Use this simple guide with food combining charts to combine foods for better digestion and health.
Food combining is an approach to eating that works on the premise that our bodies can only digest one concentrated food at a time. Concentrated foods are defined as starches and proteins. So, to simplify it, any foods other than fruits and vegetables.
The digestion of starches (grains, potatoes, and many other roots) requires alkaline conditions, whereas the enzymes that digest proteins thrive in an acidic environment. So, if we eat a starch and a protein together, we’re asking our digestive systems to be alkaline and acidic at the same time. Unfortunately, many of the typical Western food combinations ask the body to do just that.
Here is the lowdown on food combining, and how you can pair foods to improve your digestion and gut health and have more energy.
Poor Food Combinations
There are many examples of poorly combined meals:
- Meat + Potatoes
- Chicken + Biscuits
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
- Fish + Chips
- Hot Dog
And the list goes on.
Eating any of these combinations requires the starch and protein digestive processes to work at cross-purposes.
What essentially happens is that they neutralize each other. Neither the protein nor the starch gets digested properly, which can lead to fermentation, which feeds yeast and fungus.
This chain reaction disrupts the digestion of all the foods we eat.
Symptoms or poor digestion
Common symptoms of impaired digestion include:
- stomach pains
- indigestion or heartburn
- irregular bowel movements
- disrupted sleep
- bad breath
- skin issues
Poor digestion is so common that we accept these symptoms as a normal part of life.
Strategic food combining can help improve your digestion to achieve better health.
My 60-Day Reset utilizes recipes and meal plans that incorporate food combining principles to improve gut health and digestion.
I included the strategy of food combining into my eating program after experiencing the benefits in my own life.
I suffered with the stereotypical vegetarian “lentil gas” and severe bloating (where I had to lie on my stomach to get rid of the gas), and after implementing food combining in my daily life, I don't have gas and bloating, I sleep so much better, and I have so much more energy!
Do you ever feel tired and lethargic after you eat?
Digestion is like an athletic endeavor and can demand a lot of energy! If we support our digestion with strategies like food combining (and consuming probiotic promoting foods, staying hydrated, exercising etc), we can achieve better health and have more energy.
Poor digestion can put a strain on the liver, our all-important regenerative and detox organ, which we want working at its best for better health.
A flexible approach to food combining
Through my own experience, and by facilitating my health programs) my team of dietitians and I have found strategic food combining to be an extremely effective tool to achieve better health.
However, food combining sensitivities vary from person to person. Some people are more sensitive to certain food combinations than others.
For example, the saying, “melon on its own or leave it alone” refers to not combining melon with any other food including other fruits. Melon goes through the body faster than any other food, in about 20 minutes. So, eating melon with others foods (as we often do) can cause extreme digestive issues and fermentation.
Some people can tolerate eating melon with others foods, and other people cannot. (I experience a lot of bloating when I eat melon with other foods.)
I believe in bio-individuality, and listening to your body, and making data-driven decisions about your health in consultation with your doctor and medical practitioners. The, employing strategies and building better eating habits based on data and tests.
I pay attention to how foods combine in my body, but I am not dogmatic. I embrace a flexible approach to food combining. I practice better food combining at home, and then dine out with friends and eat traditional food combinations and eat my favorite dishes just like anybody else. (And, boy, do I feel the difference.) But, life is about balance and joy.
And, food combining isn’t quite as simple as distinguishing concentrated foods from everything else. There are also subcategories of food that combine better with certain others.
I’m not a food-combining fundamentalist. Rigid rules just aren’t much fun. But, employing some of these strategies has really helped me.
Keeping a few of these principles in mind, you may want to experiment.
Principle #1: Eat only fruit until noon
Food-combining purists say that fruit is best eaten on its own to support better digestion.
Because the liver works hardest to eliminate toxins between midnight and midday in a 24 hour sleeping and activity cycle, food combining supporters say it can be helpful to only eat fruit until noon each day.
Digesting fruit doesn’t require action by the liver, so to support better cleansing, traditional food combiners consume fruit alone in the a.m. hours.
Fruit is a great replenisher of fluids after a night of rest and moves quickly from the stomach into the small intestine. A fruit breakfast leaves the stomach ready for a more varied lunch.
As extreme as this sounds, I have found eating fruit for breakfast works for me, to give me energy and help offload toxins after a night of rest and regeneration.
However, I find that combining fruit with protein fats (nuts and seeds), and leafy greens is better for me.
