Food Combining for Beginners

Food Combining for Beginners 

By Kevin Lam, RHN

Food combinations can be tricky to plan depending on the occasion; you may be thinking of sweet and sour or chocolate and salty depending on the meal or time of day. While these food combinations are tasty, those are not what I’m speaking of at the moment What we’re interested in is digestion time of foods, maximizing nutrient absorption and how certain combinations can have undesirable results ranging from bloating, gas and heart burn to low energy, constipation and food intolerance.
As humans shifted from hunter-gatherers to farmers and cultivators, our way of eating shifted dramatically. We would typically eat the one food we found before moving on to the next food source, and so our digestion system evolved that way as well. If we found a meat or a vegetable or a fruit, our enzymes and stomach pH would optimize for that food and we would digest these foods individually.
Now, we can eat a large variety of foods that are found across the globe with every meal, every day of the year. While convenient, this has some consequences; since we didn’t evolve this way, the many foods that were separated temporally or geographically can now meet on a dinner plate and interact with each other, often poorly.

First, let’s go over the “rules”:
1) Enzymes, stomach acid and mechanical breakdown (chewing) improves digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. For example, chewing bread thoroughly physically breaks it down while salivary enzymes break it down molecularly (, 2015).
2) Food takes times to digest, but some need more than others. For example, proteins generally need more time in the stomach compared to starches or vegetables (Watson, 2017).
3) Certain foods need a more acidic (lower pH) or more basic (higher pH) environment for best digestion. For example, proteins (meats) are ideally digested at a ph of 2 (Updegraff, 2018) while starches (breads) are ideally digested at a pH of 6.8 (, 2015). Amazingly, our digestive system as a whole can create the acidic and basic environments individually but not at the same time.
4) Some foods digest so quickly that they should be eaten on their own or with other “like-minded” foods. For example, fruit can spend as little as 1 hour in the stomach before moving on (Beyond Health, 2017).
5) Finally, I like to separate food into 6 manageable groups: (1) protein, (2) starch, (3) vegetables, (4) fresh fruit, (5) nuts/seeds and (6) melons.


Now let’s use the rules to analyze a North American classic; burgers and fries.

A) The Contestants: this meal contains starches (bun and fries), protein (meat patty), and vegetables (lettuce, onion and tomato).
B) Using the rules above, we can see that this meal won’t digest well:
a. pH: The hamburger bun and fries require a more basic pH of 6.8 while the meat patty needs a pH of 2 for optimal digestion. When eaten together, the body tries to do both and so neither are digested well.
b. Digestion Time: the meat patty will need 4+ hours, the bun and fries need 3 hours while the lettuce, onion and tomato will need 2-3 hours. By the time the meat is digested, the bun, fries, lettuce, onion and tomato will have been in the stomach for 2-3 longer than their optimal digestion times. This causes the food to ferment and putrefy in the digestive system causing gas, bloating and discomfort.

Using these “rules,” we can build guidelines to help us navigate the confusing world of food combining and add practicality for day to day use.

Guidelines: try to ensure that your meals follow these general rules:
A) Chew food thoroughly
B) Proteins + vegetables
C) Starches + vegetables
D) Eat fruit alone, with other fruit or leafy greens
E) No proteins and starches together.
F) Exceptions:
a. Proteins have different digestion times so it’s best to eat one kind of protein per meal. For example, fish need 2-3 hours while beef/pork need 4+ hours.
b. Melons should be eaten on their own, even away from other fruit because they digest faster than other fruit.
c. Bananas can also be combined with nuts and seeds.
d. Avocado, while a vegetable, is considered a fat. Therefore, it can be combined with starches or vegetables.
e. Beans and lentils contain a higher amount of protein but can be considered a starchy carbohydrate when combining with other foods.
f. Commercial peanuts and soy nuts should be avoided because of mold and chemical exposure.

In the end, this is merely a starting point in your food combining, or rather food separating, journey. There are several resources available that delve deeper into this topic with more food categories, the specific types of enzymes involved and take gender, age and nationality into account. Using this guide and the resources below, you can make your own, well informed, rules on how you want to eat food.



Resources (2015). Action of Salivary Amylase on Starch. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from Olabs:

Beyond Health. (2017, November 8). Food Combining Chart. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from Beyond Health Articles:
Francis, R. (2001, November). Food Combining. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from Beyond Health News:
Updegraff, E. (2018, June 25). What Is the Optimum pH for Human Stomach Enzyme Activity? Retrieved February 5, 2019, from Sciencing:
Watson, S. (2017, April 18). How Long Does it Take to Digest Food? Retrieved January 5, 2019, from Healthline:

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