During this seemingly never-ending quarantine, I got bored with what I was eating and decided to switch things up. I stumbled across several popular wellness bloggers like Kenzie Burke (@kenzieburke), Melissa Wood (@melissawoodhealth) and Mona Vand who all preached the benefits of food combining. I’d never heard of this nutritional concept before and, as an exercise physiology student, was immediately intrigued. How could preparing what goes on your plate so methodically be healthful?
First, What is Food Combining?
Food combining is a lifestyle optimizing digestion. According to Food Insight, its origins date back to an ancient Indian holistic medical practice, but the trend has only emerged on the diet scene in recent years. The name signifies the idea that certain food groups complement each other while others do not. There are multiple versions of this method with different rules and tweaks, but I’m breaking it down to the principles:
Foods are divided into five main categories: starches, fruits, vegetables, proteins and fats. Since these varying macronutrients are broken down in the stomach through different enzymes, food combining suggests that you should only eat certain food groups in one sitting to speed up your digestion. You know when your stomach feels bloated after a meal and you can’t fix it? Food combining is designed to suppress that; other positive effects include weight loss, healthier digestion, greater energy and reduced acne.
The logic behind food combining stems from the physiology of the digestive system and the rates at which macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) are broken down. Fats and proteins take a longer time than carbs to digest, according to a University of California at Santa Barbara study. Both non-starchy (leafy greens, cauliflower and broccoli) and starchy carbs (potatoes, rice, squash, oats and quinoa) also break down at slower rates than fruits.
Guidelines to Food Combining
- Eat fruits first and on an empty stomach. Fruits take 20 minutes to digest in the body, as they’re made up of simple sugars, and this allows for optimal absorption of these sugars for energy.
- Avoid mixing starchy carbs, pure fats and high proteins in one meal. In other words, don’t eat meats and potatoes together or spread butter on your bread (a bummer, I know… our whole American diet is a lie).
- Don’t combine acids with carbs. Leave buttermilk, citrus juices and vinegar off any plate that already includes high starches and sugars.
- Veggies and non-starchy carbs are considered “neutral foods,” meaning they’re okay to be eaten with starches, proteins and fats.
Does It Really Work?
After incorporating food combining into my own diet, I’ve found that this method is an effective jumpstart to healthier eating habits. I’ve since transitioned to more plant-based meals (while still enjoying my occasional dose of tacos and burgers), and it’s also replaced my usual post-meal bloating with a sustained increase in energy.
In the end, does this diet have any substance to it? It’s ultimately up to you and your food lifestyle, but here’s a sample dish that’s worth a try!
Food-Combined Banza Chickpea Pasta: Add spinach, green peas, portobello mushrooms, nutritional yeast and hemp seeds to cooked, store-bought chickpea pasta and enjoy!
words & photo_emily ocon