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Food Combining: The Facts and 5 Combos That Make Sense for Your Health and Life

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If you have digestive issues or are simply looking to lose a few pounds, you may have come across “food combining” as a suggestion during your late-night internet searches.

But, what exactly is food combining? We take a look at what it is, if it actually helps with weight loss or digestion, and some of the facts behind this confusing practice. In other words, we share whether food combining is something to incorporate into your diet.

What Is Food Combining, Exactly?

For starters, food combining isn’t new. The original concept is based on an ancient Ayurvedic diet, which claims that certain foods should not be eaten at the same time in order to aid in digestion. This holistic practice divides foods into three components:

  • Taste
  • Energy (heating or cooling)
  • Post-digestive effects

The belief is that “improper” food combining (such as eating a mix of cooked and raw foods and mixing fruit with any other food) can lead to all sorts of gastro issues, such as indigestion, bloating, fermentation and toxic build-up.

Profile photo of pretty housewife holding belly suffering terrible pain can't eat milk breakfast cornflakes have stomach upset sitting table white light kitchen indoors

The Hay Diet and Other Offshoots of Food Combining

Then, in the early 20th century, a New York doctor named William Howard Hay created The Hay Diet, an eating plan he devised after suffering from a number of health problems which also centered around the digestive process. He separated food into three groups (acid, alkaline, and neutral) and claimed the right combinations (for example, keeping protein-rich foods and carbohydrates separate) can help the body achieve acid-alkaline balance and result in weight loss and improved overall health.

The Bad … and Good News on Food Combining

Over the years, other diets have been designed that mix both of these theories—and the plans involve big food charts with lots of rules. Yet, there’s very little science on a food-combining diet and its effects. One study conducted over 20 years ago found that obese participants who followed either a food-combining diet or a “typical” lower-calorie diet showed similar weight loss results.

However—nutritionally speaking—while food combining may not be worth your time for balancing your body’s alkalinity or helping with digestion, some strategic food combining can be beneficial when it comes to pairing certain nutrients together in order to boost their effectiveness. And now for the really good news: You’re probably doing it already since these foods blend so well together.

Here are five nutritious food combos that will encourage and maximize absorption of essential vitamins and minerals:

5 Nutritious Food Combos

Carbohydrate + Protein-Rich Food

Grilled chicken with rice and fresh green peas on a hite plate with spoon and fork on the table

Once consumed, carbs—the body’s main fuel source—get broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream, ultimately increasing blood sugar levels. Eating too many carbs can lead to blood sugar fluctuations (which over time can increase the risk of pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes). Yet pairing a carb with a protein will help slow down this process since protein breaks down at a slower pace than carbs. Along with stabilizing blood sugars, this combination can replenish the body with glycogen (energy stored in the muscles) after a workout, helping to repair tired muscles.

Food Combo Recipe: A few good-for-you carbs include oats, brown rice and farro, while healthy lean proteins include poultry, nuts, seeds and beans. Try: Baba Ghanoush Eggplant Hummus with whole grain or nut and seed crackers (or simply pita bread!).

RELATED: Lean Protein 101: Why We Need It and the 10 Best Sources

Vitamin C-Rich Food + Iron-Rich Food

Peppers, grapefruit, Broccoli, Lemon, Oranges. and Potatoes on a clean off white table top

In order for the intestines to absorb non-heme iron, also known as plant-based iron, the body requires help from ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C. But this vitamin and mineral combo need to be on the plate at the same time. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that iron absorption is “far less pronounced” when these nutrients are consumed throughout the day compared to their pairing in a single meal.

Food Combo Recipe: Combine foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, peppers and broccoli, with plant-based iron-containing foods, including beans, lentils and potato with the skin. Try: Vegetarian Quesadilla With Broccoli Rabe.

Vitamin D-Rich Food + Magnesium-Rich Food

Smoked salmon on top of freshly sliced whole grain bread

It’s safe to say that vitamin D and magnesium rely on each other. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D (required for building and maintaining healthy bones, supporting brain and nervous system health, boosting immunity, and regulating insulin levels) metabolizes with the help of magnesium (a mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including regulating blood pressure, balancing blood sugar levels, and developing bones). In turn, vitamin D promotes magnesium absorption.

Food Combo Recipe: Oily fish and egg yolks offer vitamin D, while pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews and whole wheat bread are loaded with magnesium. Try: Smoked Salmon Toast.

Vitamin D-Rich Food + Calcium-Rich Food

Omelette with baby kale green leaves for breakfast

Mixing calcium—one of the most important minerals since it’s necessary for bone health, heart health, and nerve function—with the “sunshine vitamin” will encourage more calcium intake from the foods on your plate. If vitamin D isn’t present, the body will be forced to steal calcium from its storage (in the skeleton), which can lead to frail bones. So the body actually needs vitamin D to absorb optimal amounts of calcium.

Food Combo Recipe: Eggs, salmon and tuna offer vitamin D, while kale, spinach and collard greens provide calcium. Try: Egg Breakfast Pita with Feta and Spinach

Vitamins A, D, E and/or K-Rich Food + Healthy Fat Food

Healthy green kale salad with avocado and baked sweet potatoes. Plant based diet concept, detox food. Top view, white background.

Yes, fat is your friend! The body readily absorbs fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, when they’re in the presence of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), such as omega-3 fatty acids, and monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). The fat-soluble vitamins we just mentioned are antioxidants that are responsible for a host of functions, including proper vision, strong bones, and a robust immune response. Trust me, your heart will say thank you with this duo.

Food Combo Recipe: Blend fat-soluble-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes, carrots and green, leafy veggies, with foods high in good fats, such as olive oil, nut butters and avocados (or simply add an olive oil-based dressing to your side salad!). Try: Easy-to-Make Brussel Sprouts With Avocado Oil and Rosemary.

The Bottom Line on Food Combining

Aside from learning a few key food-pairing combos that can help the intestines maximize antioxidant absorption, there is no need to follow a food-combining diet. The gastrointestinal system is designed to digest all micronutrients with the help of enzymes and acids, as well as nerves and hormones. It doesn’t need us to follow strict guidelines in order to function properly. Plus, a food-combining eating plan has not been proven effective, is too complicated, and isn’t sustainable for most of us.

(Images: Shutterstock)

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