Food combining guidelines are a way of looking at food to get the most efficient digestion possible. What that means to you is that it can help with bloating, gas, weight loss and energy levels.
If you’ve looked at food combining rules before, they can be tough to figure out. Basically, proper food combinations are based on the idea that there are categories of foods that digest well with each other, and others that don’t.
Most food combining guidelines spell things out in terms of proteins, fats, starches and sugars. This is great information, but how do you actually go about using it? What food is a ‘protein’ and what food is a ‘starch’?
Food Combining Categories
- Lean Proteins: lean fish, lean meats and poultry, low-fat dairy, protein powder
- Starches and Starchy Proteins: grains (including bread, pasta, etc), potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, pumpkin, winter squashes, beans, lentils, peas, tofu, tempeh
- Fats and Fatty Proteins: avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, oils, butter, cheese, yogurt, eggs, fatty fish, poultry, meat
- Greens and Non-Starchy Vegetables: leafy greens, sprouts, celery, cucumber, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, radish, zucchini, onion, garlic, mushrooms, green beans, fresh corn
- Fruit: lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, pineapples, apples, berries, pears, apricots, peaches, grapes, plums, cherries, mangoes, papayas, figs, bananas, dates, dried fruits, fruit juice, watermelon, canteloupe, honeydew
- Sweeteners: sugars, syrups, malt syrups, honey
I find the easiest way to understand the combinations of these foods that generally work well is with a visual:
I also have a black and white version as a printable food combining chart you can post on your fridge to keep the info handy.
Proper Food Combinations
Some food combining guidelines get really detailed, but here are the basics that will go a long way to helping you digest food properly:
- Greens and non-starchy vegetables combine well with pretty much any type of food
- Lean proteins combine best with greens and non-starchy vegetables
- Starches and starchy proteins combine best with greens, non-starchy vegetables and fats
- Fats and fatty proteins combine best with greens, non-starchy vegetables, starches
- Fruits combine best with greens
- Sweeteners are best eaten on their own (i.e. in tea)
- Acid fruits (citrus, tomatoes, strawberries, pineapples) combine well with fats or proteins
- Melons should be eaten alone, they digest faster even than other fruits
- One pot meals cooked slowly with lots of water (like soups and stews) don’t tend to cause as much difficulty in digestion when there are ‘bad’ combinations
Bad Food Combinations
These foods are considered bad combinations because the food groups work against each other as they digest. Proteins want to digest quickly, while fats slow down digestion. Fruits want to digest quickly too, but they tend to ferment when eaten with other foods, which causes gas.
- Proteins with other proteins, fats, fruits and sweeteners
- Starches with other starches, proteins, fruits and sweeteners
- Fats with proteins, fruits and sweeteners
Is Food Combining Really Necessary?
Some people – especially when coming from a standard American diet – will see a lot of benefits from getting very strict about food combining. It can do wonders for healing your digestive tract, and balancing your system.
My brother was having some real problems when he moved to New York from Shanghai. The totally different food was giving him a ton of gas. He felt awful, and heard about food combining so decided to try it.
By eating very simple combinations for his meals, and being really strict about his food combinations for a few months, he got rid of his gas. Once he got his digestion working properly, he had to take in all of his pants because his belly wasn’t bloated anymore.
If your stomach is bloated with gas, if you find yourself tired after meals, if you feel full for hours after eating, or if you notice your food isn’t getting broken down fully you should try following the food combining rules for a while to see if it helps.
When You Should Break The Food Combining Rules
After your body gets back into balance, and your digestive system is healthy and active, you should be able to handle more complicated meals. Your digestive system is, after all, designed to digest food and it’ll do a really good job as long as you don’t overload it too much or too often.
The key thing here is that once you’ve gotten back into balance, you should be able to listen to what your body tells you about which combinations work for you and which ones don’t.
Some people – if they’re very skinny, have a really fast metabolism or prone to huge blood sugar swings – will actually do better to follow the opposite of certain food combining rules.
For some people, eating fruit alone is actually bad for spiking their blood sugar. For them, a better combination is to have fruit with some grains or some seeds to level out the blood sugar fluctuation.
They need the energy from their food to last longer, or digest more slowly to regulate blood sugar, and combining proteins and/or fats to slow down the digestion of starches and sugars can actually help.
So, what I’m getting at here is that for every rule, there’s an exception. Following the rules (food combining and otherwise) is important to get you to a baseline of health and balance.
Once you get to a place where you can listen to your body’s messages, you’re ready to try breaking the rules to figure out what’s going to be the best thing for you.