By Zoe Bradbury
The benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet have long been touted as one of the keys to success when trying to lose weight.
But what if another consideration, that could further improve weight loss and overall healthy wellbeing, is not just what types of food are eaten, but how they are consumed?
In addition, if one often feels bloated or sluggish, or suffers from digestive issues after eating, changing the way they eat can also have an impact.
“Food Combining” may the solution, and it’s not a new diet-hack by any means.
First appearing in ancient India in the practice of Ayurvedic medicine, this practice focused on the importance of gut health as a contributing factor to overall health and wellbeing. It focused on understanding how to eat properly and being aware of how digestion affects the body, as an essential property of self-discovery and health.
It’s a practice than can be incorporated into one’s diet for however long they feel like, as long as it suits their body and needs.
Food combining is the process of only eating one food type at a time, for example, not combining protein and starchy foods together, but consuming them separately.
“The reasoning behind this is that different food groups, such as protein, compared to starchy vegetables, digest at different rates in the body, because of the enzymes needed to break down the different nutrients,” Nik Toth, Bondi nutritionist, health coach and personal trainer, otherwise known as the Lean Body Coach, told Bondi Beauty.
“When we eat these foods together, it’s much harder for the body to break down and digest the food”, she said. “So, when we eat them separately, the digestive system can work a lot more effectively.”
“Combine lean protein with non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli or salad,” says Toth.
Lean protein shouldn’t be eaten with starchy, carbohydrate foods such as rice, bread, potatoes and corns and beans, because they break down differently.
Protein requires an acidic environment to facilitate digestion, while carbohydrates require an alkaline environment. Subsequently, when these are consumed together, the digestion slows, causing bloating or fatigue.
Additionally, the food groups begin their digestion at different stages. According to Mind, Body, Green, protein begins to break down in the gastrointestinal tract, while starch first breaks down after being immediately consumed in the mouth.
This has implications in the stomach, because the carbs will remain, ferment and decompose while the digestive system instead works on breaking down the protein and fat. What occurs in this cross-digestion means that neither of the foods get properly digested, which can result symptoms such as stomach pains, bloating or gas.
Fruit should be eaten on an empty stomach, because when fruit is consumed with other foods like protein, it can result in only partially digested food.
“I always consume my fruit on an empty stomach,” Toth says, “because of these reasons.”
Fruit is primarily made up of simple sugar, meaning it is one of the fasted foods to get digested, taking roughly 20 to 30 minutes, according to Yuri Elkaim, wellness consultant and author of The All-Day Fat Burning Diet.
When consumed with something like protein, which takes roughly three to four hours to digest, this causes a “gastrointestinal tract traffic jam”, which leaves the fruit sitting in the stomach, allowing it to ferment.
Starchy foods definitely shouldn’t be avoided all together, but by combining them with non-starchy vegetables, digestion can become a lot easier.
Non-grain-starchy vegetables include potatoes, corn, peas and artichokes, and these digest easily with grains like rice and quinoa. Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens also easily digest together.
Consider a vegetable curry with quinoa, or a buckwheat pasta with a vegetarian, tomato based sauce.
Toth swears by food combining, following the principle every day, saying it makes her feel good, inside and out.
“When the digestive system has an easier job, weight loss becomes easier,” she says.
Weight loss can also be seen as occurring from food combining because the process encourages people to make healthier choices, by considering what they are eating and reducing processed food. This “mindful” eating, in theory, should result in a reduced calorie intake, which leads to weight loss.
Additionally, a healthy digestive system can see a reduction in symptoms that are associated with poor digestion, such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, reflux and fatigue.
Don’t mix protein with carbohydrates or starchy foods. For example;
Instead, pair protein with non-starchy vegetables, such as chicken and salad.
If one has digestive issues such as bloating, gas or fatigue after eating, incorporating food combining may help alleviate these symptoms.
Further, food combining can help people make healthier choices, because it usually encourages them to have to think consciously about their food and what they are consuming. This can also encourage the consumption of whole foods and less of processed foods, which can be beneficial for an overall healthy diet and weight loss.
In contrast, what also should be considered is that there is still scientific research to be completed about the method.
As per any meal plan, caution should be taken, and advice sought from a medical professional.
For example, for some people with certain health conditions like diabetes, it can often be risky to consume carbs alone, says Malia Frey, in a medically reviewed article by Very Well Fit. This is because carbs often need to be consumed with some sort of protein or fat, in order to stop blood sugar levels from spiking.
If you are considering starting food combining, seek guidelines from your medical professional, or start off slowly by taking a flexible approach and include over some meals, to see how your body reacts.
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