Food Combining – For Optimal Digestion

Food combining is a basic component to good nutrition. I wrote about food combinations for optimal protein intake for vegans HERE.

But in this post, I want to talk about combining foods for optimal digestion. That is, to enhance absorption, reduce gas and bloating, and provide intestinal support for a healthy gut! And guess what? This can all lead to fat loss and muscle gain…surprise surprise! Keep in mind that food combining may not be ‘necessary’ for everyone. But if you have digestive issues, experience gas and bloating, then this may be something you should consider exploring.

In additional to the information below, you can also download my Food Combining Tip Sheet.

jessielamfitness food combining

Many people overstress their digestive tracts by eating too much in one sitting. Overeating, as most of us have experienced, causes a lot of stress on the body. More blood is sent to the digestive organs and we are often unable to move well until digestion is completed many hours later. This, of course, leads to lower exercise potential and eventually, unwanted weight-gain. We have been conditioned to aim for balanced meals rather than an overall balanced diet, and we may end up eating foods from all different groups in one sitting. Don’t get me wrong… I do this too from time to time. A sandwich with chicken breast and fruit for dessert. But if we can understand what happens with our bodies when we eat, we can be more mindful about our eating habits.

Concern about balancing the diet over the day or week is a more overall healthful approach to eating.foodcombining question

According to Elson M. Hass, MD and Buck Levin, PhD, RD, there are 4 basic principles of food combining:

  1. Meals should be balanced according to your individual needs, not some pre-set standard. For example, bacon, eggs, and and OJ. Or steak, potatoes and green beans. Nutritional research has shown that we do not need all nutrients at every meal, and that applies to protein as well. If we just have a fruit in the morning, or just some vegetables at lunch, that can be totally fine as long as we pay attention to the overall intake for the day, and how the combinations make us feel, our bodies can do the rest (I am not talking about junk foods so keep reading :P). What we need to do most is EXPERIMENT and find out what works for our particular metabolism and needs. How long foods give us energy for, or leave us feeling tired.
  2. Large amounts of a food that is concentrated in a single nutrient do not work well when combined with other foods. FRUITS AND MEATS. Fruits are an especially concentrated source of sugar, and meats – protein! Our bodies are not meant to digest 30 grams of sugar (eg. banana) and 140 grams of protein (16 oz steak) all at once. Indigestion can occur, such as gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. Large platefuls of processed carbs such as fibre-free white rice, pasta, breads, and baked potatoes without the skin, are less concentrated in acidity, and don’t work well when consumed with proteins because the body needs more acidic secretions to digest large amounts of protein.
  3. It is fine to eat some foods alone. FRUITS. Most of them contain a fair amount or sugar, and digest very quickly in the body. Eating them alone or 15-20 minutes before meals can manage your hunger and appetite, as well as enhance digestion and absorption. You rarely need utensils to eat them anyway! It’s common to eat fruits after your meals, as a “healthy dessert.” But because they digest quicker than proteins and fats, the fruits will “sit on top of” your main meal as your body is working to digest, and they will ferment. This can cause gas and bloating. I’ve personally eaten fruits after meals myself. Not all the time, but it definitely helps to be mindful of how your body reacts. This introduces the concept of FOOD SEQUENCING. Eat fruits and vegetables first, followed by carbs, and finally, protein and fats. This is consumed in the order of shortest to longest time to digest. This is a helpful practice for those who become gassy or bloated very often after meals. WATER. Although keeping up with our fluid intakes is important, drinking large amounts of water along with meals does not seem to work well with most people. It dilutes the digestive juices and makes it harder to break down foods. This can lead to malabsorption and loose stools, even shortly after eating.
  4. Food combining is something we need to take seriously, despite the position of many health-care practitioners and the current status of nutritional research. Physicians and dietitians often reject the importance of food combining and claim that we have all of the enzymes needed to eat anything we want at anytime. But when we look at cultural eating practices worldwide, the healthiest cultures – especially those with the most centenarians - eat seasonally, locally, and with sacred food restrictions (Okinawa Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Abkhasian Diet,just to name a few) . Foods are always combined carefully. Only in our Western culture, where chronic diseases are most widespread, do we toss all the food we want into one plate.

Science and research is always evolving. Some of these guidelines work well for some, while others may not notice a difference at all. As a culture, and as individuals, we need to continue to explore combinations of foods that leave us feeling our best.

The newest, science-based guidelines for food combining are as follows:

Execellent Combining

  • high-starch and non-starch
  • high-protein and non-starch vegetables
  • healthy oils/fats and vegetables of all types

Good Combining

  • high-starch and healthy oils/fats

Poor Combining

  • high-protein and high-starch
  • high-protein and fruit
  • high-starch and fruit

Fruit: Best eaten alone or with other fruit

Fats/Oils: The best sources are ocean fish, flax, pumpkin, chia, sesame, safflower, avocado, nuts, olive oil, sunflower oil and their seeds. Any of these combine well with vegetables. High starches are okay with the oils in sauces

Starchy Vegetables: Mostly white potatoes and corn. Squashes and yams also have moderate levels of starch

Non-Starchy Vegetables: Typically the flowering parts of a plant ie. Lettuce,asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, onions, peppers, chard, eggplant and tomatoes etc.

Here is another resource:

Again, these are guidelines and it all varies between individuals. For instance, iron absorption is enhanced when it is consumed with vitamin C. So a spinach salad with orange slices or strawberries is a great choice. But what about eating fruit on its own? Take all the information and experiment with yourself. It never ends 🙂

Nutritional Symptomology, Danielle Perrault RHN
Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Elson M. Hass, MD and Buck Levin, PhD, RD
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