How we eat may be just as important as what we eat. The diets eaten by most Americans are based on the belief that any number of different foods can be digested at the same time. This belief may be why more than half the population suffers from some sort of digestive distress for which there seems to be no remedy. As sales of antacids soar off the charts, maybe it's time to rediscover the art of food combining.
Indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome are modern phenomena
Our ancestors did not eat the way we do. Their diets were composted of one or two foods at a time as they came across them, with many meals consisting of nothing but animal protein. With the advent of agriculture, a more varied diet became available, but it was still based mainly on the consumption of meat, and dairy products. Vegetables and fruits were available only in their season, with the exception of a few root vegetables that could be stored. The food processing so taken for granted today had not yet been invented, and processed carbohydrates were not a part of the diet. Rolaids hadn't been invented either, and it appears that our ancestors did not suffer from the digestive problems so prevalent in modern times.
Dr. Hay used theory of food combining to regain his own health
The art of food combining is the brain child of Dr. William Hay who after several years of medical practice found his own health in shambles. Suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease and weight gain, he decided to take a close look not only at what he was eating but how he was eating it.
His discoveries and dietary changes brought him remission of symptoms and reduction of weight by 50 pounds in just a few months. And like most theorists who have come up with an idea that really benefits people, Dr. Hay was ridiculed by his peers. Today, the scientific community is finding evidence that Dr. Hay was onto something. Research is showing a connection between carbohydrates and allergies, diabetes, skin problems, migraines, depression, chronic fatigue, and psychiatric disorders.
Food combining reflects the principles governing digestion
The theory of food combining is based on the idea that good health results from a body that is slightly alkaline and attuned to the basic principles of digestion. It is a scientifically based system of selecting foods that are compatible from all that are available. By grouping the right foods together people can be assured of effortless digestion and more complete assimilation and use of nutrients by the body. When foods are correctly combined, nutrients from them can be used to their fullest extent to promote good health.
Digestion is facilitated by juices and enzymes produced in response to a cue from the food that has been eaten. The juices can be alkaline or acid depending on the requirement of the enzymes they contain. These enzymes are active only in a suitable media with well defined acid-alkaline ranges. They are destroyed by variation in those ranges. Carbohydrate foods stimulate the secretion of enzymes made specifically to break down carbohydrates, while protein foods require the secretion of enzymes made specifically to break down protein. Fats too have specific enzymes needs to facilitate their breakdown.
For example, the salivary enzyme, amylase, is produced in response to eating carbohydrates, and its job is to break down carbohydrates for digestion. Amylase is only active in an alkaline medium and is destroyed by a mildly acidic environment. The gastric enzyme, pepsin, is produced in response to eating protein, and its job is to break down protein for digestion. Pepsin is only active in an acid medium and is destroyed in an alkaline environment. While the body will produce juices and enzymes specific to any type of food that has been eaten, it is unable to do so when a variety of foods are eaten together. According to Dr. Hay, it is the combining at the same time of foods requiring both acid and alkaline medium for digestion that is responsible for 90 percent of digestive problems.
Good digestive outcome requires meals comprised of similar food types
When foods are improperly combined, fermentation in the digestive tract and digestive distress is the likely outcome. When foods eaten at a meal are of the same type, there is no fermentation and proper digestion is allowed to take place. The best way to avoid fermentation is to avoid mixing high protein foods with high carbohydrate foods. While almost every food contains some amount of protein, those with high concentration of protein remain in the stomach for several hours while the gastric juices and enzymes do their work. Depending on the complexity of the protein eaten, this time can be up to six hours.
Here are the basic rules of food combining:
Number one: Protein and carbohydrate concentrated foods
Breakdown of protein requires an acid medium, and digestion of protein dense animal products requires high levels of hydrochloric acid. Since digestion of carbohydrate dense foods requires an alkaline medium in order to be broken down, high carbohydrate foods that have been mixed with high protein foods will not digest but will sit there fermenting, producing indigestion, bloating and gas. And since this fermentation of carbohydrates will inhibit the digestion of the protein, more gas, bloating and discomfort will be produced. This makes the typical American meal, composed of a large hunk of meat along with potatoes and bread, a recipe for digestive disaster.
Dr. Hay's research found that most protein foods are best digested when accompanied by a fresh green salad. Other concentrated protein foods like nuts and seeds combine well with acid fruits such as oranges, pineapples blackberries, or strawberries. They also work fairly well with sub-acid fruits such as apples, cherries, mangos, or peaches. The vitamin C in these fruits aids digestion of the mixture.
