You work hard to buy and prepare the healthiest foods. But how much of your food do you actually assimilate? What percentage of your nutritional food dollars do you actually absorb into your cells? Turns out poor food combining is a major cause of heartburn, GERD, flatulence, gas, bacterial imbalance, slow brain function, and even stress. If you are looking to improve your health, food combining is your secret friend.
How much of your food do you absorb?
Research says humans assimilate between 10% and 80% of the food we eat. The rest is excreted, recycled back into the Earth. Well, that’s a very large range. How much YOU assimilate fluctuates constantly and is not easy to measure. The primary factors are: how well you chew your food, the nutrient-density of the food, the type of food (i.e. starches, proteins, fats), whether it is raw or cooked, the level of life force in the food, enzymes present, your intestinal flora, the health of your organs, your emotional state, stress level, and the amount of toxins, empty calories, or useless material to be eliminated. Other important factors are your metabolism rate, exercise and activity level, the quantity of food you eat, your age, the time of day, your internal body temperature, and the temperature of the food consumed. Wow!
Scientific Studies of Animals Show Different Rates of Absorption
- Grazers like cows assimilate 20-40% of the energy from grass, and the rest is excreted. (Have you seen a cow pie recently? It’s mostly undigested grass.)
- Animals who live on young shoots and new leaves absorb 60 to 70% of the energy taken in. Think giraffes and deer.
- Seed-eaters like squirrels absorb up to 80% of their food.
- Carnivores assimilate 80 to 90% of their food eaten, the highest percentage.
What about humans? Humans are omnivores. Energy assimilation of meats is generally higher than that of plants. Studies show that light cooking of plants increases its bio-availability, so that more of the nutrients can be absorbed. Hence raw food is somewhat more difficult to digest. Your personal absorption rate depends on what you eat and the factors above. For more details on counting, see my article Still Counting Calories and Carbs?.
What is Food Combining?
Effective food combining allows each type of food to pass through the digestive system with ease, and ensures it is absorbed. Bad food combining is a primary factor that causes gas, flatulence, heartburn, upset stomach, inflammation, and other issues. Even worse, the resulting poor digestion can cause malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies, even if you’re eating a healthy diet. Preventing disease is not just about eating healthy – you’ve got to absorb it. It’s also equally important to eliminate toxins so they don’t sit around in your body. And eliminating toxins requires a healthy digestive system
The Critical Steps in Healthy Digestion
Digestion starts by putting food or liquid into your mouth. You chew, swallow, and your digestive organs each do their job to break it down into molecules so you can absorb it. What your body doesn’t use is excreted as waste. Digestion takes place primarily in your mouth, stomach, small intestine. Elimination happens in the large intestine.
Food combining takes into account the type of food to ensure it goes through your digestive system with ease. Digestion’s first step is chewing, a mechanical process to liquefy the food as much as possible. After you chew and swallow, the digestive process is mostly chemical, using many enzymes which break down each type of food. For example, starches like carbs require amylase enzymes in the mouth, and lots of chewing. When you chew your food well into tiny pieces, it can be more easily broken down into molecules by the chemicals further along the line. Proteins are digested in the stomach with hydrochloric acid secreted by the stomach walls. Pepsin enzyme is also poured into the stomach. The intelligence of your body is amazing.
There are three primary categories of food: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins are digested chemically in the stomach. Carbohydrates are divided into two categories: fruits and starches. Fruits pass through your digestive system quite easily. Starches require three levels of breakdown, first in the mouth, second in the stomach, and third in the small intestine. But the body can’t do its job of breaking down the starches chemically unless it’s already chewed into tiny pieces. That’s why it’s so important to chew starchy foods very well.
The Science of Food Combining
Different food types require different enzymes to be secreted in your stomach, and each enzyme needs either an acid or alkaline environment in which to break down your food. Food combining guidelines say you do not want to mix proteins and starches in the same meal. This means no bun with your hamburger, no meatballs over pasta, no potatoes with your meat. Here’s why:
Starches require an alkaline digestive medium to digest. But the stomach is an acid environment. If you mix proteins and starches in the same meal, you’re mixing acids and alkaline foods. Any chemistry student will tell you that acids and alkali neutralize each other. Then what happens? The stomach tries to do its job for a few hours. And when it’s had enough, it sends the whole batch down to the intestines and says “ok, you work on this for a while”. This creates a mess in the intestines – inflammation, partially digested food, the accumulation of mucoid plaque, poor absorption, candida, fermentation of some foods, and general bacterial chaos. Finally the food is excreted out of the system. Disease can result, and it can be anything from leaky gut, to inflammation, food allergies, to SIBO, or obesity.
The graphic below illustrates what foods combine well and this that don’t. Combine only where the circles touch directly.
The Three Big Guidelines of Food Combination
- No proteins and starches at the same meal. They neutralize each other and prevent proper digestion of either food. To ensure proper digestion of each food, wait two hours after eating a starch before eating protein. And wait three hours after eating protein before eating a starch.
- No fruits and vegetables at the same meal. Fruits are either single or double sugars, whereas starches are a triple sugar. Fruits mechanically break down in your stomach, but they don’t break down chemically until they reach the third stage of digestion in the intestines. Starches, are also broken down in three different stages: mouth, stomach, intestines. Simply put, fruits mixed with other foods will either ferment into something awful, or they’ll be send out through the elimination and not absorbed.
- Eat melon alone, or skip it. Melons do not digest well with other foods and will frequently cause problems unless consumed alone. Remember watermelon after a big picnic? Remember the stomach ache after your mixed fruit cocktail dessert after a big meal?
Dessert after a meal can ruin your digestion. Unless dessert matches the foods in your meal, it will be trapped in your stomach with all that other food, where it may rot or ferment because the chemicals have cancelled each other out. It’s far better to eat fruit 30-60 minutes before dinner. The same applies if you want to eat another type of fruit. Acidic fruits such as lemons do not combine well with starchy fruit like bananas. Lemon and banana together are an invitation to gastrointestinal upset. See the images below of each step in the digestive process.
What are the enzymes doing?
There are over 17 different enzymes involved in the digestive process. Each enzyme has a specific ph designed to work on a type of food. Enzymes are secreted at each digestive step in the mouth, stomach, liver, pancreas, and small intestine. Digestion begins in the mouth with Lipase and Amylase for carbs and sugars. The stomach is a very acidic environment. Bile is secreted by the liver to help digest fats. The pancreas is a busy enzyme factory that sends digestive chemicals into the small intestine. Other enzymes are produced by the small intestine, about 6 meters or 20 feet long.
Simplify your meals, Optimize your digestion.
You can help your body assimilate your food by eating simple meals that use the same enzymes. Then wait 3 hours, and have another meal of different types of food. Here are some of the enzymes in the digestive process, and their ph.
The steps of the digestive system, from eating to elimination.
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