I first learned about the principle of food combining when I read Kimberly Snyder’s book, The Beauty Detox Solution: Eat Your Way to Radiant Skin, Renewed Energy and the Body You’ve Always Wanted, after years of unsuccessful attempts to clear up my acne and lose the weight I gained following my second pregnancy.
Nutrition was fairly new to me at the time since this was before I studied health coaching and holistic nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition–and the nutritional information presented in this book was very different from the Standard American Diet’s (SAD) concept of nutrition that I learned in health classes and home economics as a teenager. While the SAD focuses on dairy, meat, and starches and the concept of “balanced” meals containing a protein, a starch, and a vegetable; Kimberly’s book illustrated how this way of eating might actually be the reason behind many of the chronic digestive and health issues facing Americans today. Though Kimberly’s book was the first time I had heard of food combining, it’s not a new principle–more established contemporary dietary theories like Donna Gates’ Body Ecology Diet, and ancient dietary theories like Ayurveda all stress the importance of proper food combining.
What is food combining?
Food combining simply defined is the act of eating certain foods alone or only in combination with other foods in order to allow the body to release the correct type and amount of digestive enzymes, acids, and gastric juices needed to properly digest those foods.
Certain foods like raw fruits and veggies are much easier for the body to digest since they already contain the enzymes, fiber, and other nutrients needed to be properly broken down by the body into a state where the nutrients are easily absorbed and utilized by the body. Anything extra is then easily eliminated.
Properly prepared starches like pre-soaked or sprouted whole grains still contain enzymes and fiber, but due to their natural sugar content they digest best when consumed alone or with the added enzymes, fiber, and nutrients that come with raw or lightly cooked greens.
Proteins are more difficult to digest overall due to their complexity. Plant proteins like nuts, seeds, and legumes are easier for our bodies to digest when prepared properly (presoaked/sprouted), but animal proteins like eggs, meats, fish, and dairy are much more difficult to digest since they contain no fiber or enzymes, and require a significantly higher amount of gastric juices to be digested.
Since these different food groups vary in terms of complexity and all require a different mixture of gastric juices to be digested, one can understand how throwing them altogether on a plate and eating them in one sitting can cause a bit of confusion in the digestive tract.
Some say that digestion begins in the mouth…
It actually begins sooner than that, with the smell and also the emotional anticipation of eating the foods. These stimuli send signals through the nervous system to the digestive and endocrine system to release certain types and amounts of acids and enzymes beginning with saliva (also known as “mouth watering”) and then involving the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. When you smell or anticipate eating several different types at once–for example meat and potatoes with salad–the body is signaled to release all different enzymes and acids–which may or may not be the right amount for the foods being eaten in the order that they’re eaten.
This might either leave us with the more complex foods like proteins being un- or under-digested; and the simpler foods like vegetables being over-digested to the point where the nutrients are destroyed by the stronger digestive acids. This process makes the vegetables less nutritious and causes the undigested foods to ferment (in a bad way) and putrefy in the intestines leading to a highly acidic condition, a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and yeasts (which can lead to disease), and can interfere with proper detoxification through elimination (diarrhea or constipation).
Following food combining rules prevents this from happening because the proper combinations require the same type and amount of gastric juices for the foods to be properly digested and absorbed. When this happens, let’s just say all the plumbing works properly–the nutrients of what’s consumed go where they need to go and what’s left is eliminated in a timely fashion. No one wants built up, decaying undigested food sitting around in their colon–trust me. In addition to symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, weight gain, and fatigue; more serious health issues can occur like diverticulitis, Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), thyroid disease, and autoimmune diseases. It also causes the skin to work extra hard to eliminate the toxins which likely exacerbates skin conditions like acne, rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema.
What are the “rules” of food combining?
I’ve seen many food combining charts on the Internet that in my opinion, seem to complicate an already somewhat complicated matter. I decided to create this graphic to try to break it down for you:
Does food combining work?
While food combining is a part of several successful, tried and true dietary theories there are parts of the world where people don’t follow these rules of food combining and still enjoy long, healthy lives. For example, in Japan there are many dishes that consist of seaweed, beans, and rice–or fish and rice. These would be considered improper combinations, yet for people native to Japan (particularly Okinawa), it works well for them.
Also consider the Mediterranean Diet–this diet involves some meats and cheeses, seafood, an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, freshly made pastas and artisan breads and good fats all in healthy proportions. It doesn’t follow food combining at all-yet it’s long been touted as one of the healthiest (and most pleasurable) dietary theories on the planet (especially Crete’s version of it).
To answer the question of “does food combining work,” I think the best advice I can give is to try it. Commit to it for a week or two and see if you notice an improvement in any skin or other symptoms you might be experiencing. If you notice nothing, try eating a meal that breaks the rules and take note of how you feel afterwards that same day as well as the following day. If you feel fine, then maybe your body doesn’t need food combining; but if you notice bloating, fatigue, bathroom issues, a skin breakout or flare-up, or any other negative symptoms then maybe food combining should become a part of your daily regimen. You won’t know until you try.
If you’re new to food combining, give it a try and see how you feel–let me know if you notice any changes. If you have tried food combining and have had either a positive or negative experience with it, I’d love to know that too.
Please leave a reply in the comment section below and let me know your thoughts about food combining.