Food Combining: Myth or Method?

Hey everyone,

Our time is precious, so thank you for taking some of it and visiting my blog. The topic of this post is one of great controversy in the nutrition community. Some say it’s necessary. Others say it’s a myth. I’ll provide the facts and leave it to the reader to decide.

I mentioned in another blog the necessity of food combining, also known as trophology in the scientific community, and the role it plays in the assimilation of the nutrients we consume. If we don’t combine foods properly, then we are hurting ourselves in a number of ways. Remember though, it’s not what we do occasionally that gets us in trouble. It’s what we do day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year that hurts us. We build up a tolerance to our mistakes, and those mistakes accumulate. Proper food combining will allow for better digestion, nutrient assimilation, constipation relief, and weight loss.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom has us in a pickle in this department. We assume that we can eat anything we want, and the stomach can handle it. Our organs have evolved over time to the point that we can process anything. That’s one I’ve heard before. I’m thinking, if that were true, why put the extra burden on our organs if we don’t have to? It’s not what we eat but what we digest and assimilate that adds to our health, strength, and usefulness. Sure, some of the nutrients may get absorbed, but not nearly as much as if we applied proper combining methods. We can eat the best foods in the world, but if they aren’t digested we are just consuming empty calories and wasting the goodness that may be in those foods. Now, let’s dive into some of the details on food combining.

I will start with the hard one.

Proteins and starches should be avoided in the same meal. Yikes. I know. Burger and fries, spaghetti and meatballs, steak and potatoes, chicken and rice, eggs and toast, Italian subs, tacos, and, oh boy, pizza. The list goes on and on.

Why though? Everything is chemistry. Food included. There are only two sides to chemistry: acid and alkaline. Proteins require an acidic medium in the stomach to digest via the enzyme pepsin, and starches require an alkaline medium in the stomach to digest via the enzyme ptyalin that is excreted immediately upon taking your first bite. Basic chemistry tells you that when these two enzymes and foods are eaten together the result will be as neutral as plain water. The protein putrefies, and the starch ferments. Think of leaving a half digested piece of meat or bread in a warm, moist place. That is what moves through our food tube polluting our bodies in the process. There’s a reason why we feel bad and run down after we eat such meals.

I’ll bring some more science in here for you. Back in his heyday, Darwin experimented with carnivorous plants and came across the Drosera plant, which, anatomically speaking, can consume both proteins and starches. The Drosera secretions (similar to pepsin in humans) were able to digest albumen (egg white protein), but once a “starch” was added during the protein consumption the digestive process stopped completely. Only when further acid was added did digestion recommence. Are we plants? Of course not, but we are living organisms with similar digestive features. “Nature never produced a sandwich,” as Dr. Herbert Shelton would say.

A final thought on the protein and starch fiasco. If we REALLY wanted to consume these in the same meal, I would have a large leafy green salad first. What this does is add active enzymes to your stomach. Second, I would eat the protein, and maybe wait a little before eating the starch in order for the acids to get to work and process some of the protein. I realize this may be a hard one to do. I indulge from time to time, but I am way better off now than I used to be. I think back to college and high school, and, jeez, I was eating protein and starch together three meals every day for years.

Eat fruits alone, ideally, on an empty stomach. This one should be an easy one for most people. It makes sense, logically speaking. Fruits are the easiest and quickest foods to digest, and not all foods have the same digestion speeds. Think of the turtle and the hare. Why would we eat a “turtle” food, like a protein or starch, before a “hare” food let alone in the same meal? Personally, if I don’t have a juice prepped, then I break my fast with fruit, and if I do have a juice, my next meal will still be fruit. Ideally, a mono meal of fruit, like 5 apples, 6-7 peaches, quarter of a watermelon, a pound of grapes, etc.

If we are going to eat bananas, I’d make that a separate meal or save them for the end of a fruit meal since they are a little slower to digest due to the lack of water. Some fruits do combine, so don’t worry about that. For example, all berries combine. Peaches, plums, and apricots combine. Most juicy fruits combine fine. The main fruits that we must eat alone are melons. Melons basically bypass the stomach and head straight to the small intestine.

