This post was inspired by (and thus is dedicated to) the “locker room ladies,” who’ve asked a lot of questions lately about food combining as we’ve prepped after swim practice.
First, the disclaimer: I am not a registered dietician. But, I’ve spent decades reading everything I can get my hands on about diet and nutrition while using myself as guinea pig to find an optimal food pathway among my numerous food sensitivities and allergies. And, as I recently entered this big “I’m 50. I’m aging!” phase, I’m adding a second disclaimer: Your body is always in flux. A diet that really works for you at one stage of your life is still going to need tweaking, or even overhauling, later on (e.g. middle-aged masters swimmers know they can’t eat like they did as a young age grouper or collegiate swimmer!)
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Food combining principals are not new. Rather, think “ancient yogi gurus” and such. Yet, it’s got that new-age-y fad-diet feel despite its long history because not many people are familiar with food combining, and it shares some similarities with other recent popular (e.g. “cave man”) diets.
There are a lot of books that cover (and well, thanks to modern technology now we have the scientific explanation down to the molecular level) all of the fine points of food combining. Therefore, I just want to cover the basics here as in introduction. After all, if this post piques your interest, you can hit your local library for more detailed reading.
In a nutshell, food combining is based on “no magic digestion enzyme.” Most human bodies (there are exceptions – I know people who can’t digest protein, for example) don’t have just one enzyme that can digest all food and drink substances. Instead, there are types of enzymes, each which excel at digesting a certain substance, such as sugar. Trying to digest a whole bunch of different foods (think of any typical American-style meal) is tough on these specialized enzymes. And if they can’t work properly, food is left not-so-digested, which in turn leads to symptoms many are familiar with: Gas, cramping, bloating, headaches, stomach aches, brain fog, and much more.
So…food combining is a diet that defines which food combinations are good (easily digestible) and which aren’t. Here are a few basic principles to get you started:
–Protein and fats is a good combination (beef hamburger with cheese and mayo, no bun though!)
–Protein and complex carb veggies are a good combination (steak with spinach, not baked potato)
–Mixing several proteins in one dish is a bad combination (e.g. a stew of sausage, beef, and chicken, or a mixed-seafood dish)
–Fruit should always be eaten separately (but it’s fine to mix several fruits together, as in fruit salad.)
–High starch-y carbs should be eaten separately (e.g. dry toast, nothing else)
–Veggies can be mixed together (a nice, big tossed salad)
And, to help clarify a bit more, here are some examples of typical dishes and meals, and why they’d be deemed as “good” or “bad” examples of food combing:
–Typical brunch meal of waffles with syrup, fruit salad, scrambled eggs = BAD. (Combines everything! High starch-y waffles, fruit, proteins, and fats.)
–“Meat lovers pizza” = BAD (Another “combines everything!” example with the high –starch crust, the fat from the meats and cheese, proteins from the meats, and fruit from the tomato sauce.)
–Salad of mixed greens, radish, carrot, cucumber, cauliflower, dressing, hard boiled eggs, and ground flax seed = GOOD (mixed greens and veggies are all complex carbs, the dressing and seeds are fat, and the eggs are protein, and fat, protein and complex carbs are a good combination.)
–A handful of whole-grain crackers for a snack = Good, eating high-starch carbs on their own means easier/quicker digestion.
–A piece of fruit for a snack = Good (fruit is best digested on it’s own. You can experiment with how long before your stomach empties and is this ready for another food type. This varies among people.)
–A handful of cheese and nuts together as a snack = Good (fat + protein)
One thing to keep in mind (and here’s why those detailed books come in handy) some foods aren’t what they seem, such as tomatoes being a fruit, not a vegetable, ditto for avocado, and many other seemingly “unusual” classifications. But just think – if you start food combining, you’ll become a whiz at food classification and easily impress others! And, there are some exceptions to the rules that are complicated to explain (e.g. yogurt and fruit is actually a good combo despite being a protein + fat + fruit combination) without the entire scientific explanation of both the breakdown of a food and the chemical reaction in a body.
It’s recommended that you start by following the tenets 100% for at least a few weeks to a month. This way you can see how your body responds before tweaking and fudging a bit to personalize, as in, does your system tolerate chicken, veggies and brown rice well, can you have toast with butter every so often, etc.
Again, this is a very broad swipe of food combining, just to give you a sense of what’s involved. If you’re interested in trying it, I highly recommend reviewing at least one comprehensive book before starting. Good luck, and as always, I love to hear what you have tried and learned, and how you’re faring, so feel free to drop me a line.