Food Combining


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.

Food Combining

Aging & Recovery

creaky old woman To loosely paraphrase, aging, like death and taxes, is hard to avoid. After a pretty good run (pushing my way towards 50 this fall), some classic signs of fossilizing have been popping up. In the past two years, I’ve: 1) gotten reading glasses, 2) had a few angry, tired-out organs surgically removed, 3) spotted my first gray hairs, 4) wrestled with no longer sleeping well, and, 5) been freaked out about how much more noticeably tired I am on average.

I didn’t used to panic about aging, probably because I didn’t notice any issues until recently. But now I have some major fears. Topping the list? 1) Not having a plan/care/money for when I’m ancient, 2) losing my mobility/independence/mind, and, 3) developing anything that my father had (take your pick: heart attacks, multiple strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes. And so NOT helping? My mom just reminded me when I was home this past May that I’m now the age when my father was diagnosed with diabetes. Gggrreeeaattt. Now I’m terrified of sugar…)

Of course, aging also affects my swimming, namely the amount of recovery now required. As an age grouper, I used to swim three-day meets over long weekends — multiple events, prelims and finals – then head right back to doubles on Monday, no ill effect. This July, I swam five events in two days (heats only, and not even a full distance slate), and felt like I’d been run over by a truck the following two days. I wanted to sleep through days one and two, then sit on the couch and eat an entire “family-sized” bag of cheesy-fish crackers on day three. (Alas, I did not do either.)

Sure, some of my post-meet sore, draggy-ness might be attributed to training at altitude, competing at sea level, then going right back to altitude. Bad air quality (from smog in the Bay Area to a raging wild fire at home) is also probably partly to blame. And, it has been a super stressful year so far.

But I can’t deny the aging factor, especially when I’ve improved in so many other areas per managing myself while competing — better nutrition, massage, hydration with fancy electrolytes, and no longer running around the entire meet like a crazed age grouper hopped up on dry Jell-O (shout out to anyone who remembers eating this during meets!)

Unfortunately, I’m only realizing now that I’ve been on the “rusting into old age” pathway for a while. Other tell-tale signs from the pool? Some types of back-to-back practices are really tough on my body (e.g. two distance or sprint days in a row, anything that requires going off the block a lot.) I frequently start off practice pretty sore and tired. I need more warm up on good days. It’s “distressing” to think about what’s next — beginning every practice feeling creaky? Down to just one event per meet? In-pool starts? Major health or joint issues? Will the 50 fly become my current 200 “distance” fly?

I’ll never quit swimming, it offers me too much – I love to train, (especially outside), try new pools, meet new people, tweak in hope of improvement, and staying fit. It is, however, time to think about making training, racing, and recovery adjustments. Which means it’s time for one of my favorite phases — guinea pig! I’ll research, read, and test, and then report back this fall and winter; stay tuned!

Aging & Recovery

Quarterly Housekeeping

sweep up.jpgEvery quarter or so I like offer follow ups (if I have them) on topics I’ve written about; here’s the spring recap:

Watching Garmin YouTubes: Total fail. Haven’t watched another since the one on how to switch the battery. But to be fair, there’s been no “normal” or “routine” for me since, oh, maybe January. Learning to maximize my Garmin is still one of my goals and thus watching clips online is still on my summer to-do list.

Pre-practice fuel: I’ve had to do some tinkering over the past few months. I started off with a small amount of Cocoa Koala Crisps and hemp milk, but that mix didn’t offer much staying power (too much sugar, and need fuel for about two and a half hours to get door to door per morning swim practice). I tried a few bites of quinoa and sweet potato next, but this combo was too much food in my tummy to swim on with less than 30 minutes digestion time. Plus, it was too time-consuming to constantly cook and stock. Third time’s a charm here though, as then I tried a half- cup each of hemp and rice milks with one tablespoon hemp powder. Not only is all-liquid fuel quicker and easier to digest, I don’t get hungry or hit the wall too badly, and this blend has the added bonus of offering extra hydration (I also drink water with electrolytes before, during, and after every practice.)

 Weights: I did a bit better here, eight workouts total in May (two each week), which was more consistent and a higher number than anything I did February-April. Having said that, the prior total workout number bar was pretty low (five.) But my body’s ready for another change up (topping out at weights/reps during current routine), so that’s a good training improvement sign.

