Fact vs Fiction: Does Food Combining Actually Work?

There’s a myriad of old wive’s tales and new-age theories about which foods you should eat together - or avoid eating together - for optimal digestion and gut health. From when to drink water, what you should and shouldn’t eat carbs with, to not mixing hot and cold foods, the list really does go on. 

The theory behind food combining is that certain foods may help or hinder the absorption of nutrients when eaten in combination. Here’s the lowdown on the food combinations that actually work, and which ones you should ignore. 

Food combining: Which foods should be eaten together?

1. Iron-rich foods + citrus

This one is a big yes from us. Combining iron-rich foods (especially plant-based ones like legumes, lentils and tofu) with vitamin-C rich foods like citrus, boosts how much iron you absorb.

As plant-based iron is poorly absorbed, this is an easy food combination that can go a long way. Think squeezing lemon juice on a lentil salad or cooking up a chickpea and tomato stew (tomatoes are also high in Vitamin C).

Poor iron absorption could be contributing to fatigue, so give it a go and see if it boosts your energy. 

2. Turmeric and black pepper

Turmeric is a powerful spice that’s been used for thousands of years as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It lends a vibrant colour to soups and curries, too. 

Research has found that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can improve the gut microbiome and treat gut-related diseases. However, curcumin works best when combined with black pepper, enhancing absorption by up to 2000 per cent. 

So, if you’re shopping for a supplement look for one with black pepper added (it should be listed in the ingredients), or if cooking with turmeric be sure to add a good crack of pepper to the dish.

3. Prebiotics and probiotics

While these foods don’t necessarily need to be eaten together at the same meal to reap the benefits, it’s worthwhile including both prebiotic and probiotic foods over the day to boost your gut microbiome diversity. 

While probiotic foods like yoghurt and kimchi add more good gut bugs into the ecosystem, we also need the prebiotics from foods like onion, garlic and legumes to give the gut bugs something to munch on. Oats and bananas are also rich in prebiotics, as well as plenty of vegetables including leeks and asparagus. 

With so many tasty foods from both food groups, this one shouldn’t be too hard - have some oats and yoghurt at brekky or add some kimchi to your veg-packed lunch.

Food combining: Which foods should not be eaten together?

1. Water and food

Some proponents of food combining claim that drinking water with your meals dilutes your stomach acid and worsens digestion. Some also say it can cause bloating. However, these claims don’t stack up and the body will actually produce enough stomach acid to counter any change in pH. In fact, drinking water with meals can actually help digestion as it can help soften food and move it through the gut. 

The key here is to sip your water and not gulp it. Slamming your water back can introduce more air into your gut and cause bloating, so… go slow. 

2. Protein and carbohydrate foods

You might’ve heard that protein and carbs are digested by the body differently so should be eaten separately to allow the gut to deal with them on their own. This is the principle theory of the food combining diet and is simply not true. In fact, there are plenty of benefits of eating protein and carbs together. Adding protein to a carb meal will slow down the carbohydrate digestion and give you a sustained energy release, rather than a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. 

It could be as simple as having a handful of nuts with your piece of fruit, adding prawns to pasta, eating eggs on toast, or adding foods like yoghurt and legumes into your diet that have both protein and carbs. 

3. Hot and cold foods

One of the Ayurvedic principles is that the three different body types (doshas) react differently to “hot” and “cold” foods. In Ayurveda, this doesn’t refer to the temperature of the food, but rather the effect it’s purported to have on your metabolism and digestion. 

While there are some merits to Ayurveda, depending on your dosha, this diet may mean you eliminate foods like fermented foods or onion and garlic. These are vital for good gut health, so approach the Ayurvedic diet with caution or try removing these foods one at a time if you suspect they could be causing you irritation - and note how you feel.

Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Want to change your diet for the better? Here are the 5 biggest nutrition mistakes that will stop you from achieving your long-term health goals.

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