This month I will be discussing the idea of food combining. I mentioned food combining in last month’s article while discussing meal timing and mentioned that I felt it has some relevance to a healthy diet. So first lets look at what food combining is and how it’s proponents “think” that it works physiologically.
Basically food combining is eating your macronutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins) in an “optimal” combination to maximize digestion and absorption. The food combining dogma is that eating in this way will “help you loose weight!”… Exciting stuff.
First here is the claim of the food combining world :
It’s based on the theory that different food groups require different digestion times and that digestion is helped the most by using foods which have roughly the same digestion time. Thus proper food combinations are important for proper digestion, utilization, and assimilation of the nutrients in our diet. The principles of food combining are dictated by digestive chemistry. Different foods require different digestive enzymes to aid in the digestive process - some acid, some alkaline. As any student of chemistry will assure you, acids and bases (alkalis) neutralize each other. When acids and alkalines come in contact, they neutralize each other and this retards digestion.
Protein foods require a highly acidic environment for digestion while carbohydrates (starches, fruit and sugar) and fats require a more alkaline medium. Anytime 2 or more foods are eaten at the same time, and those foods require opposite conditions for digestion, the digestive process is compromised.
When starches and proteins are combined their stimulation to the digestive juices generates a conflicting response and produces a medium which does not digest either food very well. This situation often leads to indigestion, bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, and poor absorption of nutrients. Any quick digesting foods - such as fruit - must wait until the slowest digesting foods leave the stomach before they can leave - a process which can take up to 6 or 8 hours. While waiting, the fruit and some of the starches undergo some decomposition and fermentation, producing gas, acid and even alcohol along with indigestion.
Proponents of food combining advocate the following principles:
The most important rule, is this: Don't mix starch foods with protein foods at the same meal.
Here are the other principles which proponents of food combining adhere to:
1. Eat starches and acids at separate meals. Acids neutralize the alkaline medium required for starch digestion and the result is indigestion and fermentation.
2. Eat carbohydrate foods and protein foods at separate meals. Protein foods require an acid medium for digestion.
3. Eat only one kind of protein food at a meal.
4. Eat proteins and acid foods at separate meals. The acids of acid foods inhibit the secretion of the digestive acids required for protein digestion.
Undigested proteins putrefy in bacterial decomposition and produces some potent poisons.
5. Eat proteins and fats at separate meals. Some foods, especially nuts, are over 50% fat and require hours for digestion.
6. Eat proteins and sugars (fruits) at separate meals.
7. Eat starchy foods and sugars (fruits) at separate meals. Fruits undergo no digestion in the stomach and are held up if eaten with foods which
require digestion in the stomach.
8. Eat melons alone. Melons combine with almost no other food.
9. Forget the desserts. Eaten on top of meals they lie heavy on the stomach, requiring no digestion there, and ferment. Bacteria turn them into alcohols, acetic acids and vinegars.
O.K. This is your humble author speaking again and wanted you to have the full claim by food combining proponents. Now before I go any further you should know that I love experimenting with my own body and tried food combining quite exclusively for over a year, so I’ve had the full experience of this way of eating for my system.
Some people when switching to this way of eating see great changes in their health and I’m a huge proponent of doing what works for the individual and that we are all biological individuals. But I often wonder what people ate before they switched to this or any “new way” of eating. Often the answer is the diet might have ranged from fairly nutrient rich but random, to garbage/non-food which is why when a systematic approach to one’s diet is addopted huge health improvements are seen and hot new diets are sworn by.
Now lets look at the food combining claims a little more closely: First the claim of weight loss have been tested in several clinical studies (here’s one http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=1339098) and this claim has to date never been substantiated.
Next the picture painted on “how” food combining works is only partly true and a little skewed in my opinion.
What needs to be understood in the digestive process is that the acidity and alkalinity during digestion has very specific organs in which these extremes take place and must take place in order for digestion to function properly. For example we need the highly acid environment in the stomach to trigger the pancreas to neutralize the acid enough so that it’s safe to move from the duodenum where most of the fat and carb digestion (catabolism) takes place.
Here’s an oversimplified version of the digestive process so you can have a little more understanding: The process of digestion needs the extreme acid of the stomach to break down proteins and then the acid from the stomach is neutralized in the duodenum by the pancreas which also is stimulated to produce enzymes (enzymes are kinda like little machines that build or break things down in the body) which break down carbs and then the gallbladder puts in bile to break down fats (if saturated fats are present). From there this chyme enters the rest of the small intestine where it is slowly absorbed and where the possibility of purification can take place if digestion is compromised for some reason. Also it should be understood that no macro nutrients are purely carbohydrate, protein, or fats. That’s just the way it is. Our digestive systems were designed to eat digest and reorganize these nutrients into the components it needs for optimal health. Because of our bio-individuality we might need to eat more or less of certain macro nutrients for optimal digestion but as long as we don’t abstain from any of the macro nutrients (like a low carb, low fat, or low protein diets) our biology will be stimulated to keep producing the enzymes needed to digest these nutrients properly.
So all of this being considered I need also add that we never evolved separating out our nutrients. Never… What is relatively recent in our diets is carbohydrates such as seeds, grains, flours, and sugar in the quantities we consume them in now. Large quantities of carbs or sugar will neutralize stomach acid and compromise digestion which is why food combining seems like it works for some; but the reason why it works isn’t really how they claim it works.
It might be tempting to say “Well it works so why are you writing this article?”. Here’s why- If you follow the food combining dogma then you eat carbs all by themselves without fats or proteins to help “digest” them. But starchy carbohydrates eaten by themselves (and of course sugar) causes sharp spikes in blood sugar which creates a cascade of events in the body that are linked to too many diseases and disorders to write in this article. There’s been a lot of research showing that these insulin spikes might be linked to hyper tension and arteriosclerosis (not by eating too much cholesterol and fat which I’ll get into in another article), and is definitely linked to everything having to do with diabetes… Something to think about.
All this being said I do feel food combining is useful because it helps us become more mindful of what were eating and in what proportions. For example if your going to eat some bread or hot cereal put some butter on it or coconut oil to slow the absorption of the sugars into the blood. And don’t worry about eating fats and oils they won’t make you fat. I’ll tell you why in a future article but for now trust me. In general keep carbohydrate consumption in check. Really look at what you eat on a daily basis and if you're eating more than %50 of your meals in the form of starchy carbs or sugar than it could be a problem.
So to re cap what I’m suggesting: eat proteins, fats and carbohydrates together but stop eating before you feel full to allow for proper digestion. Or eat fats and proteins without any starchy carbs if you feel you need some help digesting them.
If you’d like to learn more about basic dietary info. you can schedule a Nutritional Therapy initial consultation with me and gain some knowledge on moving closer to your optimal health. Consultations are 30 minutes and will also give you an idea if you’d like to commit to a full session and have a deeper understanding of your organ function and what your optimal diet designed just for you should be.
Shawn Kinsella LMT, CA, PYT