Dear Ask Ayurveda:
I have been learning about Ayurveda for a year or so now. I think I am a Vata type. I have learned a lot about eating for my constitution, along with other healthy Ayurvedic practices that I try to follow. I have suffered from a weak digestion for many years, although the changes I have made through Ayurveda have helped me dramatically so far! I have recently heard that Ayurveda puts a lot of emphasis on Food Combining. I have tried to incorporate the little I know about this, but I am still confused and left a bit flustered.
My first question for you is regarding the “Why”. Why is Food Combining so Important? I believe it is, but I am not sure the reasoning behind it. I figure if I can know the reason of why I am doing something, it will make me more motivated to do it.
My second question is this: What are the most vital food combinations to avoid? There seem to be a lot, and I can get a bit overwhelmed with so many changes to make all at once. Is there any specific food combining rules that I should focus on to begin?
Thank you so much for making these articles and advice available. I excitedly look forward to your answers… Food Combining and Flustered
Dear Food Combining and Flustered:
Thank you so much for writing in with these great questions. Food combining is extremely important in the world of Ayurveda. In fact, if you look at some of the ancient texts written thousands of years ago, you will see that numerous disorders listed have “improper food combining” as one of their root causes. Therefore it is important to follow these food combining rules for healthy digestion, prevention of disease and our overall wellness. With that being said, I will now go a bit deeper to give you a more detailed picture on the “Why of Food Combining”.
Why is proper food combining so vital for our health?
There are a few main reasons to follow proper food combining. The first reason involves the time it takes to digest a certain food type. Most foods generally take 4-6 hours for complete digestion. However, some foods such as fruit only take 30 minutes. Therefore, if fruit is taken with other foods, their normal 30 minute digestion time is now lengthened to several hours, as it mixes with the heavier food types. The fruit staying in the stomach longer than it is supposed to results in indigestion and fermentation occurring in the gut. This eventually will weaken the overall digestion; causing gas, cramping and other unwanted symptoms. If this becomes a regular habit not only will the digestive fire become weak, but toxins will begin to form in the GI tract and clog the system.
Another reason why food combining is so important is because of the enzymes needed for each food type. Certain enzymes can be released together while others cannot. For example, each type of protein (i.e. red meat, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, dairy) needs a unique enzyme for proper digestion. Unfortunately only one of these enzymes can be release at a time. So if you are consuming multiple protein types in one sitting, the proper enzymes needed to complete the digestive process are not all available. This once again will lead to indigestion of food, which then leads to toxic build-up and eventually disorder and disease.
Finally, another essential reason on why food combining is so essential, is the different pH levels needed for different food types to complete digestion. Certain foods require a high acid level in the gut to properly digest (i.e. proteins), while other foods prefer a more alkaline environment (i.e. starches). So if we combine this oh-so-common food combination of starches and proteins, the pH level will not be suitable for either food and the inevitable result is once again indigestion, gas, bloating, reduced metabolism, toxic accumulation and eventually disease.
The amazing fact is that modern science is now “discovering” all of these food combining phenomenons, when the ancient Ayurvedic doctors (and rishis) had known of them thousands of years ago through observation and meditation, without any of the technology available today. Pretty incredible!
Anyways, let’s get on to the second part of your question. It is true that there are many different improper food combining rules. And yes, this can easily overwhelm any human being. To avoid this from occurring, it is very wise to begin some changes by focusing on the most important improper combinations of the bunch. So…
What are the most essential Improper Food Combinations to avoid?
For the sake of simplicity, I will give you my top three Improper Food Combinations to avoid. You do not have to make all of these changes overnight; rather I suggest to focus on one, get comfortable there and then add the others in- one at a time.
1. Always eat fruit by itself.
Eating fruit with ANYTHING else leads to indigestion and fermentation in the gut. Therefore fruit should only be eaten on its own. You can eat fruit either 30 minutes prior to a meal, or at least 2 hours after a meal. That means fruit is not a healthy dessert option, nor is it suggested to be eaten as a side dish. I know this is hard to hear, but you will feel better for it in the end!
2. Only eat one protein per meal.
As stated above, different proteins do not digest properly when mixed together. Proteins, especially meat, are already heavy and hard to digest, so adding the improper food combining will really lead to many digestive issues (and beyond). Make sure that each meal only contains one protein type. This means to eat cheese separate from meat, eggs without sausage and definitely no bacon-cheeseburgers.
3. Do not mix starches with proteins.
Since these two food types need completely different pH environments to digest properly, they are considered incompatible and should be eaten separately. This seems unheard of in the West with our steak and potato, rice and chicken, burger and bun mentality; so inevitably this will take a bit of getting used to for most individuals.
Before I say goodbye, I would like to leave you with some words of advice. These new food combining rules to incorporate are not going to come easy for most people. When you are used to certain eating habits, changing these lifelong tendencies is far from simple. So please take it slow and be compassionate with yourself along the way. Of course you still must be willful and diligent if you truly want to make a change, but Ayurveda is also about balance. If you are so stressed out about the food combining that it is causing you anxiety or resentment, then lighten up a bit and give a little on occasion. Stress is going to be more harmful to you then any improper food combination; so know your goals, stick with them and when the “mood is right” temporarily put them to the side.
Of course you can be as diligent as you desire, just make sure it doesn’t lead to the overwhelmed feeling we are trying to avoid. These new habits will get easier with time and the boost you get from feeling better after meals will help to keep you motivated.