Settling in: Almost two months in, I feel much more accustomed to my new team, sets, and drills. I’ve officially switched LMSCs (CMS to Pacific). The waviness in the SCY pool still has me feeling like a cork tossed about in an ocean during pull and fly sets, but am getting better about keeping my head down and just swimming. (I also hope the upcoming switch to LCM will offer a respite for the summer). The 5:30 a.m. practice start still is a bit of an adjustment. I am waking up more easily at 4:45 a.m. but still find I need a nap on a lot of practice days. Thus, “improved sleep” remains a key goal…

Stress: I’d love to tell you my level has dramatically decreased, or that I discovered awesome ways to instantly relax, but neither has happened yet. And it’s not likely to for the next several months. Thinking about it of course, stresses me out more. Especially when I read all those “biggest ways to improve your health” articles – I’d get an “A” if not for “stress management.” And it seems that stress does correlate to a lot of icky diseases. Must…get…on…top…of…this…

Next week: Passion Flower as a Sleep Aid

Quarterly Housekeeping



IMG_0214 It’s no secret that digestion is not one of my super powers. It never has been, probably never will be. It might because I was premature (didn’t quite “finish”), or just a personal physical quirk. Certainly, “fossilizing” (losing digestive enzymes during middle age is a common aging event), is now part of it, but my body has never liked a lot of foods nor digested well what it does tolerate.

As such, improving digestion has been a long-term goal of mine. Following basic food combining tenets, avoiding known irritants, and taking daily digestive enzymes and probiotics all have been the norm for years, but I’m always interested in trying something new that might bring additional benefits.

Drinking kombucha tea is an ancient habit that’s making a big comeback. It’s fermentation/yeast properties have been touted as an elixir for many health ailments, including balky digestion. Of course, other fermented foods toting equal health benefits are available, but I’m not a fan of kimchi (can’t have it due to it’s pepperflakes) or sauerkraut, and regular yogurt still isn’t cultured enough for me to tolerate well (dairy makes me super congested.)

Also in kombucha favor is that it’s readily available in a variety of tea and juice options, and affordable – my fave brand, GT’s Synergy Chia, is less than $3/bottle and provides me with three servings. You can make kombucha at home, but I doubt I’ll bother because it’s just as easy and affordable to get a week’s supply at the store.

I’ve been drinking about one-third of a bottle each day, about an hour before lunch (my tummy appreciates digesting just one thing at a time as much as possible) for the past month. I haven’t had a bad reaction, and am definitely seeing improvement – my stomach is calmer with much fewer aches.

From nutrition standpoint, GT’s Synergy Chia isn’t crazy-high in anything: sugar (2g), carbs (7g), calories (about 50 as am drinking less than the two-serving amount), and offers protein (2g) and fiber 4g) in addition to all the bennies of kombucha. And, my tummy high fives the three ingredient label – 100% juice, chia seeds, kombucha.

I know many people who don’t like the taste of kombucha, but I like it’s fruity-with-a tart-tang-after-taste. I also love the chia seeds included in this Syngery label, it reminds me of a fave treat, bubble tea (fruit ice tea with tapioca pearls.)

The only downside to kombucha I can identify at this stage is the need for refrigeration, being a “keep refrigerated at all times” product. I doubt I’ll ever guzzle a full bottle in one sitting (and I don’t always have access to a fridge when traveling) but you never know… On the whole though, kombucha is tasty, easy, and affordable, so it’s a keeper per the daily regimen.

Next week: Quarterly Housekeeping


Reducing Chemical Exposure & Why

toxic image  Living with tons of allergies and sensitivities can get real old real fast, particularly during a “random flare”—a strong reaction to some unknown irritant. Not only do you have to tamp down symptoms, you need to identify what set off the autoimmune response.

My latest flare was odd. It felt like just my lips spent the day swimming in the ocean then becoming sunburned on the beach. Think: swollen, dry, and irritated. Most puzzling was that it happened at all. If you’re like me, you don’t try new things on a whim. You live in a carefully controlled bubble amidst your few proven-non-reactionary foods, cleansers, bath products, etc.

Although, having just written that, you can suddenly react to a product you’ve used safely for years. When that happens, it’s one of two things: 1) the formula’s changed (yet packaging lacks a splashy “better than ever before!” shout-out, which for people like me translates to “Code Red! Re-check ingredients!” And yes, I’m talking to you, Go Veggie!, for recently adding coconut oil and potato starch, making your rice “cheese” now off limits for me), or 2) you’ve developed an over-use intolerance, which happens more than you think. Likely because it’s one of five items you actually can eat, so you eat it each meal, every day…

Lip balm is one of my few regular-use products. But, I hadn’t switched brands, “flavors” or even tubes lately, so I didn’t think it was the culprit. Instead, I targeted black pepper—not the finely powdered stuff that sits on store shelf exposed to light endlessly and thus has no kick, but the fresh, whole-seed kind from a spice store. Testing was simple—stop adding freshly cracked to my food. Sure enough, within 24 hours, my lips were no longer irritated.

