Food combining is based on the principle that specific combinations promote digestion and nutrient absorption. Combining food well can also dramatically reduce the energy required for digestion, leaving you not only with more physical and mental energy, but also improved nutrient assimilation and overall better health.
In nature, wild animals don’t combine foods, preferring one thing at a time — and there are many benefits. Different types of foods — proteins, starches and sugars, for instance —digest in different ways. So when we combine different foods, it can affect digestion. Unfortunately, this is how we learned to eat — combining many different foods in one meal. It took time to learn to eat this way: people don’t usually feed babies complex concoctions, favouring simple blended fruits and vegetables. It also takes time to unlearn this way of eating — but all you need to know are a few simple rules and you can improve digestion greatly.
What we consume either digests easily or ferments. This doesn’t mean you have to follow a strict ‘mono-diet’. It just means paying a bit more attention to what you mix together: the simpler you keep things, the easier it is to digest. For example, a meal of a couple of peaches will be easily recognised by the body and digested within about 30 minutes. That berry and chocolate mud cake with cream (even a nut cream) will take a lot longer. The fruits and sweetener (sugar, honey etc) are simple sugars, which means they digest quickly. The cream (dairy or nut or seed) is protein-rich, so it requires more time in stomach acid to break down. These two food groups thus start to ‘compete’ for digestion. Sugars are our primary source of energy and therefore ‘shout the loudest’ to get priority for digestion. This means the proteins get hurried out of the stomach, along with those sugars, before they’re ready, leaving them to putrefy in the intestines. But there’s no need to be too rigid. If you’re coming from a background of processed food, junk foods and lots of cooked food, moving to eat a mostly raw or all-raw diet means your digestion and health will improve. Over time, your cells become cleaner and your body lets you know it would prefer simpler combinations. Then you can start refining your diet to suit.
It comes down to how you feel after certain combinations. Nobody knows your body better than you and what feels just fine for you might feel like a horrible combination to someone else. While books and charts are useful for learning about general patterns, the key is to listen to your body.
So what happens when foods are not well-combined? A very common side effect is feeling sluggish, tired and heavy. This is because more complex combinations require more energy to digest. There is little energy left for anything else. We may also feel mentally foggy, especially if we’ve eaten a lot of fat. Or gassy, bloated, and constipated. Or even rashes, mucus buildup, spots, weight gain or difficulty losing weight or any number of other symptoms, including candida, as gas and waste back up in your over-worked system.
A less obvious side effect is that it’s much easier to overeat and to overeat things you later realise don’t agree with you. Many people eat quickly and this, along with the longer time taken to decipher messages in muddled combos, means that by the time the stomach’s worked out the puzzle, you’ve already finished the plate.
As digestion takes a lot of energy, the simpler our combinations, the easier it is to assimilate and use this fuel efficiently. As a result, you’ll feel cleaner, lighter, alert and more energetic. You’ll also find it easier to lose excess weight, especially if you avoid complex meals late at night. Your digestion and elimination become smooth and regular and your skin clearer. The body can tell you precisely when you’ve had enough, as food combos will begin to taste different and even unpleasant. This is the body’s way of letting you know it’s had enough for now. This feedback is a real advantage as you can get exactly what you need. Simplifying your food also has added benefits in the kitchen, too: less electricity/gas use, less washing up and shorter food prep times.
No more treats?
Of course not. It’s up to you: How easy do you want to make things for your body? How much energy do you want going to digestion? You don’t have to be ’perfect’. A less-than-optimal combination is unlikely to leave you in hospital! It’s more about tweaks that can improve your health, no matter your overall diet. Besides, over time, your definition of a treat will change and some of those earlier to-die-fors may not feel so attractive.
The raw advantage
Those on a raw/live* or mostly raw diet can be a little more flexible than those on a cooked diet. The high enzyme content of raw/living foods helps digestion enormously. In moderation, you can often eat less-than-optimal raw combinations and still feel fine afterwards.
* live includes fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, tamari
Avoid or minimise these combos
proteins (nuts and seeds) with fruits (sugars), for example, most munchie bars
fats (avocados, macadamias) with fruits (sugars)
starchy vegetables with either proteins or fats
different fats in one meal, for example, a salad with olives, avocado and nuts — just pick one fat
melons with any other fruit, as they digest very quickly (in about 20 minutes), and so are best eaten by themselves or with each other and before a main meal.
The thing with fruit
Avoid acid fruits (citrus, pineapple) with sweet fruits (bananas, dates), however, enjoy sub-acid fruits (apricots, all the berries, nectarines, mangoes, apples, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, kiwis) with either acid or sweet fruits.
One way to avoid problems with fruit is to just do mono-meals: one kind of fruit at a time. You’ll likely also notice and appreciate the subtleties of fruits more when mono-mealing. Ideally, acid and sub-acid fruits shouldn’t be eaten within 30 minutes of any other food.
Be wary of eating fruit as a dessert, as it gets stuck behind other foods in the digestion queue and then ferments; instead, eat fruit before other foods. In general, be aware of ‘overlapping’ your meals. After eating anything, or drinking a juice or smoothie, leave sufficient time to finish digesting before eating more. Otherwise, if you’re half-way through digesting some pineapple, for example, and then eat some cashews, you’re overlapping digestive tasks and asking for trouble. Again, eat fruit before a meal, on an empty stomach, then eat a main meal about 20–30 minutes later.
Leafy greens and other veggies
As for leafy greens/low-starch vegetables, they combine well with just about everything, except sweet fruit, but then you wouldn't serve kale with mashed banana, would you?
You can bend the rules, especially if you’re mostly raw/live. And you won’t pay too much for it. For example, a salad dressing with whatever ingredients you like — raw or not — not only makes the salad more attractive, but the enzyme-rich vegetables and greens also help you digest the cooked foods. Above all, keep it as simple as possible. Let your body be your guide. Listen to it. Everybody’s digestive system is different and can handle various combinations differently.
It’s not about keeping to a strict mono-diet. It’s just about paying more attention to what we mix together.
PARTLY ADAPTED FROM Food Combining for Optimal Health by Angela Stokes
Information on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional health care and medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without first consulting a qualified health care provider. Each person’s body is different and will react differently to various foods and herbs as well as vitamins and minerals. Use the information found on this website as precisely that: Information only.