The idea of food combining is an ancient one, practiced for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and spirituality. However, the modern, Western conception of food combining is not spiritual and it is controversial.
Proponents believe that combining foods properly leads to good digestion and prevents infections and cancer. Opponents admit that it can’t do any harm, but that food combining is completely unnecessary.
Evidence suggests that food combining may not be an important or necessary practice for the average person with good digestion. But if you eat well, yet still struggle with gas, indigestion, heartburn, and other gut issues, you may want to give food combining a try. It certainly can’t hurt.
What is Food Combining?
Food combining is the idea that eating certain foods together and keeping certain foods separate will help you digest food better and will also help you absorb nutrients more effectively. When considering food combining, there are a few different categories of foods: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are further broken down into fruits and starches.
Some food combining plans break these down even further: fruits can be acid, sub-acid, or sweet and starches can be grains, starchy vegetables, or non-starchy vegetables. Some plans don’t include fat as a separate food, but include it with proteins.
Here are the simplest rules of food combining:
- Never eat protein and starches together. Digesting protein and starch requires different enzymes and other chemicals. To digest each most effectively, they need to be eaten separately. You should wait two to three hours between eating one before you have the other. Proteins include any meat, but also nuts, seeds, and beans. Starches are grains as well as starchy vegetables like potatoes, squashes, pumpkin, peas, corn, and artichokes.
- Eat starches with non-starchy vegetables. Neither starches nor non-starches interfere with each other when being digested, so they can be eaten together at meals. Non-starchy vegetables include greens, zucchini, green beans, celery, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, onions, peppers, and other vegetables.
- Eat fruits alone. Fruits are only mechanically digested in the stomach, not chemically. If eaten with other foods, it is thought, fruit will get left behind to rot in the gut. This may feed yeast and other unhealthy pathogens. Fruit combining can get more detailed. Some suggest you should never combine high-acid fruits, like citrus and pineapple, with sweet fruits, like bananas, dates, figs, or grapes.
- Never eat melons with anything else. According to proponents of food combining, melon doesn’t digest well with any other food, including other fruits. Avoid eating cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and any other type of melon with any other kind of food.
Some food combining plans get much more complicated with lists of rules and sub-rules, including how to eat pure fats, when and if to eat dairy, and how to eat cultured or fermented foods and beverages. For the beginner food combiner, the simple rules are a good place to start.
Food Combining and Digestion
The main point of food combining is to improve digestion. Anyone interested in nutrition and diet, whether proponents or opponents of food combining, will agree that our modern, western diet has caused us some serious digestive issues. Our ancestors had, and people in other parts of the world still have, a natural and healthy diet, which produces a varied and full micro-ecosystem of bacteria in the gut. This ecosystem aids digestion.
The western lifestyle, including diet, has depleted this ecosystem, which is why so many of us struggle with indigestion. In one study, researchers compared the gut bacteria of children in Europe with those in Africa eating a diet similar to what our ancestors ate several thousands of years ago. The African children had many more bacteria, which allowed them to digest fiber better, to get more energy from food, and to avoid certain infectious and non-infectious diseases of the digestive tract.
Recreating a better ecosystem in our guts may be complicated. More research is needed to figure out just how we can reintroduce bacterial species that aid digestion. In the meantime, for anyone struggling with indigestion, food combining can be a practical solution.
Ancient Ayurvedic Food Combining
If you’re interested in food combining from both a practical and a spiritual perspective, you might consider working with a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. This ancient Indian tradition includes a lot of holistic and natural approaches to wellness, including proper food combining. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that every food has a unique taste, energy and digestive effect. Combining foods with different qualities slows and confuses digestion.
Ayurvedic medicine also says that each person is unique in how they digest foods and absorb nutrients. An experienced practitioner can guide you to an individualized eating plan that includes food combinations that are best for your needs. The rules of Ayurvedic food combining are complicated to the uninitiated. This is another reason to work with an experienced practitioner.
Practicing Food Combining with Smoothies
If you love your smoothies, you may be reading the rules of food combining with dismay. Blending a smoothie is the ultimate in combining a lot of different foods in one easy meal. It’s what makes smoothies so nutritious, delicious, and convenient. If you think you want to try food combining to eliminate digestive issues, you don’t have to ditch your smoothies. You can practice food combining with smoothies. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Make all-fruit smoothies. Probably the most difficult food combining rule for a smoothie enthusiast is eating fruits alone. You’re probably used to mixing fruit with proteins like yogurt and with vegetables to. To obey the laws of food combining, just separate out the ingredients. Create fruit-only smoothies and use ice and water or tea for your liquids. Ideally use primarily berries that don’t contain as much sugar as most fruit. Eat these in the morning as food combining suggests fruit should be avoided later in the day.
- Separate your acidic and sweet fruits. If you want to get more detailed about fruit combining, some proponents suggest you should not combine sweet and acid fruits. Bananas, a staple of most smoothie recipes, are sweet and should not be combined with citrus, pineapple, pomegranate or any other fruits with sour notes.
- Include non-starchy vegetables in fruit smoothies. Many non-starchy vegetables are actually fruits, so you can bend the rules a little and include them in your morning fruit smoothies. These include bell peppers, tomatoes, avocados, and cucumbers. Greens are also considered acceptable to pair with many fruits, so consider throwing some spinach or kale into your fruit smoothie.
- Make a protein-rich smoothie for later in the day. Use yogurt, milk, nut milks, and nut butters as your proteins, ice to thicken, and honey or stevia to sweeten a protein-rich smoothie since you can’t use fruit. You can include non-starchy vegetables in this smoothie, but avoid starches like pumpkin, sweet potato or grains.
- Include spices to improve digestion. Ayurvedic practitioners have long been using spices to improve digestion and to overcome the effects of bad food combinations. Use ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and cardamom to enhance your smoothie flavors and to make them easier to digest. This is my favorite food combining tip :)
- If you are consuming more than one smoothie a day wait a few hours in between different types of smoothies. Food combining rules state that your digestive tract needs time to work on different kinds of food. Having a fruit smoothie followed by a protein smoothie soon after defeats the purpose of food combining. Wait two to three hours between eating your segregated smoothies.
Smoothie Recipes to Try
Here are a couple of recipes to get you started on food combining with smoothies. The fruit smoothie is great for breakfast, while the green smoothie is perfect for lunch time. Use these and the other recipes on this site as inspiration to create your own tasty recipes.
Basic Fruit Smoothie
- 1/2 cup water or herbal tea
- 1/2 cup ice
- 1 cup mixed berries
- 1/2 apple (don’t use a sour, Granny Smith apple)
Blend together until you get a good consistency. You can leave out some or all of the ice if you use frozen instead of fresh berries.
Basic Green Smoothie
- 1/2 cup water or green tea
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 cup greens (spinach or kale)
- 1/2 cucumber
- A pinch of fresh or powdered ginger
- A few ice cubes
- 1/2 tablespoon honey to sweeten
Blend the ingredients together until you get a nice consistency. The avocado gives you the protein and fat you need to stay full, while the greens are packed with nutrients and the ginger aids digestion.
Improving Digestion Beyond Food Combining
Food combining is just one tactic to alleviate digestive problems. My approach to every problem is to find the root cause and address that. If you suffer from a digestive issue odds are your gut needs to heal. My number one recommendation for healing the gut is through the consumption of bone broth. Check out my article for more information:
Bone Broth: Traditional and Superior Superfood
In addition, these articles contain information on crafting smoothies for those with digestive problems:
Digestive Issues: Smoothies to the Rescue
What’s been your experience with food combining – has avoiding certain food combos alleviated your issues? Please share in the comments below.
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