymes that play a role in the defence response of plants. Myrosinase enzymes are only released and activated when a plant is damaged, therefore, cruciferous vegetables must be cut, chopped, or chewed to release myrosinase and activate sulforaphane.

Raw vegetables have the highest levels of sulforaphane because cooking leads to the inactivation of the enzyme myrosinase stopping sulfurophane formation and significantly reducing the nutritional value of the food. One study found that raw broccoli had ten times more sulforaphane than cooked broccoli. However, adding raw or slightly cooked mustard seeds, daikon radish, horseradish or wasabi to cooked cruciferous veggies provides a natural source of the myrosinase enzyme needed to convert glucoraphanin to sulforaphane. So if you’re not a fan of eating raw broccoli, cauliflower Brussels sprouts etc, give them a quick steam and add some mustard!


Turmeric contains the active compound curcumin which is a potent antiinflammatory and antioxidant. But turmeric is only made up of about 5% curcumin which means that it’s important to absorb as much curcumin as possible. To do this, you should add a fat source and black pepper. Black pepper makes the beneficial compounds in turmeric more bioavailable with some studies showing that black pepper can increase the absorption of curcumin by over 2000%!

So when you’re making something with turmeric, make sure you add a fat source such as coconut or olive oil and some black pepper. Our turmeric latte for example is made with freshly juiced turmeric (curcumin source), steamed house-made nut milk, coconut oil (fat source) and a dash of black pepper.


One food grouping that most people have probably heard of is vitamin C and iron, especially non-heme, plant based iron. Non-heme iron can’t be absorbed as efficiently as the heme iron from meat but if you eat non-heme iron with a vitamin C source you can increase your absorption of plant-based iron by up to 6 times better. This is because the vitamin C helps break the iron down into a form that the body can more easily absorb and can help inhibit other dietary compounds that inhibit absorption. So eat your plant-based sources of iron such as spinach, kale and lentils with lemon juice, oranges and chilli to increase absorption. Also, don’t drink coffee or tea with your meals, have them between meals as caffeine inhibits iron absorption.


You’ll remember a few weeks ago we talked about fat soluble vitamins, where your intestine absorbs certain vitamins — vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K — when they’re paired with a fat source. Some ingredients contain both fat-soluble vitamins and healthy fats, like cod liver oil (vitamin A), salmon (vitamin D) or nuts and seeds (vitamin E) but this isn’t the case for colourful fruits and veggies packed with pro-vitamin A and K so it’s important to maximise the absorption by adding a fat source. You can try pairing veggies with foods such as such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil or olives. 


Only some foods contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs – called complete proteins. These are often found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs but can also be found in some plant-based proteins such as soy. Other protein sources such as nuts, grains, legumes and veggies are incomplete proteins, meaning that they don’t contain all of the essential amino acids needed for proper growth and development. It is protein sources such as these where food groupings become important. Pairing two incomplete proteins together can create a complete protein source. For example, pairing rice and black beans, hummus and wholewheat crackers, quinoa and corn etc will make sure you get enough of each essential amino acid. Don’t worry if you’re not pairing your proteins every time you eat though, you don't need to eat complementary proteins together at every meal, just aim to get a variety of protein sources throughout the day and you should be able to get enough of each amino acid.