What does ‘food combining’ mean?

The idea behind “food combining” diets is that different foods digest at different rates in the body and require different digestive environments. Therefore, foods need to be eaten in groups and at specific times that compliment these factors.

A guiding principle of this diet is to avoid eating protein and carbohydrates together since there are different enzymes in the body that digest each one. Advocates say that if you eat the two together, it will leave you with partially digested food in your system that just sits there in your gut while the other foods are being digested. During this waiting period, supposedly the partially digested food will rot or ferment, causing bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhoea.

The proposed benefits of food combining or eating foods that combine together efficiently is that it will assist digestion so that your digestive tract does not have to work as hard to absorb the nutrients your body requires for energy, as well as alleviating any symptoms associated with poor digestion such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, reflux and fatigue. Some health professionals say food combining may also assist with weight loss.

Does it help digestion or is a myth?

While all of this sounds good in theory, it appears to be more of a misuse of biochemical information than anything else, as there isn’t any sufficient evidence to show that food combining diets improve digestion or enhance weight loss for that matter.

One big error with this food combining way of thinking is that in our body’s digestion is a process. Hence why we have a digestive tract, not a digestive sack, where everything is dumped and expected to undergo all processes of digestion.Our digestion starts in our mouth, continues into our stomach, continues further into our small intestine, and even occurs to some extent in our large intestine. Evolution and the introduction of different foods and cooking methods has allowed our body the flexibility to handle the digestion of different types of foods at the same time over the course of the digestive process. It is not as black and white as saying that protein requires an acidic environment for digestion and carbohydrates require a more basic environment for digestion, and when combined they cancel each other out and nothing gets digested.

Nutritional science has taught us that digestion is a well carried out biochemical process that occurs in multiple areas of your digestive tract over several hours. This process has adapted and been optimised over the years to extract every nutrient possible from the foods we eat, despite their combination.

If you try food combining, what’s they best way to go about it?

If someone wanted to follow the food combining diet, there are a few important principles they must adopt. These include:

  1. No proteins and starches are to be eaten at the same meal– the theory here is that they neutralise each other and prevent proper digestion of either food. To ensure proper digestion of each food, wait two hours after eating a starch before eating protein. And wait three hours after eating protein before eating a starch.
  2. Don’t consume fruits and vegetables at the same meal. The theory here is that fruits and vegetables have different biochemical structures and therefore, breakdown at different stages of digestion.
  3. Don’t drink cold water during meals– A cup of warm tea, however, may aid digestion. Avoid ice and stick to room temperature water. Do not drink for at least 15-minutes before you eat or 1-hour after a meal.

Some health professionals recommend the following eating schedule when it comes to food combining:

  • Morning meal: The least concentrated foods, in the greatest amount. Ideal food choice: fruits
  • Middle of the day: More complex foods, but in a smaller amount than your first meal. Ideal food choice:starchy carbs
  • Evening: The most concentrated foods, but in the least abundant amount. Ideal food choice: protein

Is there a better or easier way to go about eating to aid digestion? 

In simple terms, yes. If you do experience ongoing gastrointestinal symptoms, then there could be an underlying cause such as a food allergy or intolerance. You can get tested for this and your dietitian or nutritionist can assist you by putting together an individualised meal plan to eliminate the problematic foods.

Focus on your eating behaviour. When you are eating, make sure you aren’t shovelling your food into your mouth. Have a good posture, chew your food appropriately until it is a much smaller size before swallowing, don’t swig your drink to flush down your food and don’t eat your food on the run.

I believe everyone benefits from consuming foods that contain pre- and probiotics. These both have been documented heavily, showing that they can aid digestion. Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fibre compound. Similar to other high-fibre foods, prebiotic compounds (found in foods like garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, un-ripe banana, dandelion greens and onions) pass through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and remain undigested, since the human body can’t fully break them down. Once they pass through the small intestine, they reach the colon, where they’re fermented by the gut microflora. This process improves digestion by increasing the level of probiotics in the gut. Probiotics on the other hand are micro-organisms, which help balance the good and bad bacteria in your gut. Foods that contain probiotics include cultured yoghurt, kefir, miso soup, sauerkraut and other fermented foods. If you do not consume a lot of these foods, you can always opt for a good quality, broad spectrum probiotic.

Stress is a major factor that can influence your digestion. The gut is especially vulnerable to the presence of stress, resulting in changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability and barrier function, visceral sensitivity and mucosal blood flow. Therefore, stress management is important for homeostasis in the gut.