Do you ever feel sluggish and tired after eating? Or bloated and full—even after a light meal? Have you tried various remedies and medications to support your digestion with little results? For those of you answering YES to any (or all) of these questions: We hear ya. And you aren’t alone. According to the National Nutrition Association, an estimated 70 million people worldwide suffer from one digestion issue or another, be it indigestion, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, or reflux. The list can go on (and does), but, whatever the ailment, most of us with a digestive disorder will agree that finding something that actually works for your internal system is, literally, heaven-sent.
Food, after all, should nourish and energize our bodies. And while we expect that a big, heavily processed meal may not sit well, what about when even a simple vegetable or piece of fruit doesn’t agree with us? This was my experience: Finding myself still having digestive issues even after taking time to create healthy meals, to drink plenty of water and to exercise. Then I learned about food combining, a health-promoting set of guidelines recommending when to eat certain foods in an effort to support a more efficient digestion process. This, folks, was my heaven-sent answer to digestive issues.
Here’s why food combining works: Our bodies digest each food group (fruits, starchy vegetables, proteins, etc.) differently. Different food groups require different digestive enzymes and processing times, meaning that when certain foods are consumed at the same time, our body can get “confused” by the different enzymes needing to being released, which can slow digestion and take energy away (rather than give it vibrancy and health). And, when the digestive system is impeded, fermentation can occur in the digestive tract, which can, in turn, release toxins into your bloodstream, further contributing to disease. This is why a meal consisting of many food groups can result in bloating, gas, cramps and other general unease.
Now that you know why it works, here’s how food combining works.
1. Don’t drink and eat. There may be a general belief that drinking while you eat washes down your food; however, it is actually more of a case of the liquid washing your digestive juices away. Drinking while you eat, or soon after, can dilute your digestive fluids. It is recommended to have your daily water intake in between meals. A general guide is to avoid liquids beginning twenty minutes before a meal and at least an hour after.
2. Eat fruit as a standalone snack. The simple sugars in fruit are rapidly digested. Say a piece of fruit takes thirty minutes to digest, and you eat that fruit with a meal of complex proteins, which can take a few hours to digest: Your system will be working overtime. This can cause to foods get “trapped” in your system, leading to fermentation and gas creation. The tip here is to eat fruits alone, and avoid eating fruit straight after a meal. Fruit is best consumed on an empty stomach, rather than as dessert.
3. Eat salads first. Leafy greens are very quick to digest. If your dinner plate has a side salad as well as, say, starchy vegetables and proteins, eat the salad first. This will allow your stomach time to assimilate the leafy greens before moving on to the different enzymes and additional time needed to digest the more complex food groups.
4. Mono-meals digest the best. Mono-meals are made up of just one single food group: A leafy green salad, or a plate of starchy root vegetables (potato, pumpkin), or a plate of fruit. It’s simple math here: The fewer the ingredients, the fewer enzymes are needed. It’s worth noting that spices and herbs are neutral, so adding a little extra flavor to the mix can be done for any meal. Spices like ginger and fennel are particularly great in promoting healthy digestion.
5. Listen to your belly. We are all different in our energy needs and food sensitivities. This is where you are your own guru here. Noting what you ate and how you combined it will give you great intel on what works best for you. Take cues from your energy level and the feeling of an easeful digestive system, and use this to decide what you need to change.
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