I do not endorse fad diets. I also do not make a practice of recommending health and wellness habits that are not backed by sound scientific studies and data. However, in my constant quest to help my clients and readers achieve optimal health, I’ll occasionally stumble upon an amazing diet or fitness tidbit that is so interesting and potentially beneficial that I just can’t ignore it. So this week, I’m going to share with you a powerful method to enhance nutrient absorption and decrease toxin and fat levels, while decreasing heartburn, bloating, gas, and other negative reactions to food. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it for a week, I’ve enjoyed significantly more energy, less post-meal sluggishness, better workouts and even more clarity of thought!
The process begins with an understanding of how the body digests food. Different types of food require different types of digestive enzymes for proper food breakdown. For example, carbohydrate foods require carbohydrate enzymes, whereas protein foods require protein enzymes. While the carbohydrate enzymes will only properly function in a non-acidic, or alkaline, environment, the protein enzymes will only properly function in an acidic environment.
Therefore, it is believed that when you eat a protein food with a carbohydrate food (i.e. steak and potatoes), digestion becomes impaired, since these two compounds cannot fully digest in their competing environments. Without complete digestion, nutrient absorption is incomplete. This incompletely digested food can also sit in the gut and become fodder for bacteria, which can ferment and decompose the food, causing a build-up of toxins and gas in the digestive tract. Furthermore, as nutrient absorption decreases and digestion slows, the metabolism becomes less efficient, and fat and cholesterol become more likely to accumulate.
While such a scenario has not been proved by science, the concept of “Food Combining” may allow you to avoid this potentially fat-gaining, metabolism-slowing, immune-depressing process. If your results are similar to mine, you may find that you have better endurance and stamina, increased focus, leaps in energy, more comfortable digestion, and an improved overall feeling. By following several rules, you can achieve less hindrance to your body’s natural digestive process.
Here are the basic rules (think of it as a game…that helped me). There are more details to the rationale behind the rules, but I thought I’d try not to make this too complicated.
1. Don’t eat fruit, especially melons, with any other food (including vegetables). They’re too acidic, and likely to sit and ferment while slowing digestion of the other foods. So use fruit as a snack, served alone.
2. Don’t combine proteins with starchy carbohydrates. They interfere with each other’s digestion.
3. Only drink milk by itself, because it requires a unique environment for digestion.
4. Drink only pure water before, during, and after a meal.
5. Do not add accessory fats to proteins (i.e. cooking fish and chicken in excessive butter, or serving with a creamy sauce).
6. Do not consume starch and sugar foods together, like jam on toast or honey on oatmeal.
7. Eat predominantly protein-only or carbohydrate-only meals. For example, breakfast might be an egg omelet with turkey bacon, or a fruit smoothie with a banana.
Based on these rules, food combinations to avoid would include bread or potatoes with butter, rolls or toast with bacon, cereals with cream or milk, steak, chicken or fish with potatoes, bread, or rice, rolls and hot dogs, ice, whipped cream or any cream on starchy desserts, pork with baked beans, or vinegar and oil dressing with chicken on a salad.
Sound tricky to accomplish “food combining” without some serious dietary juggling? It is! Here’s what I recommend: a 90/10 approach to diet or lifestyle changes. This means that 90% of the time, you make a conscious and intense effort to implement positive changes, and 10% of the time you just let things “flow” and allow yourself to mess up or break the rules. For example, at breakfast you might have a bowl of oatmeal with a slice of whole grain toast, perhaps a raw apple in the mid-morning, a salad with avocados at lunch, and a handful of nuts in the mid-afternoon. Then, for your company potluck, you get your “10%” and load a plate with corn-on-the-cob, cabbage salad, chicken, a roll, and a brownie (whereas food combining would be just the cabbage salad and the chicken). This allows you a mental break from constantly attempting to achieve dietary perfection, and I find that most individuals who follow this rule are far less likely to completely lose control and go on a 2 week binge of sugar, alcohol, processed/packaged foods, and grease.
A final benefit to food combining may be a longer life. It has been suggested that the body has a certain amount of reserves that, if carefully conserved, will allow us to live longer and healthier lives. There have even been studies that observe a correlation between longer lifespans and lower caloric consumptions! The depletion of the body’s reserves can occur much quicker if our bodies are constantly overtaxed in the process of food digestion. Like any dietary or health practice, the concept of self-control, avoidance of giant smorgasborgs of buffet food and alcohol, and a general decrease in gluttony just seem to make good sense!
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