A minor blip easily solved, and the cycle also sparked a chemical-exposure audit. I react a lot to chemicals (think: dyes, scents, additives and more), so reducing my reaction loop equals better health. Unfortunately, today’s world is rife with chemicals—pool chlorine levels, people who bathe in perfume/aftershave, detergents (e.g. the cleaning aisle in the store, on clothes/towels of others, when the neighbors do laundry) and much, much more.

That’s why I try to limit my chemical exposure in realms I can control a bit by going “all natural” as much as possible—making food from scratch using organic ingredients as mush as possible, emphasizing whole foods over processed, making my own lotion, cleaning with vinegar, I don’t wear makeup, when I get a hair trim I ask that they don’t use any products, etc. After the most recent chemicals audit I stopped using a hair curl enhancer (the scent never really agreed with me, and already feel a bit less congested 24/7) and am contemplating no longer polishing my nails. I don’t do them often, and I love the look, but it’s just so much chemical-y layers sitting on your nails for weeks…

Next week: Kombucha

Reducing Chemical Exposure & Why

Why October-December and Sometimes April Are My Health Struggle Months

wellness image Last week I caught Ken Classen, who I hadn’t seen lately, at the pool. Turns out he wasn’t swimming because I may have inadvertently cursed him—he got sick the day I posted about his super ability to swim through being ill!

And, after hearing how he had to cancel the same January San Francisco open water trip two years in a row because of illness, I understand why he’s spooked. I’m the same way, but my “I don’t want to book until the very last minute in case I’m sick” window is October through December.

I’m not sure what prompts Ken’s January flu, but I know my red flags that (especially when combined) wear me down while spiking inflammation in my body, which make me most susceptible to getting sick during the last quarter of every year:

Dry, forced heat is turned on within buildings: Rarely cleaned vents and ducts harbor decades of accumulated dust and crud that irritates my asthma and allergies, which I then breathe in once the heat is turned on for the season. Buildings are also less likely to circulate fresh air October-December because they seal up their spaces until spring to save on heating costs.

Special occasion food temptation: My birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s—it’s a lot of not-for-me holiday food to evade. I do my best to pre-plan with some dishes and treats that are still “special” to me but won’t cause a reaction, but it can be tough to pass up on everything one-hundred percent, especially when holiday delicacies are everywhere.

Leaves fall from trees: One of the prettiest hallmarks of fall, yes, but once leaves hit the ground they mold, and mold is probably my worst allergy. Then there’s the leaf blowing penchant—air-born mold that just resettles elsewhere if you don’t bag the leaves. Not helping!

General draggy-ness: “Falling back” for day light savings is up there with “closing the outdoor 50m pool” among the annual days I dread. Post-fall DSL feels so forced-dark, which I find very tiring. And for whatever the reason, adapting to the new hour seems to take longer than one time zone adjustment when traveling.

People with various bugs walking around: It’s hard to avoid exposure when it seems like everyone has the new strain of the plague. And did I mention that I’m already pretty vulnerable for other reasons during flu season?

Less fresh air and sun light exposure: Cold snaps, heavy snowfall and fewer outdoor exercise options (e.g. bike trails are iced over, the majority of outdoor pools are closed, shorter days) all add up to my daily outdoor hours dropping from an average of 4-6 hours to 1-2 (and on some days [think: blizzards!] am inside the entire time…)

April is my other iffy-health month. Many of the fall-winter conditions are reversing, which is helpful for me, but two key factors tend to make me susceptible to illness:

Blooming plants, trees and grasses: All of which pump pollen into the air, another major asthma/allergy trigger for me. Some springs I squeak by though—when it’s cooler and not very windy. Or, when a lot of rain washes away pollen.

Flu shot wears off: I try to get my flu shot mid-October or early November so I’m covered through May, but there have been years when I’ve gotten a mild case of the flu late April or early May, which is super vexing because by then I always think I’m home free for the year.

They always say “awareness is the first step” when addressing an issue, but I am aware of the triggers to susceptibility. Other than avoiding the triggers, I’m not sure what more I can do…I’ll always keep looking for anything new to try that boosts my immune system though (and share what I learn, of course!)

Next week: Swim Snob? You Decide!