Enjoy one concentrated protein or starch in the same meal. Meaning one meat food or one starch food per meal. Different meats and proteins have different fat contents and digest at different speeds. The idea for starches is more based on the fact of avoiding eating too much in one meal. “Variety is the spice of gluttony,” as Dr. Herbert Shelton would also say. Think about big holiday meals. We can eat 2-3 plates of food, because there are so many options. Our stomach doesn’t realize it’s full. If we ate two or three food items, we will get full a lot quicker. The simpler the meal, the better you’ll feel!

Avoid the combining of starches and sugar. Here’s another tough one. If I had a recommendation, and you are craving pastries, banana bread, or jelly toast, then make that your meal. The reason this combination is an issue is due to the fact that when sugar is taken in, the mouth quickly fills with saliva, but ptyalin is not excreted. Ptyalin is essential for starch digestion, so if we combine the two it will result in fermentation. Don’t worry, butter on toast is fine. Phew.

Drink water either 15-30 minutes before your meals or an hour or longer after your meals. Personally, I don’t touch water until several hours after I eat. Applying this rule will prevent the dilution of the enzymes in your mouth and stomach. If I’m at a restaurant I will drink the glass they provide right away, then I don’t touch it the rest of the meal.

There are some combinations I left out to not overwhelm you, but I think the above is a great start. Just realize what chemistry is. Think of the turtle and the hare when planning out your day’s meals. I read that in the ancient Hebrew writing of Exodus it says, “And Moses said, Jehovah shall give you in the evening, flesh to eat, and in the morning, bread to the full.” This is the earliest record of food combining. Separate the proteins and the starches as much as you can, and you’ll be in good shape.

If you’re interested in weight loss, then you will enjoy this. In 2005, Melanie Hawkins preformed a study at Tennessee State University. The purpose was to study the effects of trophology on two groups of people (ages 18-30 and 31+). They were all at the least 10 pounds over weight and committed to Melanie’s food combining program for 4 weeks. Group A lost an average of 9 pounds and Group B lost an average of 9.3 pounds. Pretty fantastic!

Here are some examples of what we can try and practice for optimal digestion and nutrient assimilation:

Breakfast: Any fruit, ideally fruits that are in season. Try and keep the type of fruits to 3 or fewer. Personally, I just eat one fruit type for my meals, but that’s just me.

Lunch: A veggie salad, one cooked green vegetable, and a starch food. For example, quinoa, wild rice, couscous, sweet potato, or toast for your starch.

Dinner: Large leafy green salad, two non starchy vegetables, and a protein.

When in doubt, have a raw leafy green salad with your starch or protein meals. Leafy greens are the best thing we can eat as far as nutritional density, and their active enzymes aid in the breaking down of the hard foods to digest.

The result of bad combinations cannot be overstated. The accumulation of those foods pollute our bodies and cause traffic jams throughout our digestive tract. Fortunately, the body in its wisdom does everything it can to protect itself. When bad food combinations occur, mucous is excreted in the colon to protect the inner organs from the putrefied proteins and fermented starches, but those foods continue to pile up. The best way to clean that mucous build up is by attempting a juice fast, then applying proper food combining principles upon completion of the fast. If this post on food combining wasn’t enough to convince you, here are 8 reasons you should do a juice fast.

I’ll stop there. I know this is a tough one to read. I’ll admit the first time I read about food combining I slammed the book shut like, “what the heck am I supposed to eat!?” Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems. Remember, the simpler the meal the better you’ll feel. That’s why mono meals work so well. Think of your body as a car and food as the fuel. Mixing together a bunch of different foods in the same meal is like putting gas, oil, water, and sugar in the tank and expecting it to run properly. Eventually, the car will grind to a halt. If you want fruit, wonderful, have fruit. Skip the eggs and yogurt. If you’re craving a steak, sure, have a nice big leafy green salad, some steamed veggies, and a steak. Skip the potato. If you’re craving potatoes, great, same deal. Make the potatoes your meal with some steamed veggies and a salad.

Remember, it’s not what we do occasionally that gets us into trouble. It’s the things we do habitually that tells in the long run. It’s up to you to figure out what “occasionally” means. Good luck to everyone, and I hope you can give it a shot!

If you do, let me know how it goes!

Jeremy

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