Food Combining



Use this simple guide with food combining charts to combine foods for better digestion and health.

Food Combining

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, anything 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. It’s not possible. 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 have more energy.

Poor Food Combinations 

There are many examples of poorly combined foods in popular Western dishes.

  • Meat + Potatoes
  • Chicken + Biscuits
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs
  • Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
  • Fish + Chips
  • Hot Dog
  • Hamburgers

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, leading 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
  • bloating
  • gas
  • indigestion or heartburn

Sound familiar?

Because poor digestion is so common that we accept these symptoms as a normal part of life.

It is not.

And, with proper food combining you can eradicate these symptoms.

Proper food combining not only eradicated my stereotypical vegetarian “lentil gas”, it also improved my assimilation and absorption of nutrients, giving me more energy.

Do you ever feel tired and lethargic after you eat?

Digestion is like an athletic endeavor and can demand more energy than strenuous exercise. If we help it along, we don’t feel zapped. Poor digestion leaves less energy for vitality. Worse, it puts a strain on the liver, our all-important regenerative and detox organ, which we want working at its best.

A flexible approach to food combining 

I find food combining to have broad-reaching success. However, 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. So, eating melon with others foods (as we often do) can cause extreme digestive issues and fermentation.

I believe in bio-individuality and in building habits based on experience as well as on received information. I pay attention to how foods combine, but I’m not dogmatic. I cook and dine out with as much abandon as the next person.

Food combining isn’t quite as simple as distinguishing concentrated foods from everything else. There are also subcategories of food that combine best 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. Your liver works hardest to eliminate toxins between midnight and midday.

Digesting fruit doesn’t require action by the liver, so to support optimal 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.

But, I combine fruits with protein fats and leafy greens.

As a general rule, sour or acidic fruits (grapefruits, kiwis, and strawberries) can be combined with “protein fats” such as avocado, coconut, coconut kefir, and sprouted nuts and seeds.

Both acid fruits and sub-acid fruits like apples, grapes, and pears can be eaten with cheeses; and vegetable fruits (avocados, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers) can be eaten with fruits, vegetables, starches, and proteins.

I’ve also found that apples combine well with raw vegetables. Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens), along with the vegetable fruits noted above, are my go-to staples. They are the magic foods that combine well with every food on the planet. I blend them together in green smoothies, cold soups, and salads.

As melons digest faster than any other food, a food-combining motto is “melon on its own or leave it alone.” I find I tolerate melon with other fruits, but discover what works best for you.

Unfortunately, sweet fruits do not combine well with concentrated starches and proteins, which typically take three to five hours to digest. Fruit is often recommended for cleansing, but when it’s trapped in the longer digestive cycle of concentrated food, fruit ferments and produces acid and alcohol, which feeds yeast, fungus, and bacteria.

After you eat a starch or protein meal, it’s best to wait at least five hours to have fruit.

Principle #2: Pair proteins with non starchy vegetables or sea vegetables 

When we consume concentrated proteins (meat, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh), 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 such as spinach, carrots, onions, and broccoli, 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 4 to 5 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 like potatoes, corn, fresh peas, winter squashes, and artichokes can be combined with rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, and other grains.

These starchy foods also work well with non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens 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 avocado, nuts, seeds, cheeses, and olives.

These combine best with sea vegetables and other non-starchy vegetables and with acid fruits.

I put avocados in green smoothies, use them with nuts and seeds to make desserts, and serve them in salads with non-starchy vegetables.

Principle #5: Protein starches are difficult to digest so consume sparingly

Beans (including legumes), classified as “protein starches” (both a protein and a starch), are difficult to digest.

Soaking beans or dried peas with a strip of kombu helps alleviate some of the gas.However, even with every strategy in the book to reduce the inherent gassy quality of beans, these protein starches are still problematic, and are best kept to a minimum.

If you are going to eat them (they are delicious and loaded with plant-based protein), combine them with non-starchy vegetables and sea vegetables for the most efficient digestion.

This may all sound like a hassle, but there are flavorful foods that combine well with everything: vegetable fruits 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.

Food combining is less restrictive than it seems. It calls for a bit of thinking (and rethinking) about how and when and what you eat. But, give it a try. You may be amazed at how effective it is and how much better you feel.

Good Food Combinations 

  • protein + non-starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
  • starchy vegetables + non-starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
  • protein fats (nuts and seeds) + acid fruits
  • protein fats + non-starchy vegetables or sea vegetables
  • protein fats + sea vegetables
  • protein + fats or oils
  • leafy greens – anything

Food Categories 

Food Combining Stars (foods that pair with anything)

  • avocado
  • cucumber
  • leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, lettuces, chard, beet greens)
  • lemons
  • limes
  • tomato
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • wheatgrass

Fruits

  • apple
  • apricot
  • banana
  • berries
  • blackberries
  • blackcurrants
  • blueberries
  • cantaloupe
  • cherries
  • cranberries
  • dates
  • figs
  • grapefruit
  • grapes
  • honeydew
  • kiwi
  • kumquat
  • lemon
  • lime
  • lychees
  • melons
  • mango
  • mulberries
  • nectarine
  • orange
  • papaya
  • peach
  • persimmon
  • pineapple
  • plum
  • pomegranate
  • prunes
  • raspberries
  • strawberries
  • tamarind
  • tangerine
  • watermelon

Vegetable Fruits

  • avocado
  • bell peppers – red, green, orange yellow
  • cucumber
  • tomato
  • squash and zucchini

Protein Fats

  • avocado (also a fruit)
  • cheese
  • coconut (also a fruit)
  • kefir
  • nuts
  • olives
  • seeds
  • yogurt

Protein

  • animal (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, yogurt)
  • beans (both starch and protein)
  • nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts)
  • seeds (hemp, chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, watermelon, sesame)
  • tempeh
  • tofu

Non-Starchy Vegetables

  • arugula
  • asparagus
  • bamboo shoots
  • beet greens
  • bok choy
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • burdock root
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • celeriac
  • celery
  • chives
  • collard greens
  • cucumber
  • daikon
  • dandelion greens
  • endive
  • escarole
  • fennel
  • garlic
  • green beans
  • jicama
  • kale
  • kohlrabi
  • lamb’s quarters
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • mustard greens
  • okra
  • onion (white, yellow, purple, green)
  • parsley
  • red radishes
  • shallots
  • spinach
  • sprouts
  • swiss chard
  • turnip
  • watercress
  • zucchini (a vegetable fruit)

Grains and Starchy Vegetables

  • amaranth
  • buckwheat
  • millet
  • quinoa
  • artichokes
  • corn
  • jerusalem artichokes
  • lima beans
  • peas
  • potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • rice
  • water chestnuts
  • winter squash (acorn, butternut, kabocha, pumpkin)

Sea Vegetables

  • agar
  • arame
  • dulse
  • hijiki
  • kelp
  • kombu
  • nori
  • wakame

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