Food Combining

It can be so frustrating when you feel like you’re eating all the right foods, and still experiencing digestive issues. Today I look into Food Combining, a relatively new concept designed to help reduce digestive discomfort after eating.

How does it work?

Not many people are aware that the various food groups we eat are actually digested at different rates and also require different digestive enzymes to be broken down.

An example of this is protein vs. starchy carbohydrates. Protein requires an acidic environment and the enzyme pepsin to be broken down. Starchy carbohydrates require a more alkaline environment and the enzyme ptyalin. Eating something that combines the two, eg. a steak sandwich, can cause a bit of confusion for the body.

When you mix foods that are broken down at different speeds, this can affect digestion by signaling to the body to secrete various enzymes and slowing down the process. When digestion slows, it can cause food to ferment in the colon, which creates gases and this can cause symptoms like burping, gas, bloating, cramping and general discomfort in the abdomen.

Food Combining is still a relatively new concept, that looks at eating certain food groups either together or apart, to help improve digestion by allowing things to be broken down effectively and at the right speeds.

Where do I start?

It can be overwhelming sometimes to try a new style of eating, but here is a simple guide for food combining that you can try:

1. Non-Starchy Vegetables Go With Everything

Non-starchy vegetables usually contain their own enzymes to help with digestion, and can be combined with any of your macronutrients without any issues. These are things like leafy greens, capsicums, zucchinis, snow peas, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes etc.  (Basically all your veggies that aren’t starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin).

2. Proteins with Non-Starchy Vegetables

Proteins are best digested when not combined with starchy carbohydrates or fats. An eg. of a meal that fits this is a salad topped with tuna or diced chicken.

3. Starchy Carbs with Fats (and Non-Starchy Vegetables)

Your starchy carbohydrates include not only your starchy vegetables, but also your wholegrains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt and oats.  An example of some meals that fit this category would be: oats topped with peanut butter, quinoa and roasted sweet potato salad with greens, or a slice of spelt sourdough topped with avo, hemp seeds and dash of olive oil.

Is this a “one size fits all” approach?

Like with any dietary protocols, it’s never a one size fits all. (And if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re probably trying to sell you something!). But it is something that is relatively easy to incorporate into your daily life and has been shown to help a number of people who eat and live healthily, but still get digestive symptoms like bloating, gassiness and cramping after some meals.

What if I still get digestive symptoms after trying this?

It’s always best to speak to a trusted practitioner if you are experiencing symptoms like these for a prolonged period of time. Digestive symptoms can be caused by something more serious, like inflammatory gut conditions (IBS, IBD, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s), leaky gut, food intolerances or dysbiosis.

Written by Laura Phongsavath

Laura is a qualified Nutritionist, registered with association ATMS. She is a firm believer of food as medicine, and has a passion for gut health and women’s health. You can find her, and other holistic therapists at pH Clinic Manly, a multi-modality health clinic that specialises in gut health and natural medicine.


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