Food Combining For Optimum Digestion

By Sachin Patel | February 10, 2017 | , ,

What is Food Combining?

Many people suffer from bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, etc. Even though it’s common, feeling digestive discomfort or fatigue after eating isn’t normal. In fact, after you eat you should feel energized, refreshed, and ready to take on the world. If you suffer from symptoms that make you regret your last meal, you might benefit from following some simple food combining guidelines.   Food combining guidelines are simple rules that can be followed to improve digestion, gut health, and ease symptoms like gas and bloating. These are not hard rules you must follow for the rest of your life (although you could if you wanted), but rather awareness about how to eat specific nutrients to help you better digest and ultimately absorb the foods you eat. This is a simple approach based on the way your body naturally digests specific foods. Proper food combining can help improve assimilation of nutrients and may help if you suffer from digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many people experience weight loss and clear, glowing skin simply by changing the combinations of foods they eat.   Here’s how food combining works: Each macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) digests at a different speed and each requires different digestive enzymes to be broken down. If you eat foods at the same meal that have opposing digestive requirements, they’re considered bad food combinations. Bad food combinations can result in an intestinal backup, which can cause symptoms such as gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps.

General Food Combining Guidelines

1. Eat Fruit Alone

Fruit is a simple sugar that digests very rapidly (under 30 minutes), so combining fruit with other foods can slow down the process and cause digestive distress. You should eat fruit 30 minutes before a meal and 1 hour after. It’s still important to eat fruit even though it doesn’t combine well with other foods. It’s an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals that we need for healthy cells, energy, and digestive function.   Let’s take eggs with fruit for example: Eggs are a protein, which can take between 3 to 4 hours to digest. Since the fruit only takes 20 to 30 minutes to digest, combining it with a protein will create digestive backup.  Eat fruit alone and on an empty stomach so that it doesn’t have the chance to ferment.  Fermentation in your GI tract not only leaves you feeling gassy and bloated, but can also create a feast for bad bacteria.   One exception to the rule would be smoothies: Fruit in smoothies already “chewed up”, so fruit can be combined with other nutrients in smoothies, such as chia seeds, avocado, olive oil, dark leafy greens, and plant protein. Because smoothies are already liquid they don’t stress the digestive system. Keep this in mind with other meals – chewing your food until it’s liquid will help support digestion, assimilation of nutrients, and overall health.

2. Pair Protein with Non-Starchy Vegetables

In order for protein to be digested, it needs an acidic environment and plenty of digestive enzymes. Protein can be paired with leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, peppers, celery or broccoli. Since vegetables have their own enzymes, they don’t require an alkaline environment for digestion and therefore don’t interfere with the acidic environment required by protein.   Good protein combinations include:

  • Wild salmon + broccoli + green beans
  • Organic chicken + sautéed kale + mashed cauliflower
  • Organic grass-fed beef strips + sautéed bell peppers and onions

3. Pair Starches with Healthy Fats and Vegetables

Starches (like brown rice, potatoes, and quinoa) need an alkaline environment for digestion. For this reason, starches combine best when eaten together – for example, brown rice or quinoa and sweet potatoes. Since non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens are considered neutral, they can also combine well with starches. Beans and legumes are primarily considered a starch, so it’s best to eat them with vegetables and other starches, like brown rice.   Good starch combinations would look like:

  • Quinoa + avocado + baked potato with organic grass-fed butter
  • Lentil soup with vegetable broth + mixed veggies
  • Homemade sweet potato fries + olive oil + parsley
  • Brown rice bowl + black beans + veggies cooked in coconut oil

4. Leafy Greens and Non-Starchy Vegetables Go with Everything

Leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables contain their own digestive enzymes and can be paired with any food combination without causing a traffic jam in your GI tract.

5. Limit Liquids with Meals

Drinking water with your meals can dilute your digestive juices, slowing down digestion. Instead, sip on ½ cup of room temperature water with your meals. You can add ½ teaspoon of apple cider vinegar boost stomach acid. Feel free to drink normally 30 minutes before a meal and 1 hour after a meal.

6. Spices, Herbs, and Citrus Are Neutral

Spices and herbs like ginger, garlic, and turmeric – along with and citrus fruits such as lemon and lime – are all considered neutral. They form proper food combinations when paired with a protein, fruit, starch or healthy fat. Any spice or herb can be used to jazz up your favorite recipes and also aid in digestion, such as ginger in your green juices, or lemon and apple cider vinegar on your salad.

7. Minimalist Meals Digest Best 

If you ever forget the specifics of these food-combining rules, just remember that meals with fewer ingredients digest the best because they require fewer enzymes. So, when in doubt, choose one major macronutrient (protein, carb, or fat) and pair it with a non-starchy vegetable or leafy greens. And remember to always eat fruit alone, 30 minutes before a meal and 1 hour after a meal. Minimalist meals are also easy to order at restaurants or anywhere else you might go to eat.   For example:

  • Scrambled eggs + mushrooms + spinach
  • Baked sweet potato + black beans + grass-fed butter or coconut oil
  • Grilled veggie sandwich on gluten free toast + avocado + mustard + sprouts

Food combining rules may seem complicated at first, but they’re simple to follow when it comes down to the basic concept of eating macronutrients separately from one another. After trying these rules for a few days, you’ll experience a decrease in digestive distress and it’ll become like second nature.   Remember: You’re not just what you eat, you’re what you digest and absorb.

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