by Dominique Vanier, BScH, MEnvSc, ND (cand)
With the holidays quickly approaching, so too are many nights of hearty meals, good wine, and great company. Eating large meals with heavy foods, however, may cause some indigestion, especially for those of us who have sensitive stomachs. To combat the unpleasant after-effects of dense meals, proper food combining may be an approach that can work for you.
Food combining can be traced back to some of our earliest civilizations and to the agricultural era thousands of years ago. In societies with minimal access to animal protein, food combining existed without knowing its purpose or implication. Based on modern-day nutritional knowledge, we now know that various foods were combined in order to meet complete protein nutritional requirements.
For example, since many grains are low in lysine (an essential amino acid), they were commonly paired with beans, which are high in lysine. Similarly, grains were commonly paired with beans because their high sulfur-containing amino acids offset the low concentrations found in beans. Eating beans and grains together resulted in a “net-even” effect, where the amino acid strengths of one food made up for the deficiencies of the other, and thus delivered a complete protein to the body.
Today, however, many of us meet our complete protein requirements by consuming animal protein, and so food combining serves different purposes in the modern day. Observational information may suggest that food combining can help reduce digestive complaints such as bloating and gas by eating foods according to the rate at which they break down in the stomach.
It comes down to simple chemistry: by first eating foods that decompose quickest followed by foods that take the longest time to break down, while ensuring a proper pH stomach environment, you may find your stomach thanking you at the end of the office holiday dinner.
Here are some easy tips on food combining that may help you feel better:
- No fruit after meals – Fruits are composed of simple sugars and therefore take the shortest time to break down. Eating fruit after meals, such as having it for dessert, may ferment in your stomach on top of your previously enjoyed meal. Suggestion: eat fruit as a snack and wait 30-45 minutes until your next meal.
- Eat protein and carbs at separate meals – It is theorized that proteins and carbohydrates neutralize each other, because one requires an acidic environment to break down and the other requires an alkaline environment. Suggestion: To avoid indigestion, wait 2 hours after eating a complex carbohydrate before eating a protein, and wait 3 hours after eating a protein before consuming a complex carbohydrate.
- Eat vegetables with protein or carbs, but avoid eating with fruits – Green leafy vegetables can be eaten on their own, or combined with either proteins or carbs. Fresh whole vegetables aid digestion by moving heavy foods through the digestive tract and adding bulk to stool. Fruits, like mentioned above, break down at a quicker rate than vegetables, so it is best to keep these foods separate. Suggestion: try combining non-starchy and low-starch vegetables with grains.
- Melon as a stand-alone snack – Melon has one of the highest sugar concentrations and the highest water content of any fruit, and therefore will break down rapidly after consumption. Suggestion: to ease the digestive process, eat melons by themselves and wait at least 30 minutes until your next snack or meal.
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods – To improve energy levels, overall health, and lose weight, a substantial body of research recommends that food choices are based around whole, unprocessed foods, and contain unprocessed carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
An individualized approach is key when determining which foods your body can tolerate, and which ones it cannot. We are all unique in our food preferences, but also in our abilities to tolerate specific foods.
For those with sensitive digestive tracts, food combining is one option worth exploring. To optimize digestion further, Molkosan and Boldocynara Complex are two fantastic products that aid in nutrient assimilation and fat degradation, and may turn out to be your best friends at the office parties this holiday season.