Proper food combining is an important way to optimize your digestion, energy and health. However, and I admit it myself, it can be difficult to follow. I am always doing my best to properly combine my food, but it does take some time to get used to doing this automatically. From personal experience, I can tell you it really helps with digestion, and you will feel the benefits of eating simple meals if you give it a try.
What is food combining?
The term “food combining” refers to those combinations of foods which are compatible with each other in digestive chemistry. The goal of proper food combining is to aid the digestive process. This will enhance nutrition, because only well digested food is able to truly nourish us. By combining our food properly we can avoid harmful by-products, along with unpleasant symptoms. The energy our body spends digesting three conventional meals has been estimated to be the equivalent of what is spent throughout an eight hour work-day! By selecting compatible foods our digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard, leaving us with more energy for other activities.
How does food combining affect the digestive process?
Our body secretes the appropriate digestive enzymes according to the type of food we ingest. Enzymes act as a catalyst in the digestion of food and speed up the metabolic reactions in the body.
Protein requires a highly acidic medium for the digestive enzyme pepsin to be effective. When consuming protein-rich food the hydrochloric acid in our stomach increases. On the other hand starches and fats require a neutral medium for their digestion. So the enzyme salivary amylase that is secreted when we consume starch is destroyed in the presence of highly acidic gastric juice. The efficiency of digestion in the intestines is dependent on the work done in the mouth and stomach.
The time span that food remains in the stomach should also be considered as it plays an important role for proper digestion. For example fruit when eaten alone remains in the stomach for less than an hour. Starches require 2-3 hours to complete gastric digestion, and proteins require approximately 4 hours. If food remains in the stomach longer than normally required, due to incompatible combination, the food will likely decompose and nutrition is thus impaired.
If the food is not digested properly two things can happen:
- Fermentation: when the carbohydrates are being decomposed and converted by micro- organisms to simpler substances such as carbon dioxide, acetic acid, lactic acid and alcohol.
- Putrefaction: when proteins are decomposed and converted by micro-organisms to poisonous substances, such as ptomaines and leucomaines.
Rather than suppressing the symptoms of indigestion it would be smarter and more effective to remove the causes of the indigestion. Here is my list of the 8 most important practices to follow which favor good digestion:
- Do not combine protein and starch in the same meal: proteins and starches do not combine well. Protein digestion requires an acidic medium and starch a neutral medium. The time to digest starch and protein also varies. The digestive system does not cope when too many varieties of food are introduced at the same time and this will result in indigestion.
- Eat fruit on an empty stomach and do not combine it with other foods: If you combine fruit with other food it will digest last and due to its high sugar content the fruit will ferment. This can cause digestive gas, flatulence and upsets. Eat fruit an hour before meal or as a snack between meals. Do not have fruit salads as a desert after a meal!
- Eat melons alone. Melons do not combine well with anything else especially when you eat a lot of them. You are better off enjoying them on their own.
- Do not combine acids with protein. Acid fruits such as orange, lemon, pineapple and strawberries do not combine well with protein. Other acids, including fruit acids, destroy the enzyme pepsin, necessary for proper protein digestion. When fruit is eaten with protein, it will be retained in the stomach until the protein is digested, which will result in fermentation of fruit. The exceptions to this rule are proteins such as nuts, seeds and cheese, which do not decompose as rapidly as other proteins, due to their high fat content.
- Avoid fat and protein combinations: Fat inhibits the flow of gastric juice and interferes with protein digestion. Avoid combining avocado or creamy sauces with protein, such as fish and meat.
- Avoid consuming too many proteins together: Protein is the most difficult food to digest. Different proteins require different digestive enzymes and time to properly digest. Avoid consuming nuts, eggs, or two different animal proteins together.
- Avoid combining sugar with starch: When eaten together the starch is disguised and the salivary amylase enzyme, needed for starch digestion is not being secreted. This will result in sugar fermentation in the stomach. Pastries and mixing cereals and bread with sweet fruits are examples of combinations that should be avoided.
- Avoid milk: Milk is the perfect food for feeding young animals. The enzyme rennin is present only in the gastric juice of infants and diminishes when the child has a set of teeth. Milk is high in protein and fat and combines poorly with all foods. The milk curdles in the stomach and prevents the digestion of other food due to the insulating effect of the curds. It is best to avoid it. See my article about dairy for more information.
Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkley, CA: Wiley, 2006