You’ve heard it before; “you are what you eat.” But there is more truth to that old adage than you know. How we feel on a daily basis is a direct result of what we put into our bodies and how or when we put it in there.
Improper food combining in the short term can cause gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, stomach ache etc. In the long term you may suffer from symptoms of IBS, ulcers, arthritis, hypoglycemia, eczema, colon cancer and so on.
Here’s the problem, you think you’re eating healthy on a daily basis, you’re getting your five servings of fruits and vegetables, 25-30 grams of fiber, and you’re drinking plenty of water. So why do you still feel bad? The answer may be in how you are eating and the combinations of foods that you are eating.
Each food that we put in our body affects our digestive system in its own way. They each take a certain amount of time and certain types of enzymes to be properly digested. Combining certain foods can lead to improper digestion and a chain reaction of digestive discomfort.
Digestion and Eating Behaviors
In order to adjust the combinations of foods that we eat, we first need to look at our eating behaviors. If we can correct our behaviors, using proper food combining will become easier.
Eat Consciously. The first rule of digestion that almost everyone violates is over-consumption. It may sound shocking, but you can survive on one-third of your daily food intake. Our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs. The number one cause of indigestion is over-consumption.
One problem is that our brains are about ten minutes behind our stomachs. This means that once our stomachs are full, our brains don’t give us that “full feeling” until ten minutes later. To avoid over-consumption you should stop eating before you get the feeling of fullness (go for half full).
In order to be aware of when our stomachs are half full we have to slow down and eat more consciously. This means being aware of the types of food we are eating, our portion sizes, and the speed at which we are eating.
Use your sense of smell, sight and taste to determine what foods are right to eat. And learn proper food combining. This forces you to slow down and analyze what you are about to ingest.
Look at how much you have on your plate and keep in mind that you can survive on one third of your daily food intake. With each meal decrease the size of your portions. A general and easy rule of thumb is a portion size should be no bigger than the size of your fist.
Lastly, it’s not a race. Slow down and enjoy your meal. Meals on the go are not healthy, so make sure you find time during the day to dedicate to eating.
It may take some time to adjust to, but implementing these concepts will help relieve your digestive discomfort.
Timely Eating Improves Digestion
Everyone has an internal clock and it is this internal clock that sets your body’s rhythm. It is important that you set an eating schedule so that your body can maintain this rhythm. Your body becomes accustom to an eating schedule and starts producing digestive enzymes in preparation for food.
Your eating schedule should include both the times of day that you eat and the types of food groups that you eat. Eating odd foods or at odd times of day will disrupt your body’s rhythm. When your rhythms are disrupted, your digestion is disrupted and the result is digestive discomfort.
You can train your body. When you consistently eat at certain times of the day your body becomes accustomed to digesting at those times and starts to pre-produce digestive enzymes in anticipation of the meal. This is its way of preparing for food. Your body is more ready to receive food and this helps complete the digestion process.
In addition to setting times for meals, you should stick to the same types of food on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean eating the same exact food every day, just sticking to similar food groups as often as possible.
You’ll want to set up a system where you have primary foods, secondary foods and exotic foods. Primary are those eaten every week, secondary are condiments to the primary, and exotic are those that you eat on rare occasions.
When you eat this way, your body will not only know when to expect food, but it will also know what type of food to expect. This leads to a more complete digestion of your food and in turn you’ll feel more energized and vibrant.
Food Sequencing: Organize your meals
A well ordered meal allows your digestive system to handle digestion more smoothly, with less time and more absorption of nutrients. A well ordered meal is one in which you introduce different foods systematically.
You should start by introducing the easiest or quickest to digest foods first and work your way up to the more complex. By doing this you keep foods that digest more easily flowing through your digestive system and prevent a “food traffic jam”.
Denser and less liquid foods are harder to digest and take longer to pass completely through the digestive system. Therefore you should consume foods in each meal in an orderly fashion. Here is the list of fastest to longest foods to digest:
- Juices and Water: 20-30 minutes
- Soups, Fruits, or Smoothies: 30-45 minutes
- Vegetables: 30-45 minutes
- Grains, Starches: 2-3 hours
- Beans, Poultry, Meat, or Fish: 3 or more hours
Think of your digestive system as a highway; if the slower vehicles are allowed to go first, the result will be a traffic jam. If the slower vehicles follow the faster vehicles you’re highway will run smoothly and efficiently.
Below is a sample of how a day of meals would look by following the proper sequence of foods and avoiding a “food traffic jam”.
- Salad, Fruit, or Vegetable
- Sandwich, Grain, Bean, Fish, Meat, Poultry
- Main Course (Bean, Grain, Poultry, Fish, Meat)
It is important to note that when choosing a beverage, milk or milk products are hard to digest and should be taken alone. The easiest type of beverage to digest is water or one high in water content.
There are Seven Food Groups
Your body uses different enzymes to break down different types of foods. There are seven different food groups and each of these groups is digested differently. It is important to identify the make up of these groups so we can understand how we can combine them.
Protein is a complex nutrient and while necessary for our survival we need to eat it in moderation. Because of their complexities, proteins can take 3 hours or more to fully digest.
Proteins themselves are comprised of 5 categories and each group is digested differently;
- Proteins from grains
- Proteins from beans
- Dairy protein
- Meat protein
- Egg and nut protein
Each of these categories requires different digestive enzymes to properly and fully digest. You can combine only proteins from grains and beans but none of the other types should be combined with each other.
