With the festive season approaching it is important to remember when catching up with friends and family that while making healthy meal choices is a key factor in feeling well, your food combinations also play a big role. The delicious food available at these events can lead to overindulgence, and even though you may try to make good food choices, you can still feel unwell afterwards. So, let’s look at the impact of foods that do not always go well together.
Eating well but still don’t feel great?
You are eating well, your diet is full of good healthy food, with plenty of nutrients, yet you are still feeling bloated and nauseous or lacking in energy. Sometimes it’s not so much what you eat, as what you eat it with, and when you eat it. Different types of foods digest at different rates. Also enzymes needed for food breakdown and digestion differ according to the food eaten, and an acidic or alkaline gut environment can also affect digestion. Some foods such as fruit break down more quickly than others such as meat protein. Rapid vs slow digestion times of foods all eaten together in a meal can cause issues such as low energy, bloating, gut discomfort, and poor sleep to name a few. Making good combination choices can help. Those with sensitive digestive systems or with certain health conditions can also benefit by being aware of combinations that may make them feel unwell. Digestion times vary with fruit being the quickest, then greens, followed by non-starchy vegetables, then starches and finally proteins.
So, what can go together?
There are many theories, and some are very complicated. So, let’s keep it simple.
• Proteins can be eaten with green leafy or non-starchy vegetables.
• Starches can each be eaten with green leafy or non-starchy vegetables, or even other starchy foods.
• Starchy carbohydrates and proteins often do not combine well, as they digest poorly together.
• Plant proteins are okay with other plant proteins however different animal proteins are not always good together. Protein takes a long time to digest so two heavy proteins together in a meal requires a lot of energy and time.
• Fruit is best eaten alone on an empty stomach or with other fruit as it digests very quickly and can end up fermenting while waiting for the proteins and starches to break down when all are eaten together. This causes bloating and gas. Fruit is also fine eaten with raw greens.
• Fats and oils in moderation combine well with most foods and are usually okay with carbohydrates and starches, but not always great with proteins so pair moderately. They are best with green vegetables.
• Dairy and starch together, such as in a pizza, can be a problem because the starch is quicker at digesting, and it starts to ferment in the gut while the dairy is still digesting. This can cause bloating and gas.
• Also consider the types of foods also that are known to often cause bloating such as legumes, cruciferous vegetables, sugar substitutes, and even sparkling water. Be aware of what you eat.
• Although it is not always possible, for ideal digestion and absorption, it’s preferable to eat foods in compatible combinations.
For a closer look at food combinations, what you are eating and whether despite your good diet it may be working against you, consult with your nutritionist or naturopath.
Finally, don’t forget some basic guidelines for healthy eating – chew food well and eat slowly; sit down to eat, eat only what you need to feel full (gently satisfied, not overfed), and try to stop eating before you feel too full.
Pamela Nelson is a Clinical Nutritionist, Naturopath and Herbalist at Health Space Clinic Lane Cove.