Lower sugar fruits (berries, kiwi, grapefruit) combined well with “protein fats” (nuts, seeds) and veggie-fruits (avocado, cucumber, tomato, bell peppers, coconut), and leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, beet greens, collard greens, romaine, lettuces, arugula, dandelion greens).
Leafy greens and veggie-fruits noted above, are my go-to staples. These are the "magic" or "star" foods that combine well with all foods. I blend them together in green smoothies, cold soups, and salads.
Unfortunately, sweet fruits do not combine well with concentrated starches (grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets) and animal proteins (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy) which typically take three to four hours to digest.
Fruit is often recommended for "cleansing", but when it’s trapped in the longer digestive cycle of concentrated food, fruit can ferment and produce acid and alcohol in the digestive tract, which can feed yeast, fungus, and bacteria.
After you eat a starch or animal protein meal, it’s best to wait at least five hours to eat fruit to support better gut health and digestion.
Principle #2: Pair proteins with non starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
When we consume concentrated proteins (meat, poultry, fish, eggs), the stomach cranks up the hydrochloric acid and the protein-digesting enzyme pepsin. As noted above, this is not a good environment for the digestion of starches.
Proteins are best combined with non-starchy vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, asparagus, onions) or with sea vegetables (nori, kombu, wakame, arame, hijiki, and dulse), all of which happily digest in both a protein or starch-friendly environment. Leave 3 to 4 hours between a protein meal and a starch meal.
Principle #3: Combine grains and starchy vegetables with non starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
Non-grain starches (potatoes, sweet potato, winter squashes, beets) can be combined with grains and pseudo grains (rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth).
These starchy foods also work well with non-starchy vegetables and sea vegetables.
Classic combos like vegetable curry with grains, pasta with tomato-based sauce, and baked potatoes with salad or coleslaw go together not only for flavor and texture, but also for health reasons.
Principle #4: Protein fats go with non starchy vegetables and sea vegetables
The protein fats include nuts, seeds, olives, and cheeses.
These combine well with non-starchy vegetables, sea vegetables, and fruits.
I put protein fats and fruits in smoothies and desserts, and also pair nuts and seeds with leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables in salads.
Principle #5: Protein starches are difficult to digest so consume sparingly
Beans (including legumes), are classified as “protein starches” (they are both a protein and a starch), and they contain phytates (enzyme inhibitors), and as such, can be difficult to digest.
Soaking dry beans with a strip of kombu (seaweed) before cooking can help neutralize some phytic acid, and can alleviate some of the gas and bloating that can occur.
However, even when you cook beans from scratch instead of consuming canned beans, these protein starches can still be problematic, and are best eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
If you are going to eat beans (they loaded with plant protein and fiber), combine them with non-starchy vegetables and sea vegetables to aid better digestion.
Food combining may seem like a big hassle. But, there are flavorful foods that combine well with everything: vegetable fruits (avocado, tomatoes, bell peppers, summer squashes, zucchini) and leafy greens.
Non-starchy foods, including sea vegetables, also combine well with most things.
Note: A major reason that processed foods have so many adverse side effects is that most contain sugar. Sugar combines well with nothing. So, the less of it you consume, the sweeter your life will be.
Food combining is less restrictive than it seems. It calls for a bit of thinking and planning about how, when, and what you eat together.
But, give it a try. You may be amazed at how effective it is and how much better you feel.
GOOD FOOD COMBINATIONS
protein (animal or plant) + non-starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
starchy vegetables + non-starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
protein fats (nuts and seeds) + fruits
protein fats + non-starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
protein fats + sea vegetables
protein + fats or oils
leafy greens - anything
- bell peppers – red, green, orange yellow
- squash and zucchini
- avocado (also a fruit)
- coconut (also a fruit)
- animal (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, yogurt)
- beans (both starch and protein)
- nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts)
- seeds (hemp, chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, watermelon, sesame)
- bamboo shoots
- beet greens
- bok choy
- brussels sprouts
- burdock root
- collard greens
- dandelion greens
- green beans
- lamb’s quarters
- mustard greens
- onion (white, yellow, purple, green)
- red radishes
- swiss chard
- zucchini (a vegetable fruit)
Grains and Starchy Vegetables
- jerusalem artichokes
- lima beans
- potatoes and sweet potatoes
- water chestnuts
- winter squash (acorn, butternut, kabocha, pumpkin)
- The Raw Energy Bible by Leslie Kenton
- Fit For Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
- Food Combining by Lee Dubelle
- Food Combining For Health by Doris Grant and Jean Joice
- Food Combining Made Easy by Dr Herbert Sheldon