Why October-December and Sometimes April Are My Health Struggle Months

What I Can Eat

Last week I shared my rather intimidating limitations list—foods I can’t eat due to sensitivities. Today, the happier flip side—what I can eat:


Greens, especially my fave, kale!, cabbage, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, radish, kohlrabi, carrot, brussel sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, olives, apples, cherries, berries, dried fruits.


Eggs, chicken, beef, turkey (the last three roasted in particular!)

Seeds (sunflower, quinoa, sesame, flax, hemp, pumpkin, chia)


Dark chocolate (the rumors are true—I have some at every meal), sunbutter (sunflower seed butter), oils (olive, avocado, etc.) ghee (it’s clarified butter, which resolves the dairy lactose issue.)


Rice is a grass, not a grain, thus I can have it. Thanks to the explosion of rice products, this category is a lot like the famous scene from Forrest Gump, just substitute “rice” for “shrimp:” brown, white, black, wild, jasmine, purple, rice cakes, rice crackers, rice tortillas, rice milk, rice bread, rice pasta, rice noodles…


Sorbet and “acceptable” salty-crunchies (Mary’s Gone Crackers sea salt “pretzels,” wasabi rice crackers—but as I’ll eat an entire packet at one meal, I try not to have them in the house!), and the occasional “acceptable” baked good.

Right about now, I can hear careful readers thinking, “but there are foods that don’t appear on either list.” You’re correct! You’d think that with the limitations I face, I’d be thrilled to include as many foods as possible, but no. I’m born picky eater and proud. So there’s one more category: Foods that I can eat, but won’t, because they gross me out (i.e. pork, fish, shellfish, celery, and more.)

I’ve never been (or will be) a “good eater.” As such, I field a lot of questions. Here’s a Q&A round of the most common ones:

Q: What do you eat during a typical day?

A: Breakfast: salad with homemade dressing, chocolate. Lunch: homemade soup or leftovers, salad or veggies, hot cocoa with rice milk or dark chocolate, some sort of “crunchy” (usually Mary’s Gone Crackers “pretzels.” Dinner: Protein (chicken, steak, turkey) with rice, quinoa, or sweet potato, veggies or salad, chocolate. Snacks: Slice of toasted rice bread or an apple with sunbutter; handful of pumpkin seeds or you guessed it—dark chocolate.

Q: Do you eat the same foods all the time?

A: Yes.

Q: Does it bother you?

A: Most of the time, no. My safe foods are comforting, and well, “safe.” For the most part, food scares me. But sometimes it’s hard when everyone’s eating something that seems really fun and yummy and I can’t have it (see next question.)

Q: Do you ever cheat?

A: Heck yeah. Just a week ago or so, I had an unfortunate run-in with Parmesan pita chips. But I don’t slip up as much as I used to, maybe once every six months or so now. Currently, it seems to occur with the trifecta of being really tired, being really tired of the same ol’ same ol’ food, and something really tempting is right in front of me. For better or worse, cheating is self-correcting though—after I yak it up I recall that, “maintaining ‘feeling good’ feels way better than any no-no food will taste.”

Q: What’s your favorite meal?

A: My go-to nur-nur* meal is poached eggs on either rice toast or baked sweet potato fries with kale chips (and chocolate of course.)

Q: Do you eat out?

A: Not so much. As you can imagine, food kind of scares me. It’s even scarier when I don’t know how it’s prepared. And, yakking up food right after paying for it seems like a huge waste of money…but, when I do eat out, it is usually some form of “pollo con arroz.” Yep, every ethnic cuisine has some version of “chicken and rice.”

Q: What “best practices” do you recommend for others with limited diets?

A: –Prepare your own food as much as possible

–Make safe substitutions whenever possible (e.g. clove instead of pepper for spiciness)

–Have a “safe” snack with you at all times

–Dishes with a just few, but most nutritious ingredients, are most digestible

–Avoid processed foods as much as possible

–Avoid becoming too hungry at any time

–Special events: eat a little before attending, bring safe foods with you and have a treat (doesn’t have to be food related) picked out for post-event.

–Read labels every time (packaged food ingredients change all the time)

–Check the menu in advance then call with questions

–Bring a dish you can eat and enjoy to potlucks

In conclusion, yes, my diet is rather limited. But it’s pretty healthy by today’s norm because it’s heavy on vegetables, fruits, and healthy proteins and fats while keeping processed foods to a minimum.

*A phrase coined by my mom to denote something that’s soothing.

Next week: Swim Anxiety

What I Can Eat