Food combining? Sounds complicated right? I thought the same when I first started studying it a few years ago, but I can assure you it's much simpler than it sounds. Food combining is a great way to improve gut health dramatically. It helps to combat bloating and fatigue post-meal as well.
Back when I "thought" I was eating healthy (insert muscle head diet of chicken and brown rice constantly) I was still experiencing daily bloat. I can recall this one day that I was so bloated that I felt like I weighed 1,000 pounds. My stomach was sticking out further than a 8 month pregnant lady. And it was so uncomfortable. I didn't even want to leave the house. I was so confused because again, I thought what I was eating was "clean."
At that point, my daily diet consisted of some type of egg breakfast with gf toast, lunch was chicken and brown rice, and dinner (if I even felt like eating by then, was some type of animal protein and steamed broccoli. I was so strong and so lean, yet I felt TERRIBLE everyday. Something had to change.
This is when I started to research how food actually breaks down in our intestines and what I found was astounding.
Each type of macro nutrient (protein, fats, carbohydrates) digest at different speeds. In addition, each type requires different enzymes and body solutions to break the food down.
Acid vs. Alkaline
Let's take the example of my chicken and brown rice go-to lunch. Chicken, a protein, requires an acidic environment in which a digestive enzyme known as pepsin releases. An acidic environment Pepsin is an endopeptidase (enzyme) that breaks down proteins into smaller peptides (that is, a protease). It is produced in the stomach and is one of the main digestive enzymes in the digestive systems of humans and many other animals, where it helps digest the proteins in food.
Brown rice, a complex carbohydrate, requires an alkaline environment to digest that releases an enzyme known as ptyalin. Ptyalin is an amylase (another word for saliva enzyme) found chiefly in saliva and pancreatic fluid, that converts starch and glycogen into simple sugars.
Since you can see that these two foods require very different environment's to completely digest, the result is that the food confuses the body and releases too many enzymes at once. This, in turn, slows down the digestive process. (Insert "aha moment")
What happens then? Bloating, fatigue, post-meal sluggishness. (Ahaaaaaaaa!)
If your food digestion is slowed down then it makes it easier for food particles to get stuck in the intestines and villi. (For more info on the gut, see Gut Health 101) The longer those food particles linger in your intestines, the more they are inclined to ferment and cause bacteria. This is what the bacteria Candida, an overgrowth of yeast, lives for. Fermented starchy food hanging out in the gut is a breeding ground for bacteria. (I know, so gross!)
Food combining 101
Let's dig into the "rules" of food combining so you can make smarter choices to improve your overall gut health and digestion.
1. Pair protein with non-starchy vegetables
Since non-starchy vegetables are rich in their own digestive enzymes, they do not need an alkaline environment to break down. Combining them with high-quality proteins is an easy way to break down and absorb you meal quickly, leaving you full of nutrients and a boat load of energy.
Wild salmon + Broccoli
Organic Chicken + Bell Peppers
Organic Turkey + Mashed Cauliflower
2. Pair starches with healthy fats and vegetables
Keeping foods together that require an alkaline environment will help boost digestion of starches and help you absorb the nutrients more readily. I've had many clients call me and say they get bloated from quinoa or legumes and my number one response is, "What did you eat it with?"
9 times out of 10, they combined it with a protein, because that is what they thought they should do, and I don't blame them because I thought that too! Keep the starches together like a little starch family and you shouldn't have a problem.
Disclaimer: soaking your grains, beans, and legumes overnight helps release phytic acid making them easier to digest as well. Might as well take all precautions!
Quinoa + Chopped Cabbage + Avocado
Swiss Chard Salad + Sweet Potato + Olive Oil
Brown Rice + Carrots + Toasted Sesame Oil
3. Eat fruit alone (sad sigh)
This one can be tough, especially because there are 100 delicious smoothies out there that have been known to help gut health. It's important to remember that this may or may not be ok for you considering that every one is different. Keep a journal and track when you get bloated from meals. If everyday after your fruit filled breakfast smoothie you are experiencing discomfort, then it may be time to switch it up a bit.
Fruit is the fastest digesting food with an average of 20-30 minutes. If you combine it with any other food, it will develop a traffic jam in the gut since most other foods take at least 3-4 hours to break down. The best thing to do is simply eat them as a snack in between meals on an empty stomach. Then you can absorb the fiber without all the discomfort.
However, combining leafy greens or celery with fruit does not usually cause a problem since these veggies are mostly made from water. This is where the Liver Detox Smoothie comes in and saves the day!!
4. Drink water away from meals
Gulping large sips of cold water during eating dilutes the digestive enzymes and slows the process. Rule of thumb is room temperature water is way better for the gut but in general it’s better to finish eating before you sip some water.
You can assist the digestive process by drinking the room temp or warm water with lemon 20 minutes before meals or after you meals. Lemon contains natural absorbic acid which will stimulate and activate your digestive juices. (Oh yea baby!)
5. Keep it simple stupid
My mom has been saying that to me since I was a little girl (in the nicest, most playful way possible.) I kept that saying in the back of my head for my entire life. Anytime anything wasn't working out for me I would hear her saying it while laughing and pointing her finger.
As a society, we tend to overthink and overdo EVERYTHING! This stands true for digestive health too. Keep your meals as simple as possible to avoid food gut bombs and traffic jams.
Remember, gut health is the root of total body wellness. Happy gut, happy life.
As a recommendation to understand your bio-individuality more, keep a journal when changing things around. Your body is your best guide. Keeping notes will help you become your own investigator and realize what does and does not work for you.
In addition, if you’ve been struggling with bloating and giesting food for awhile, you can try a digestive enzyme to help your body break down food. My favorite digestve enzyme is the GI-ZYME by Mannatech. My clients experience less discomfort after meals and reported barely any bloating after taking for 1 week. Purchase here.
If you have been trying to break free from bloating for far too long and you can't seem to get a handle on it, sign up for my newsletter and receive my FREE 5-day Fix to BEAT THE BLOAT! My tips will help you break free from bloat and chronic inflammation of the gut for good.
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XO Jaclyn Renee