Victoria Cox, MSc, Registered Dietitians

Food “rules” seem to come at us from all angles, including directions such as “you shouldn’t eat these two different foods together, because they will be digested at different rates…or one is more acidic than the other”…and many more! So, on top of trying to do the basics, which include eating our fruits and veggies, drinking water, limiting fried foods etc., do we also need to think about food combining?

Thankfully, the answer is largely no! Let us dive into some specific food combining “rules”.

Separating Starches & Proteins

As a quick recap, let us consider that our energy or calories from food are derived from three sources (macronutrients):

• Carbohydrates (often called starches, e.g. rice or potato)

• Protein (e.g. chicken or fish)

• Fats (e.g. oils) You may have heard rumours stating that these macronutrients need to be eaten separately, because they are digested at different rates. Some may go as far to say that the “slower to digest” foods will ferment or rot in our stomachs.

In a happy twist of events, it is time to acknowledge that our body is very effectively designed to digest everything that we eat together. While different digestive enzymes may be released at different points in the body (for example, we actually start breaking down carbohydrates in the mouth, thanks to enzymes in saliva), our body is fully capable of digesting mixed meals – thanks to releasing a cocktail of different enzymes further along our gastrointestinal system. Here, our body allows us to break down and absorb all three of our macronutrients – nothing gets left behind or “rots”. (Luckily for us, we have strong stomach acid that helps to combat bacteria).

The main takeaway here is: continue balancing your meals. For healthy individuals, there is no need to eat your chicken separate to your rice & peas. Aim for the “1-2-3” strategy when planning nutritionally balanced meals; 1 = high fibre starch; 2 = lean protein; 3 = vegetables/tossed salad.

Separating “Acidic” and “Alkaline” Foods Many foods that we eat may be classified as slightly acidic or slightly alkaline. Some examples of foods considered to be acidic include meat, eggs and dairy, while food considered to be alkaline include many vegetables, avocado, and certain fruits. Have you ever heard that certain acidic foods should either be avoided entirely, or kept separate from the alkaline foods?

Before you jump to no longer allowing yourself to enjoy your avocado with your eggs, consider that what we eat cannot actually affect the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of our blood. The pH of our blood is tightly regulated, thanks to organs such as our lungs and our kidneys. Let us also keep in mind that our stomach maintains a very acidic pH, thanks to gastric acid, which plays a necessary role in digestion. Our stomach will remain acidic regardless of if we eat a food considered acidic, or alkaline, or a combination of both.

The main takeaway here is: the foods that we eat do not change the pH of our blood, and a healthy stomach will be kept in its ideal acidic range regardless of what is eaten. If, however, you suffer with gastroesophageal reflux disorder, and note that certain acidic foods seem to worsen your reflux, then by all means – limit these foods. But there is no

reason for a healthy individual to avoid combining “acidic” and “alkaline” foods.

Vitamin C and Iron Rich Foods

Let us flip the switch for a moment and embrace a food combining “rule” that is actually effective and helpful for some people. Have you ever been concerned that your iron levels may be low? Iron plays important roles in our bodies, such as helping our red blood cells move oxygen around. The iron in our food comes in two forms, “heme iron” and “non-heme iron”.

• Heme iron is found in animal foods, such as beef, pork, chicken and fish.

• Non-heme iron is found in plant sources, such as lentils, soybeans, spinach and kale.

An interesting point to note is that our bodies absorb heme iron much more effectively than non-heme iron.

An immediate implication here is that individuals who are vegetarian or vegan may be more at risk for low iron levels, due to not eating beef or chicken or fish etc.

What does this have to do with food combining and vitamin C? Research shows that vitamin C actually enhances our body’s ability to absorb iron; it can capture this less available non-heme iron and store it in a way that our body better absorb it. So, if you are working on improving your iron levels, try pairing foods rich in vitamin C with your iron-containing foods. For example, try combining:

• Stewed lentils with sweet peppers

• Soy chunks with sautéed spinach/kale

• Baked beans at breakfast with an orange on the side

• Iron-fortified oatmeal with some strawberries on top The main takeaway here is specifically for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet – it may be worth the while to combine vitamin-C containing foods with plant-based iron sources.

Overall, we begin to see that many of the food “rules” thrown at us, which seem to massively overcomplicate the process of eating healthily, are usually inaccurate and unnecessary. While there may be some hidden truths in there, it is helpful to wade through the misinformation and walk away with the facts. Join us next month for some similar myth busting..


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here