A comprehensive guide to food combining that will help improve your digestion and reduce negative side effects.
For the longest time, I was resistant to the concept of food combining, because it goes against pretty much everything I’ve learned growing up and well, really throughout my entire life.
But as someone who’s struggled with food sensitivity, bloating, constipation, discomfort, and overall misery, I realized that something must be happening. After all, I’ve stopped eating trigger foods, and have done everything I was supposed to, the seemingly right way, but still felt awful. So this led me down the path of experimenting with food combinations.
Now, this concept may be as triggering for you as it was for me because it basically makes you question everything you eat from morning to night. And I will say this though, if you have strong digestion, you’re probably not visiting this page and likely don’t have to worry about this. But if you’ve been struggling with digestion issues like bloating, belching, diarrhea, constipation, sluggishness, and general discomfort day in and day out, you’re at least willing to try something new.
So with that said, let’s talk a little bit about common food combinations we all eat (gluten-free and dairy-free of course), but nonetheless, some of these combinations may be causing issues. So here are some we are used to and just so fond of: Spaghetti and meatballs, steak and potatoes, sushi (I know – I feel that one), oatmeal and fruit, sandwiches, burgers and fries, pancakes, eggs and toast…the list is seemingly endless.
And we’ve all heard that eating fruit after meals is a great alternative to dessert. That may be the case for someone with squeaky clean digestion but, if you’re here, that’s likely not the case for you. Fruit can actually cause chaos in the digestive tract because of differing digestive times and enzymes.
Something else that health-conscious people love doing is making smoothies. If you’re anything like me, you’ve dumped in plant milk, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and protein powders. Sadly that combination can wreak havoc on your gut and can cause further digestive issues.
What we will get into in this post, is that different enzymes are required for different foods. And if you already have a weak digestive system, combining foods incorrectly will slow your digestion down, causing all the above-mentioned unwanted symptoms.
It dawned on me after years of cooking, just how vital digestive enzymes are. Probiotics and prebiotics are all the rage but we’re not talking about the importance of enzymes enough. So I want to share with you what I’ve learned and continue to learn every day.
First, let’s focus on the foods and break them down by the macronutrient category. You’ll also find subcategories within the individual macronutrient.
These will be vegetables you can eat with protein, fat, or carbohydrates. Ideally, they should make up the bulk of your meals. Non-starchy vegetables contain enzymes that don’t interfere with digestion. I’ve noted some of the ones that can be challenging for some.
- Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, chard, dandelion greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, baby greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Summer squash
- Green, yellow, and red bell peppers
- Green onions
- Onions and garlic (careful if you’re sensitive to these)
- Green beans
* Note about Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli – these can be bloating agents so limit intake to 1/2 cup if they are bothersome.
*Some people find onion and garlic to be difficult to digest, especially raw so be mindful of this too.
These will be grains and starchy vegetables. They are digested in an alkaline environment and the enzymes secreted during the digestion of starches are of alkaline nature.
- Wheat, barley, rye
*Wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten, which can be particularly irritating for those with Celiac disease and those who have non-celiac sensitivity.
- Sweet potatoes
- Squash (Acorn, Butternut, Winter, Kabocha, Spaghetti, Delicata)
- Green peas
- Sugar snap peas
- Carrots – though they’re often included on the non-starchy list. They would be okay in either list.
Protein requires an acidic environment to be broken down, therefore the body will be releasing acidic enzymes in order to assist with digestion.
- Meat (Chicken, game, pork, beef)
- Dairy products
Nuts and Seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter)
- Seed butter (sun butter, tahini)
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Cannelini beans
- Adzuki beans
- Lima beans
- Green peas
- Navy beans
- Black beans
- Blackeyed peas
- Pinto beans
- Lentils (red, green, black)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
- Coconut oil (refined and unrefined)
- Peanut oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Coconut milk
- Fish oil
- Coconut butter
*Milk, butter, and ghee all contain lactose and can be difficult to digest for those who are lactose intolerant. Ghee is gentler on the gut as it is casein free but still contains lactose.
The general rule when it comes to combining foods is to eat fruits on their own. They digest in 20-30 minutes and should not be combined with starches or protein.
Banana is a grey area as it can combine with starches or protein in moderation as it breaks down slower than other fruit.
Melon absorbs fastest in roughly 15 minutes. It is recommended to eat melon on its own and not combine it with any other fruit.
Also, a good idea when thinking about fruit – try to eat the fruit in their family – so berries with berries, citrus with citrus, apples with pears, etc.
Avocados – Due to their high fat and lower carbohydrate content, avocados are a unique fruit in that they combine well with other fruits as well as starches and proteins.
Food Combining Meal Suggestions and Recipes
I find I always learn best through examples and application so here are some ideas.
For meals, stick to either starches and fats and non-starchy vegetables or protein and non-starchy vegetables.
- Toast and avocado
- Oatmeal with coconut oil
- Paleo Oatmeal
- Omelet with avocado and greens
- Low-carb paleo pancakes with almond butter and a small drizzle of maple syrup or honey
- Tuscan kale and sausage soup
- Paleo tuna salad
- Simple greens with hardboiled eggs, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, and homemade dressing
- Egg salad avocado boats
- Asparagus sausage scramble
- Paleo pub burger with Grilled vegetables
- Polenta with Mushrooms, Kale, and Dijon Roasted Carrots
- Lemon Shrimp with Asparagus and Cauliflower Rice
- Any meat or fish with vegetables from the non-starchy list
- Any starches from the starches list (vegetables and grains) plus non-starchy vegetables and good fats
If you get hungry between meals, the same general rules apply. Stick with foods from one macronutrient group or combine them accordingly. Also, be sure to give yourself enough time between meals to reduce gas and bloating.
The Takeaway Of Proper Food Combination
*Non-starchy vegetables contain their own enzymes and do not interfere with digestion or the enzymes required to break down either protein (acidic environment) or starch (alkaline environment).
*Hold off on drinking water with your meal if possible, or keep your water intake low during meals. Consume most of your water between meals.
*When in doubt, pick a single macronutrient such as protein, carbohydrates, or fats, and pair them with leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables.
*Never combine fruit with anything else. Fruit should be eaten on its own. If you’re someone who likes smoothies and adds fruits and vegetables, stick with fruit smoothies or green smoothies but don’t combine them both. Unless of course, that’s not an issue for you.
*Try and start your day with warm lemon water.
While it is nearly impossible for anyone to eat this way 100% of the time, these guidelines can help bring about some relief. And if you have a sensitive digestive system, proper food combining may help bring on some clarity about the food you are eating.