Number two: Eating two concentrated proteins together
Each type of protein requires a specific character, strength and timing of digestive juice secretions. This means that no two types of concentrated protein should be consumed together at a meal. Nuts, meat, eggs, cheese, or other protein foods should not be eaten together. And no two types of animal protein should be eaten together, a rule that may be hard to swallow by the surf and turf crowd.
Number three: Protein and fats
Fats inhibit the secretion of gastric juices needed to digest meat, fish, dairy products, nuts, and eggs by as much as fifty percent. When fat concentrated foods are eaten with protein concentrated foods, the digestive breakdown of the fats is delayed until gastric juices complete their work on the complex proteins. This means fats will remain undigested in the stomach for a long period of time. Although some high protein foods also contain high amounts of fat, these fats will be held in suspension awaiting breakdown without impeding gastric action. However, free fats such as oil, butter and milk fat will coat the gastric mucosa, inhibiting gastric juice. This is why fried chicken is so hard to digest.
Number four: Acid fruits with carbohydrates
The enzyme in saliva that begins the breakdown of starch concentrated foods in the mouth does the important job of converting complex starch molecules into more simple sugars. In order to work, the enzyme requires a neutral or slightly alkaline medium, the natural condition found in the mouth. When acid foods are eaten, the action of the enzyme needed to break down starch is halted because the medium needed has been altered. Thus acid fruits should not be eaten at the same meal as sweet fruits or other starches. This combination is what makes spaghetti and other dishes combining tomatoes with starch so bloating.
Number five: Acid fruits with protein
Oranges, tomatoes, lemons, pineapples and other acid fruits can be easily digested and produce no distress when eaten away from starchy and protein foods. However, when included in a meal that contains a protein concentrated food, the acid fruits seriously hamper protein digestion. This is in part what makes the typical American breakfast of orange juice, bacon, eggs and toast such a digestive nightmare
Number six: Starch and sugar
Eating starches that have been disguised as sweets is not a good way to eat starch. Although the "treat" produces an abundance of saliva, the saliva contains none of the enzyme needed to digest the starch because the sugar has turned the environment acidic. This is why such items as fruit filled Danish settle on the digestive tract like a sack of bricks. The carbohydrates are fermenting in the body, producing noxious gases.
Number seven: Consuming melons
Melons should not be consumed with any other foods. Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and the more exotic melons should always be eaten away from mealtime and alone. Melons are meant to decompose quickly in the digestive system, which is what they will do if there is no interfering with the process.
Number eight: Consuming milk
Milk is best left to babies who traditionally consume it alone, away from other foods. Milk does not digest in the stomach, but in the duodenum, so the presence of milk in the stomach does not promote secretion of gastric juice. The use of acid fruits with milk does not cause any digestive difficulty, although the benefits of the antioxidant potential of the fruits may be lost due to the affinity they have for the protein in milk.
The goal of food combining is digestive bliss
If all this seems overwhelming, especially at first, here is the bottom line. Starches, fats, and green vegetables may be eaten together as they require either an alkaline or neutral medium for their digestion. Similarly, protein foods, green vegetables, sugars and acid fruits may be eaten together as they require an acid or neutral medium for their digestion. Starches and proteins, fats and proteins, proteins and acid fruits, starch and acid fruits, and starch and sugars should not be eaten together for those people looking to attain optimal digestion and gastric comfort.
Meals that contain the smallest number of courses will produce better digestive results. A one course meal is ideal. As a general rule, simple meals are more conducive to good health than are more elaborate meals, no matter how much attention the person planning the meal has devoted to food combining.
As the typical American meal consisting of protein, carbohydrates and fats may remain in the stomach for up to six hours, the potential is there for several hours of digestive misery. And remember, carbohydrates are always the last to be digested. If another meal is eaten before the first one has completely digested, the protein is again digested first, leaving the carbohydrates to be stored as fat. This is why weight loss is a secondary benefit to food combining. When foods are properly combined, they are not stored in a line waiting to be digested.
On the other hand, carbohydrates eaten without proteins remain in the stomach for about one hour or even less. A fruit meal remains in the stomach for an even shorter period of time. The ideal regimen of food combining would be a fruit meal for breakfast, a starch meal with a vegetable salad or non-starchy vegetables for lunch, and a protein meal with a salad and non-starch vegetables for dinner.