- The Facts:One of the greatest health-hacks has to do with which foods we eat together. Combining proteins and carbohydrates (starches or fruit) causes neutralization of digestive enzymes. This causes symptoms such as bloating, gas, heartburn, and more.
- Reflect On:Sadly, protein and starchy carbohydrates make up much of the world’s diet. It seems we have come to accept the symptoms of indigestion as if they are a rite of meal-time passage. Yet all of these symptoms are completely preventable.
One of the greatest health-hacks has not so much to do with what we eat, but rather with which foods we eat together.
It’s called proper food-combining, and understanding its intricacies is a powerful way to support your digestive health and overall vitality.
In his book, Food Combining Made Easy, natural hygienest Herbert Shelton shares his detailed understanding of how the wrong combinations of foods wreak havoc on our digestion. Shelton spent over fourty years in the study of dietetics, having directed and cared for thousands of people during his lifetime. He, like many natural hygienists today, saw the fundamental flaws in man’s modern eating habits, the main one being that we eat too many different types of food in the wrong combinations. Instead of the buffet-style spread, Shelton advocated for a diet of simplicity, much like that of the animal kingdom around us.
“Animals eat very simply and rarely combine their foods. Certainly the meat-eating animals eat no carbohydrates with their proteins. The deer grazing in the forest combines his food very little, and the squirrel is likely to get their fill of nuts and take no other food. Birds have been observed to eat insects at one time of day and seeds at another. No animal in nature has the great variety of foods spread before it at a meal such as civilized man does today,” Food Combining Made Easy, pg. 8.
Shelton believed that the digestive enzymes of the human digestive tract have well-defined limitations, and when we eat in a manner that overrides these limitations, we run into digestive issues. He called proper food combining “merely a sane way of respecting our enzymatic limitations.”
And by combining our foods properly, Shelton asserted that much of our digestive ailments would be solved. He even claimed that allergies would dissipate given a period of time eating the right food combinations. “An amazing number of food allergies clear up completely when supposedly allergic individuals learn to eat their foods in digestible combinations.” He writes that what they are suffering from are not allergies at all, but rather symptoms of indigestion.
The Different Types of Food Material & Their Digestion
Shelton’s definition of food is quite simple: Material which can be incorporated into and become part of the cells and fluids of the body. To be a true food the substance eaten must not contain useless or harmful ingredients.
Proper food material is composed of water and a few organic compounds known as proteins, carbohydrates (sugars, starches), fats, mineral salts, and vitamins.
As proteins, carbohydrates and fats are not useable by the body, they must first undergo a disintegrating, refining process known as digestion. While digestions has its mechanical components such as chewing and swallowing, it is primarily a process of chemical changes as the food makes its way through the digestive tract. What creates these chemical changes are known as enzymes. Enzymes are the catalysts which break complex compounds (such as proteins) down into their simpler components (amino acids) which can then be used by our cells.
Each enzyme is specific in its action; they only act upon one class of food substance. For example, the enzymes that act upon carbohydrates cannot act upon proteins or fats. Enzymes are so precise that even within the carbohydrate class there are different enzymes for different types of sugars and starches. The same goes for proteins.
Most enzymes work in organized sequence, that is, each stage of digestion depends on the enzymatic action preceding it. For example, if the enzyme pepsin has not first converted a complex protein into a peptone, then it prevents the further breakdown of peptones into amino acids.
Enzymes are also very sensitive to pH changes. If the alkaline salivary enzyme, ptyalin, interacts with an acidic food in the mouth such as a protein, the enzyme that would normally break down starches is rendered inactive by the change in pH.
Similarly, in the stomach, the protein enzyme pepsin can only act in an acidic environment, and if it combines with an alkaline food it is rendered useless. Pepsin is a crucial enzyme in the first stage of protein digestion, and without it the proteins will not further digest but rather ferment and putrefy.
In the case of foods composed of both carbohydrates and proteins, such as bread, our digestive system utilizes a unique sequence of enzymatic secretions to breakdown the food. At first only little hydrochloric acid is poured into the stomach—the enzymatic juice secreted is almost neutral in reaction to allow the starch component of the bread to breakdown first. But once the starch is digested, more hydrochloric acid is then poured into the stomach to digest the protein component of bread.
The entire digestive process is highly organized yet very sensitive to changes in pH, which means that combining even a small amount of the wrong foods can cause proper digestion to halt.
And what happens when proper food digestion halts? As Dr. Morse states in The Miracle Detox Sourcebook, “fermentation and putrefaction then become the digesters, instead of digestive enzymes. This causes improper food breakdown and many unwanted chemical changes, all leading to malabsorption, acidosis and cellular starvation.”
The Two Most Important Food-Combining Tips
The two most important food-combination tips are first, to never mix proteins (acid foods) with carbohydrates (alkaline foods), and second, separate your consumption of fruits and melons from any other types of food.
As mentioned previously, mixing proteins with carbohydrates causes neutralization, putrefaction, and fermentation. Fungi (yeast especially) love the byproducts of fermentation (alcohol sugars), and this is why so many people suffer from candida and various parasitic overgrowths. Sadly, protein and starchy carbohydrates make up much of the world’s diet (meat and potatoes, anyone? How about chicken and rice?). It seems we have come to accept the symptoms of stomach pain, bloating, gas, and heartburn as if they are a rite of meal-time passage. Yet all of these symptoms are completely preventable with the proper understanding and application of food-combining.
Separating fruit from other foods is another crucial rule in food combining. Fruit digests the quickest out of any other food; therefore, when fruit is mixed with foods that require many hours to digest (such as eggs or meat), then the fruit quickly ferments into alcohol sugars that signal the yeast to begin their feeding frenzy. Always opt to eat fruit in the morning hours on an empty stomach. This will hydrate your body and begin to flush out the digested waste in your GI tract.
Also worth mentioning is that within the category of fruit, there are specific combinations of fruits that some will be more sensitive to than others. For more information about this, see the food combining chart below.
Beyond those two rules, food-combining can be made simple by knowing a few more tips.
Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cabbage, celery, leafy greens, sprouts, and zucchini can be combined with fats, starches, and proteins. So when deciding what to eat with your dinner main, always keep vegetables in mind. Non-starchy vegetables are full of fibre, amino acids, and minerals, great for rebuilding a weakened body and sweeping the digestive tract of waste material.
Lastly, when eating concentrated protein starches such as beans or lentils, be sure to soak or sprout them to make them easier to digest, and avoid mixing with starches like rice or bread. Protein starches should be eaten sparingly, and always with non-starchy vegetables.
Understanding proper food-combining can do wonders for your digestion and absorption. One thing to remember is that some people will be more sensitive than others, so experiment yourself and observe how your digestion improves. As I always say, when in doubt, try it out.