Combining Foods for Optimal Digestion*
During the late 1960s, I became interested in reading about diet- and health-related subjects and began eating only natural, raw foods. I went to a health-food store and bought a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. After eating them I had a virtuous feeling, followed by intestinal gas and, then, severe diarrhea. I began to notice that whenever I ate raw, nutritious food, I experienced a similar digestive upset.
One book explained that it takes your body a while to adjust to unrefined, “live” foods after years of eating devitalized, “dead” foods. However, no scientific reason was given for this assertion, nor was any remedy offered.
One day, I was in a health-food store, and a booklet entitled Food Combining Made Easy, by Herbert Shelton, caught my eye. The first few pages described my dilemma and addressed it in what appeared to be a refreshingly scientific manner. Until then, I was frequently dismayed at the unscientific approach of the numerous “underground” books I had read on the subject of health. Here was one that aroused my optimism.
The digestive upset that I experienced resulted from the haphazard combinations of the “health foods” I was eating. Once I obeyed the rules of food combining, not only did the digestive distress disappear, but the general health of my stomach improved.
The basic premise of food combining is that combinations of starch and protein, sugar and starch, and sugar and protein take longer to digest than if the components of each of these pairs were eaten alone. Not only is sugar a medium for the growth of yeast, but eating sugar along with starchy or high-protein foods hampers their digestion. Sugar inhibits the secretion of ptyalin, an enzyme in the saliva for the digestion of starch. Sugar also inhibits the stomach's secretion of hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is necessary for the digestion of protein. Ptyalin is chemically basic and would be neutralized by HCl. Thus, when starch is eaten alone, little HCl is secreted. However, when a protein and starch are eaten in the same meal, the starch soaks up the HCl meant for the protein, arresting its digestion and slowing the digestion of the protein.
The reason that it is more critical to properly combine natural, raw foods is that their high nutritive value and lack of preservatives make them much more susceptible to bacterial decomposition in the gut than devitalized foods. Over the past thirty-five years, I have had ample opportunity to apply these basic concepts and confirm their validity.
Keep in mind that food combining need not be perfectly strict. Once you learn about and directly experience the effects of eating proper and improper combinations, you will be able to decide how strict you need to be in any given situation. Consider the following related anecdote:
As an amateur harpsichordist, I had the opportunity a few years ago to take some private lessons with Gerald Ranck, a highly accomplished concert harpsichordist. When I played a Bach prelude for him, he exclaimed, “You are playing the entire piece legato. You must vary your playing with alternations of legato and staccato. Otherwise, even though it is Bach, it will become boring. I want you to practice the piece entirely staccato—every note!”
During that week I practiced the prelude, playing every note staccato. Next lesson, I proudly played the piece as practiced. He stopped me, saying, “What are you doing? Why is every note staccato?”
I immediately realized that just because he suggested I use a tool to improve or perfect a certain skill, that did not mean I should use it indiscriminately or exclusively. Similarly, with food combining, one must first practice it strictly in order to understand the underlying principles and effects. Afterward, you can apply the principles reasonably and temper them as required.
Green and Non-Starchy Vegetables
|Asparagus||Collard greens||Mung bean sprouts||Spinach|
|Bamboo shoots||Cucumber||Mushrooms||Sweet pepper|
|Beet greens||Dandelion greens||Mustard greens||Sweet corn|
|Bok choy||Eggplant||Okra||Swiss chard*|
|Broccoli rabe||Escarole||Parsley||Turnip greens|
|Cabbage||Garlic*||Rhubarb*||Yellow summer squash|
*not recommended as foods
Starches and Sugars
|All cereals||Cauliflower||Brown sugar|
|Potatoes (all kinds)||Parsnip||Turbinado sugar|
†Note that the protein content of beans is low in quantity and very low in biological value. Therefore, beans have been classified here as a starch. By contrast, soybeans (below) are high in excellent-quality protein and contain no starch.
|Avocado||Flax seeds||Pignolia nuts|
|Brazil nuts||Hickory nuts||Pinon nuts|
|Cereals (all)||Meat||Pumpkin seeds|
|Sweet Fruits||Sub-Acid Fruits||Acid Fruits|
|Bannana||Apple||Citrus Fruits (all)|
|Grapes||Apricot||Dried Fruits (all)|
Additional Aspects of Digestion
It is of value to know roughly how long each type of food takes to be digested before it leaves the stomach. Water and fruit and vegetable juices take approximately half an hour. Starches take about two hours. Proteins and fats take about four hours. Once the tissues of your stomach become free of irritation and your awareness of digestion develops, you will feel when the stomach empties and know the wonderfully comfortable feeling of an empty stomach.
*From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.
©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow
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