A meal containing a lot of protein combinations results in your digestive juices becoming depleted and your food is not fully digested. This may result in feelings of illness, tiredness, heartburn, gas, bloating etc.
Proteins are best digested when combined only with non-starchy vegetables.
Starches are the most common food group in our diet and they belong to the family of carbohydrates. They are the best source of fuel for our muscles, but they are the most complicated to digest and can take two or more hours for full digestion.
The digestion of starches begins in your mouth and small intestines with enzymes in the saliva breaking down carbohydrate strains into by-products (maltose, glucose, and fructose). These by-products are then absorbed into the bloodstream where the liver will either store the glucose or use it as immediate fuel.
Starches should not be combined with proteins or acid fruits. If combined, the production of digestive enzymes for the starches will be stopped. Therefore, starches will leave your stomach partially digested and cause digestive discomfort. In addition you will not get the benefit of the “fuel” for your body from the starches when combined with proteins or acid fruits.
Starches can be combined with non-starchy vegetables.
Sugars are also considered a carbohydrate and are one of the simplest foods to digest as even water will dissolve them. For proper digestion they require only vitamins and enzymes and therefore spend little time in the stomach.
A sugar and starch combination however is not a good. Sugars inhibit the production of enzymes in the saliva that begin the break down of starches. Therefore when eaten together the digestion process of starch is delayed and isn’t started until it reaches the stomach. (Example: Sugar on your morning cereal)
When combined with starch the digestion of the sugar is also delayed. When allowed to sit in the stomach sugar can ferment; the sugar is broken down into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The end result can cause distension, gas, and a lock of B-vitamins.
A sugar and protein combination is also not a good combination. Proteins can take three or more hours to digest, when taken together the sugars are forced to wait until the proteins are digested before they become fully digested. This leads to the same fermentation problem as when combined with starches.
Artificial sweeteners are not easy to digest as they are made up of preservatives. They will not dissolve easily in the stomach and can slow down your entire digestive system; an example is sucralose.
One of the more difficult nutrients to digest is fats. However, if you carefully pick your oils and keep the intake of your fats balanced with the rest of your meals, fats can be good for you.
There are two types of fats; saturated and unsaturated fats. An easy way to tell which you’re primarily eating is by noticing if the fat is solid or liquid at room temperature. Saturated fats remain solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
The amount of fat in your meal will determine how quickly the rest of your meal is digested. The body digests fats before any other food group in order to be able to separate nutrients. A high fat meal can take 3 hours or more to pass through the stomach.
When combining fats with other food groups it is important to avoid as many of the saturated fats as possible because they contain preservatives that take your body longer to digest. Unsaturated fats are natural fats that will provide you with the necessary nutrients without severely slowing down the digestion process.
It is important to get fats in your diet, but everything in moderation is what you need to remember when eating and combining fats.
Next to liquids, fruits are the most digestible of the food groups. This is due to the fact that fruits can be 90% water and water is the easiest to digest.
The below fruits are mostly made up of water and will generally take about a 30-45 minutes to fully digest.
There is always an exception to the rule and bananas, coconuts and dried fruits are the exceptions. Bananas and coconuts are high in carbohydrates, protein, and fat; all of which take longer to digest. Dried fruits are high in fiber and sugar and low in water which makes them harder to digest. In all three of these cases you should allow for 45 – 90 minutes for complete digestion.
You should allow for full digestion of all fruit before consuming proteins and starches. Proteins and starches do take longer to digest and combining them with fruit will slow down the digestion of the fruit.
Acid fruits should not be combined at all with proteins or starches. The acid in these fruits stop the production of digestive enzymes that are necessary for the digestion of the proteins and starches.
Some vegetables can be just as easy to digest as fruits, since they also contain a high percentage of water. When the percentage of water in the vegetable drops off and the starch and fiber rise, the vegetable becomes harder to digest.
Green leafy vegetables have the highest percentage of water and are the easiest to digest, needing approximately 45 minutes to digest. However, if you are adding dressings that are high in cream or saturated oils the time of digestion will increase. Your best bet is to go with an oil and vinegar dressing and avoid the creamy dressings.
Vegetables that will take a little longer to digest because of their amount of fiber are cabbage, carrots and beets. You can steam the cabbage and carrots to ease the digestion a bit, but generally these vegetables will still digest more quickly than starches and proteins due to their high water content.
Lastly, starchy vegetables will take the longest to digest in the vegetable category, needing two or more hours for full digestion. These include potatoes, squash, yams, and rutabagas. Baking these vegetables will help to quicken digestion, but steaming them will work better as that will increase their water content.
Non-starchy vegetables are okay to combine with all other food groups. This is due to their quicker digestion time and lack of neutralizing acids. Just be sure to eat the vegetable before the starch or protein and remember the “food traffic jam”, put the fastest digesting foods in your mouth first.
Food combining itself can become a frustrating experience with all the different do’s and don’ts. A general rule of thumb to use will be to ask yourself if the combination that you’re eating is going to slow down your digestion process.
The ill effects from food combining come when your digestive system is slowed down and food is allowed to go undigested. Improper digestion is the number one cause of digestive ailments.
Use our food combining chart as a guideline and do the best you can. You cannot avoid all bad combinations, but the key is moderation; if the good combinations outweigh the bad ones you will see improvement.
If you are already suffering from digestive discomfort on a regular basis, and deal with constipation, bloating and gas regularly, consider a colon cleansing program in addition to food combining. Colon cleansing can help tone the muscles in the large intestine and give you a “clean slate” for your new digestion regimen.