How To Combine Foods For Better Digestion

By September 30, 2017Digestive Health, Mindful Eating
food combinations for digestion

Not all foods are created equal. They vary in nutritional composition and will elicit different responses in the body when consumed.

Some foods combine better than others, offering a synergy in nutrition, digestibility and taste.

As each food is unique, they require their own blend of digestive enzymes in order to be broken down.

Even foods that share a similar macronutrient composition, say the carbohydrate from a potato, will require a different digestive environment from that of a parsnip, another starchy root vegetable.

Some people will have stronger digestive fire than others. Food combining is necessary when your digestion is weaker, and allows the digestive system to effectively breakdown, absorb, assimilate and eliminate your food. The efficiency of this process will allow adequate nutrition from each meal.

We depend on the action of our digestive enzymes to ensure we extract and take in the nutrients available to us. So, if we want to maximise the level each meal nourishes us, we should eat with our enzymes in mind.

Your digestive enzymes make up the chemical component of digestion, and vary based on food groups, and specific foods.

A large meal consisting of all 3 macronutrients in multiple forms is a tall order for most digestive systems. Foods contain information, like a barcode which activates a set of instructions on how to deal with them upon ingestion.

Eating many different foods at once can be a lot of information for the digestive system to interpret, and will often struggle to process it all at once. The digestive system can struggle to produce a broad spectrum of food specific secretions simultaneously. This slows the transit time of digestion, which leaves our food subject to bacterial fermentation and we miss out on the chance to take in our precious nutrients.

When we are adequately nourished, we live energised, happy, creative, motivated, social, and fulfilling journeys.

To harness optimal nutrition from each meal, we need to bring order to the way we eat.

The way we eat consists of the:

  • order
  • combination
  • amount

These factors influence how our food is digested and how well nourished we are afterwards.

Order

Fruits and other sweet foods don’t tend to mix well with proteins and starches, and offer no synergy with greens. Fruits demand a lot of attention from the digestive process, and can use up these resources, rendering the digestion of other foods incomplete and subject to fermentation. This results in the nasty symptoms of digestive upset.

Desert is a common practice in many cultures, but may be an upsetting one for some people. Adding fruit on top of a meal will stress the digestive capacity leading to improper nutrient extraction.

Use fruits as a stand-alone meal or snack, or eat them well before a main meal.

Protein is best eaten before any other macronutrients. Protein is notoriously hard to digest, especially animal protein. Their breakdown requires a great deal of Pepsin (stomach acid), and eating them after other food groups often results in poor digestion.

Since protein breakdown requires highly acidic conditions, combining it with starch is not such as good idea. By contrast, starch requires a more alkaline setting to be broken down. A competitive digestive environment is counter productive, effectively extinguishing the digestive fire. You know what that means! Bloating, gas, indigestion, and psychological discomfort.

If this happens regularly then you risk poor nutrient assimilation, malnutrition and a disordered microbiome.

Since eating protein alone makes for a bland and unsatisfying meal, it is best paired with something tasty, nutritious and complimentary.

Food combining for IBS

Combinations

In order to enjoy our meals and get the most out of them nutritionally, we can combine certain foods. Traditionally, the simplest foods have always supported the best digestion, especially for those with a weaker digestive fire. 

Since starch and Protein don’t combine well, they need to be paired with other food groups for optimal digestion.

Leafy greens are very complimentary to the digestion of proteins. Since greens require far less Pepsin in digestion, plenty is available for the breakdown of proteins. As well as offering a light, palatable addition to meats, greens also offer a functional advantage.

Greens are notoriously beneficial for the liver, which happens to be where a degree of protein metabolism goes down. Leafy greens, such as kale, watercress and parsley are rich sources of Vitamin A, which is essential for the efficient use of protein in the body. This process allows us to get more bang for our nutritional buck.

A meal rich in animal protein tends to be high in saturated fat, depending on the cut of meat. Meat is notoriously tough to digest, even more so in the presence of (excess) fat. When cooked in oils, the meat picks up extra fat and therefore hinders digestion.

Although not a friendly combination with protein, starch is readily digested in the presence of greens, fats, oils and non starchy veg. However, eating two forms of starch in one meal hinders digestive efficiency as they often require a different digestive environment. So, eating a meal containing sweet potato and parsnip may dampen the digestive fire. Substituting one of these for a squash, or greens would be advantageous.

You may be relieved to hear that fats are safe with starches. They bring no inhibition to the digestive process, so you can still enjoy some bread and butter with no digestive consequences.

High protein fats such as cheese, yoghurt, nuts and seeds are well paired with greens and non-starchy veg. A decent salad will often be serenaded in a delicious cheese such as parmesan and bulked out with nuts and seeds. This is a winning combo.

Additionally, these high protein fats offer synergy with sour fruits, such as strawberries, apples, grapefruit and lemon. A dear desert that most people know and love is strawberries and cream. The acid in sour fruits actually facilitates the digestion of fats, and can even assist in the breakdown of the protein components.   

Amount

Because protein and starches are so often consumed together, this combination can be difficult to avoid at times. Protein and starch aren’t ideal combinations, but we can work with them by adjusting their proportions to one another.

A concentrated protein is much easier to digest of it is eaten in small amounts. In latin America, rice n beans is a staple food, and is even somewhat complimentary nutritionally providing a complex of full spectrum amino acids. When combining these two, a ratio of 1:2 protein to starch is manageable. Although a higher ratio is better, such as 1:7.

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