Food Combining – Trouble digesting? How Food Combinations Can Affect YOU

Are you getting the optimum nutritional value from your food?  Do you frequently experience flatulence (gas), heartburn, burping, cramping, bloating, fatigue or feelings of hunger?  Proper food combining can aid in digestion. Some foods are digested more slowly than others. Correct combinations assists us in digestion, assimilation, and elimination of foods. Proper digestion also aids in sleep.

protein greens

Food Combining – Which foods are more easily digested in combination with other foods?

What is the Principle of Food Combining?
Food combining is based on the principle that  particular food should be digested in combination with one another for optimum nutrition. After you eat a meal, blood rushes to your digestive system  away from the muscles, brain, and other organs.

This can leave us feeling tired after a big meal and not feeling like engaging in heavy physical activity.

The time that it takes to digest food varies between men and women and also depends upon the type of food eaten. The small intestine in adults is a long and narrow tube about 23 feet long. The large intestine in adults is wider in diameter but shorter than the small intestine.  It is only about 5 feet long.

Digestive SystemIn the 1980s, Mayo Clinic researchers measured digestion time in 21 healthy people. The estimated time that it took from eating to elimination in stool, averaged 53 hours.  The average time that food moved through the large intestine (colon) was 40 hours.  There was a significant difference between digestion between men and women: 33 hours for men, 47 hours for women.

If food is left in our digestive system too long, it can ferment and putrefy, causing indigestion, heartburn, and weight gain.   Different types of foods  will digest more efficiently if you avoid mixing foods from one group with those of another. Protein takes much longer to digest than fruits and vegetables, which are mostly water, for example.

What Are the Best Food Combining Tips?
According to the rules of food combination, you do not want to mix proteins and starches in the same meal. You also don’t want to combine starches with fruits.  Most of us to not follow this tradition. We eat rice with chicken, hamburgers on a bun,  spaghetti with meatballs, corn flakes with strawberries and bananas and apple pie with flaky wheat pie crust. Fruits are either a single or double sugar, whereas the starches are a triple sugar. Fruits mechanically break down in your stomach, but chemically, they don’t break down until they reach the  small intestine. Starches, again, are broken down in three different stages, starting in your mouth.  Why are these bad combinations? Dr. Wayne Pickering is a naturopathic physician on the East Coast of Florida, well-known for his pioneering efforts in food combining. Dr. Pickering explains:

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Combining meat with starch is upsetting to the digestive system. Starches should be eaten alone or with greens.

“Starches require an alkaline digestive medium to digest. If you put your fist in your stomach while it’s digesting steaks and all that, chances are, you wouldn’t have a hand anymore. The acid is intense… When you mix them both together – an acid-type of food and an alkaline – basic chemistry shows that they don’t digest. They neutralize. Then what happens? If the food is not digesting… it’s going through your body [undigested], throwing it into all kinds of turmoil.”

Tips based on food combining theories
If you are frustrated because you can’t seem to eat different types of foods without getting excessive gas, bloating, or upset stomach, you might benefit from trying these basic food combining tips:

  1. Drink juices alone on an empty stomach, or 30 minutes before eating other foods.
  2. Choose greens wisely. You may eat lettuce and celery in combination with all fruits.  Other greens, such as spinach, kale and parsley, should only be digested with fruit when juiced in a blender, or as a smoothie
  3. Respect water.  Eat foods with high-water content before other foods.  Always drink water between meals and not with meals. Drinking liquids with meals flushes the nutrients out of your system. Research shows that sipping a little water during meals doesn’t cause major problems, however drinking one or two glasses of water may interfere with digestion. Researchers have found it is best to drink fluids one hour before or two hours after meals for better absorption of nutrients.
  4. Experiment. Learn what works well for you.  You might feel best by eating fruit in the morning, breads and starches in the afternoon and denser foods such as protein in the evening works best for you, or a light meal of fruit in the evening might be best for you. Trust that your body knows best.
  5. Eat melons separately. Don’t eat any other type of food within 20 minutes of eating melon.  Melons (watermelon, cantelope, honey dew melon, etc.) should always be eaten alone.


    Watermelon, cantaloupe, honey dew and all other melons should never be eaten with other foods.

  6. Alcohol retards digestion. Avoid alcohol with meals.
  7. Don’t combine starches with acid fruits (such as grains with tomatoes).
  8. Exercise lightly.   You might like a leisurely walk through the park, assists digestion.Hard, heavy, or prolonged exercise before eating interferes with digestion.  
  9. Eat foods in season.  Be in tune with your environment and with nature.
  10. Eat foods that fit your lifestyle. The nutritional needs of a muscle-bound triathlete would be quite different than that of a sedentary piano teacher.


    Proteins, such as fish, poultry and beef are more easily digested without starches, like pasta, rice or bread. Wait 3 hours after eating protein before eating a starch.

  11. Don’t eat starches with proteins, such as ham and eggs with potatoes. Wait two hours after eating a starch before eating protein, and three hours after eating protein before eating a starch. Foods that are considered starchy include grains, legumes, potatoes, corn, peas, winter squash and sweet potatoes. Starchy foods also often contain at least a small amount of sugar and fiber. Meat and potatoes is  a common combination. However, foods high in protein such as fish, poultry, beef, are best not combined with starches.
  12. Eliminate stress. Don’t worry.  When in doubt, eat foods separately. You might wish to practice relaxation techniques or meditation. Studies show that stress causes major digestive problems.
  13. Be mindful when you eat. Stop eating when the food doesn’t taste as appetizing before you feel “full.” Most people continue to eat out of habit.  Pay attention.  If you feel full, you’ve probably eaten too much.
  14. Do not eat dessert right after a meal. Wait a a couple of hours to have that piece of pie or cake.

    Man eating fruit

    Eat fruit 30 – 60 minutes before a heavy meal.

  15. Do not eat fruits or vegetables with a heavy meal. Eat fruits and vegetables 30 – 60 minutes before proteins and starches.
  16. Do not combine acidic fruits with other fruits and with starches. Lemon and banana, for example, can be difficult to digest when combined, and most likely lead to gastrointestinal upset.
  17. Tomatoes are a fruit-vegetable and can be digested easily with other vegetables with seeds such as cucumber, squash, zuchinni, and bell pepper.
  18. Give thanks before eating your food. An attitude of gratitude does a lot for the digestive system.

Mayo Clinic – “Digestion: How Long Does it Take?” – Michael F. Pico, MD.
Dr. Mercola – “How to Combine Foods for Natural Health”


Jean E. DartThis article is written by Jean Voice Dart,  M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University.
  Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.”  She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance.  The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3  nonprofit health and wellness education organization.  For more information about  the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at

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