Sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, casseroles…anytime you’re eating a bite of food that contains a variety of food groups, your stomach is going to have a hard time digesting.
This can lead to bloating, weight gain, indigestion or other gut troubles.
Poorly digested food starts to ferment in your stomach and intestines, which could lead to an overgrowth of unwanted yeast, bacteria or other organisms.
Read on to learn about what foods digest best together and how to help your gut on those ‘cheat days’.
What is food combining and how does it work?
Food combining refers to eating different food groups together in one meal.
For the purpose of proper food combining, the different groups are:
- Protein (meat, eggs, fish, cheeses, etc)
- Non-starchy vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, cucumber, etc)
- Starchy vegetables and grains (potatoes, corn, quinoa, beans, bread, etc)
- Fats (oil, butter, mayonnaise, etc)
- Fruit (lemon, apples, bananas, etc)
While most of our meals consist of two or more food groups, some combinations allow for efficient digestion while other combinations can lead to digestive troubles.
For example, proteins and starches do not digest well together.
Cheese and crackers? Hamburgers or hot dogs? Meat laden pizza?
Those are basically digestive nightmares.
Your stomach secretes different enzymes based on what food you eat. For example, when you eat meat, your stomach produces hydrochloric acid and pepsin, which is an enzyme. An acidic environment is created to help break down the meat.
When you eat a starchy carbohydrate, your stomach secretes ptyalin which is an alkaline forming enzymes to help break down the starch.
Guess what happens when you eat a starch and a protein together?
Nothing! Which in this case is not a good thing.
The acid forming enzyme for the meat and the alkaline forming enzyme for the starch neutralize each other out. Digestion stops or becomes very inefficient. Food sits around in the stomach too long and begins to ferment, resulting in gas, which in turn leads to bloating, burping, indigestion and even weight gain!
Why is food combining important?
As we discovered in the last section, when you eat foods that are not compatible with each other, fermentation occurs in the stomach. This produces alcohol and sugar, which can lead to toxicity, unwanted symptoms such as bloating or burping, and worst, an overgrowth of unwanted organisms such as yeast or bacteria.
Long-term complications could lead to a weak and slowly deteriorating digestive tract.
On the other hand, properly combined foods:
- allow for streamlined and effective digestion, minimizing gas, gurgling, bloat or tummy aches
- promote weight loss because foods are broken down and absorbed better; metabolism becomes efficient and excess fat storage is avoided
- help you feel more energized because your body won’t have to spend so much of your energy and resources trying to digest incompatible foods
- help to strengthen the rest of your body since now more resources are available for immune responses and cellular repair
The basics of food combining
Donna Gates in her book “The Body Ecology Diet”, summarizes food combining as three simple rules.
- Eat fruit alone or on an empty stomach. Since fruit digests very quickly and leaves the stomach within 15-30 minutes, you don’t want to combine it with foods that need 3-5 hours of digestion in the stomach. An exception is to combine acid fruit with a protein fat (ie berries with yogourt or nuts). Note: melons should always be eaten on their own, not even with other fruit.
- Eat protein with a non-starchy vegetable such as broccoli, dark leafy vegetables, green beans or zucchini. For example fish with stir fried veggies or chicken with a green salad.
- Eat grains or starchy vegetables with non starchy vegetables (i.e. bread or potatoes with salad greens or asparagus).
What if proper food combining isn’t possible
We all have busy lives to live and sometimes proper food combining just isn’t possible. This can often happen when eating outside of your home. If you’re otherwise feeling healthy and energetic, the occasional “cheat day” won’t be detrimental to your digestive tract.
Here’s how you can support digestion even when eating a pizza, burger, sandwich or enjoying all those amazing foods at a potluck party.
1. Take a digestive enzyme at the start of your meal. This will provide a variety of needed enzymes to make sure your stomach doesn’t come to a grinding halt because all of its own enzymes have been neutralized. I personally love the doTERRA Terrazyme digestive enzymes.
2. Eat your food sequentially. Start with the most watery foods first (fruit, salad) then move on to starchy vegetables like beets or potatoes. Last, eat the most concentrated foods (meat, cheese). That way the quickest-to-digest foods get processed first and won't start to ferment while they're waiting around for the stomach to digest heavy meats or fats.
3. Try sipping a glass with 1-2 tsp of raw apple cider vinegar with your meal and chewing each bite carefully before swallowing. 4. If you end up with some tummy troubles from poor digestion, try some essential oils to help bring relief. Check out my blog post on the Top 5 Essential Oils for Digestion.
Food combining at a glance
Food combining doesn’t have to be overwhelming! Once you understand which food is classified as either protein, starchy or non-starchy, the rules are easy to apply and remember.
Free food combining chart!
I have created a simple and very handy one-page food combining chart that you can save or print out for easy reference.
Click the button below and get it for keeps!
As a final thought: Improperly combined whole, natural foods are still infinitely better for you than perfectly combined processed or junk foods.
If you’re suffering from digestive troubles, excess weight or any kind of inflammatory condition, optimal digestion with the help of proper food combining can be be incredible tool.
Enjoy the free cheat sheet!
All my best,
Live/Dried Blood Analysis - Homeopathy - Essential Oils Specialist
Health & Life Coaching
References and resources:
Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates
Food Combining by Lee Debelle
Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care by Dr. Bernard Jensen